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Half-hearted legislation to subject gun license applicants to a social media check will remain ineffective unless misogynistic motivations behind the violence are acknowledged.
It is almost impossible at the moment to tune into the news without a sense of foreboding. The past ten days have been painful – for women, for the residents of Plymouth and for the families affected by the awful violence and death.
Tragedy after tragedy has exposed how flawed this govermment’s approach is towards ending violence against women and girls. This approach has included a breath-taking refusal to acknowledge, understand and respond to the many different forms of gender-based violence that are a reality for so many women, and a stubborn shirking of responsibility – even for a government that abandoned so many during the pandemic.
there is no government urgency, no swift action and no recognition of the pattern of misogyny in violent crime
Their recent response to the shooting in Plymouth – carried out by a man whose violence was motivated by his hatred of women – has been profoundly alarming. Half-hearted legislation that will subject gun license applicants to a social media check will remain ineffective unless the real motivations behind the violence are acknowledged: misogyny.
Hatred and abuse of women is a motivating factor behind staggering amounts of violence, from murder to sexual violence, from domestic abuse to recent terrorist attacks. Yet every time evidence points to the role of misogyny in motivating violence – as in the case of Danyal Hussein, who murdered Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in 2020, or the case of Wayne Couzens, who murdered Sarah Everard in 2021 and was nicknamed “the rapist” by colleagues – there is no government urgency, no swift action and no recognition of the pattern of misogyny in violent crime.
Violence against women and girls is a national threat, but politicians continue to act as if it is not. Which begs the very real question – how many more attacks will we face by men motivated or radicalised by gendered hatred, how many more women will be killed, attacked, abused and harassed before this government goes beyond piecemeal measures and pushes ending gender-based violence to the top of the political agenda?
Women’s rights organisations and the Women’s Equality Party are brimming with evidence-based policy ideas and real, tangible actions: all the government needs to do is commit.
So much of our policing is dictated by our politicians, and if ending violence against women and girls were a political priority, it would be a (properly funded) policing one. Although that’s not to say the response must solely be policing. At the very minimum, we need government-driven social change campaigns, ring-fenced funding for women’s refuges and specialist services and an independent inquiry into misogyny in the police.
We must go beyond the fallacy that what happened in Plymouth was an outlier – something random that can be written off by poor mental health or scapegoated by continuous references to the perpetrator’s autism, something that couldn’t have been foreseen or stopped. We must urgently reject the idea that violent misogyny exists on the fringes of society and recognise the very real threat that it poses to women’s lives every day. It must be as much of a priority for police and government as the prevention of other forms of terrorism.
We must be willing to investigate and acknowledge sexism and misogyny in the very institutions designed to maintain peace; our policing and justice systems, and sit with the uncomfortable truth that systems which create inherent power imbalances also create the conditions to abuse that power. A reality made tragically clear by Sarah’s murder and the unacceptable police misconduct during the investigation of the murders of Nicole and Bibaa.
Every single one of us deserves to live free from the fear of violence. It’s now time to acknowledge that until this government truly and urgently commits to tackling violence against women and girls, and broadening their understanding of how it can manifest, none of us will be.
Tabitha Morton is the deputy leader of the Women’s Equality Party.
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