Women are “walking taller” in a city where cat-calling and wolf-whistling are now against the law, campaigners say.
For the last 18 months, police in Nottinghamshire have been recording incidents of street harassment as hate crime, in conjunction with Nottingham Women’s Centre and Nottingham Trent University.
Women who experience unwanted advances, comments and gestures are urged to report incidents to officers, who can take action against the perpetrators and, where possible, prosecute them.
Recent complaints include one against a group of builders on a construction site in Nottingham city centre, who shouted “nice arse” to a young marketing executive, and a man who intimidated a teenager after he repeatedly made lewd remarks towards her.
“In both of these incidents, a visit and talking to from police officers is all it took for the behaviour to stop,” said Helen Voce, chief executive officer at Nottingham Women’s Centre. “After 18 months, people are fully aware of things now. Women know they can report this type of behaviour, that they will be believed and that it will be taken very seriously, and that has made a huge difference.
More than 150 incidents have been reported and logged since the trial began in 2016. Complaints are being monitored by the police force as a specific strand of hate crime, and so far there have been two successful prosecutions for harassment offences under the Public Order Act.
Voce said as a result many women are “walking taller” as they know harassment is now punishable, “and that there is something they can do to tackle it, which is just amazing.”
Voce said that before the pilot, many women would not have considered going to the police over cat-calling.
“But the building site incident is a good example. When officers went round to talk to the men concerned, their supervisor was absolutely mortified and said they knew full well that that sort of behaviour was gross misconduct.
“The woman who reported it was satisfied with the action that was taken – she didn’t want to see it taken any further. She was just pleased those involved had been made aware it wasn’t acceptable and that it would hopefully mean it didn’t happen to more women.”
Voce said this showed the reporting system was “a real deterrent”.“For women who have suffered incidents like this most of their adult lives, it’s nice to see idiots who perpetrate this sort of behaviour being called out.” She added that there has been widespread public support for the pilot to be continued beyond the trial period.
For many residents, the project’s very existence has given them confidence to speak up – and to support other women too.
It might start at the level of street harassment, but too often it ends up in much more serious offences
Melanie Onn, Labour MP
Georgina Wilding, who was named Nottingham’s first ever Young Poet Laureate in 2017, told HuffPost UK she has noticed a general shift in Nottingham, where more women “speak up to men”.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have grown up around strong, mouthy women in a very matriarchal family, (but we are still) related to, associate with, and some us even married to ‘banter-y’ men who think they can just mouth off an expect it to be taken in jest.”
“However, I’ve watched all the women around me speak up to those men, even if it’s just scoffing at them and telling them to fuck off.
“I think that’s the same for a lot of women. I was recently reading a status update from a woman who had just left the dentist after having teeth removed. One her walk home she was cat-called from a van – so opened her mouth and let a glob of blood fall from her mouth whilst facing them as response.”
This week, female MPs used a debate in Parliament to call for the principles applied in Nottingham to be rolled out nationwide.
The government has been called on to extend its five current strands of hate crime – under which those found guilty of offences can receive more severe sanctions through the courts – to include misogynistic incidents alongside those concerning racism, disablism, gender identity, nationality and religion.
The Labour party’s Melanie Onn, who represents Great Grimsby, said the results in Nottingham speak for themselves – but in order to orchestrate real change, other police forces must follow suit.
“This is a really important issue. It might start at the level of street harassment, but too often it ends up in much more serious offences,” she told MPs.
“I have just been looking at my Twitter feed, and it is filled with comments asking if I have nothing better to do and whether there are not more pressing issues facing my constituents that I should be tackling.
Having the support of the police has empowered woman to say ‘talk to me like that again, and you’ll find a cop at your doorstep’
Georgia Wilding, Nottingham resident
“In my constituency we have an excessively high rate of domestic violence, and there are children in primary and secondary school who accept that violence in a relationship is somehow normal and to be expected.
“If, by challenging the acceptability of those attitudes, I can do anything to nip in the bud the extension of low-level abuse leading to more serious harassment, I will consider my time and Parliament’s time very well spent.
In Nottingham there are no plans to shelve the project any time soon and campaigners are supportive of proposals to extend its benefits.
″We are slightly confused by a few reports in which what we are doing has been called a ‘pilot scheme’,” Voce said.
“As far as we are concerned, it wasn’t a trial. It’s here to stay and there are no plans for the police to stop recording incidents and dealing with them.
“Unfortunately, while misogyny can be monitored as a hate crime within Nottinghamshire, unless there is a change in the law and the same thing happens all over the country, perpetrators will not get more severe sentences.
“We are very clear that this needs to be continually monitored, to pick up trends and spikes in incidents.”
The centre is now in the process of analysing all reported incidents alongside experts at Nottingham Trent University, who will produce a formal evalution of the scheme’s impact in the city.
Wilding – who this week won praise for her powerful recital of the poem she penned for International Women’s Day – is among those who are keen for the system to continue and expand.
“The Nottinham women I know are feisty, and have been experiencing cat-calling most of their lives in one way or another, and dealing with it with strength on their own,” she said.
“However, I also know that having the support of the police has empowered local woman to stand up and say ‘talk to me, or anyone like that again, and you’ll find a cop at your doorstep’.
“It’s a lot more weighted than a simple scoff and a ‘fuck off’, and provides that backing that some of us need.
“Provided that it is actually taken seriously by the police, I think the policy will only go from strength to strength.”