Bristol Zero Tolerance were very disappointed to see the letter in the Bristol Post from Conservative councillor Richard Eddy, following an article, which commented on the recent addition of misogyny and street harassment as a category of hate crime by Nottinghamshire Police.
We are very pleased that both the Conservative group and Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie have shown their support for the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative and hope that Cllr Eddy’s comments do not reflect those of his party more broadly and in particular the Conservative group’s support for Bristol becoming a city with a Zero Tolerance to gender-based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation.
We applaud the work of Nottinghamshire Police and the Nottingham Women’s Centre who have been working to create a new category of misogynistic hate crime as a way to address the harassment and abuse that women experience on a daily basis simply because they are women in public spaces.
This is not limited to wolf-whistling. Bristol Zero Tolerance defines gender-based harassment as “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and directed at them because of their real or perceived gender (whether male, female or non-binary).
“At the core of this kind of harassment is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups of their vulnerability to violence in public spaces and also reinforces the sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.
Street harassment includes unwanted whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic, biphobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no, sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, sexual assault, rape and hate crimes.”
Harassment is included as a form of gender-based violence in the work of Bristol Zero Tolerance because this is part of a continuum of violence and abuse and by condoning some forms of harassment, such as street harassment, there is a complicit understanding that this is acceptable and therefore that other forms of gender-based violence are also acceptable.
Similarly hate incidents often escalate into hate crimes and so addressing them when they are low level can avoid more serious crimes.
Hate crime is a form of harassment and can also be severely violent and abusive. Bristol Zero Tolerance include hate crimes in our definition of gender-based violence and we also understand a hate crime or incident to be such if the person experiencing it understands it in this way.
This self-definition is key as this is how the police will record and address these crimes and incidents and it also allows those experiencing harassment to make the decision about what they have experienced and how this will be recorded which can be an empowering process for vulnerable people.
Since the news about what is happening in Nottingham, we have been contacted by women from across Bristol who are interested in implementing something similar because of the harassment that they experience and witness in Bristol and therefore we feel that this is also a significant issue here.
Following this we contacted Nottingham Women’s Centre to find out what we could learn from them.
Councillor Eddy’s comments disregard the experiences of many women in Bristol and beyond who have faced harassment on the street, including wolf whistling but spanning a spectrum of different forms of harassment, which has made them feel vulnerable, unsafe and at risk.
No one should have to feel this in public or private spaces and if it does happen there should be a way to address it and to let others know that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. This is not a form of “politically correct” policing but a way to support all citizens to feel safe in their city and to educate others about attitudes and behaviours that condone and reinforce all forms of gender-based violence.
This is what we want Zero Tolerance in Bristol, and addressing street harassment is just one part of this. We would be pleased if Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol as a city was able to learn from Nottingham to support people to feel less vulnerable and more able to speak up about their experiences of street harassment and all forms of hate crime and to work towards the Zero Tolerance vision.
Bristol Zero Tolerance is an initiative set up by Bristol Women’s Commission working towards Bristol becoming a city free from gender-based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation.