Sexual harassment ‘may be classed as hate crime’

SEXUAL harassment could be classified as a hate crime in Jersey so that incidents can be recorded more efficiently and ways to deter it can be found, the Island’s top female police officer has said.

Superintendent Alison Fossey, States of Jersey Police. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (31048925)
Superintendent Alison Fossey, States of Jersey Police. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (31048925)

Superintendent Alison Fossey, of the States police, said that a number of UK forces had trialled recording misogyny – defined as the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls – as a hate crime and that Jersey was hoping to follow suit.

Finishing touches are being put to the proposed new section of the local law based on gender, not just misogyny, and the matter is due to be debated by the States before the end of the year.

Nottingham was the first UK constabulary to trial recording misogyny as a hate crime in 2016 and, following the death of Sarah Everard in March this year, the UK government has directed all police forces to take this approach.

If Jersey follows the UK’s lead, such a law could cover unwanted advances in public and the workplace.

Currently Jersey’s hate-crime law covers behaviour motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. Gender, however, is not currently covered.

Speaking at a Lean In webinar held to discuss diversity and inclusion in the community, Supt Fossey revealed that the local force hoped to follow its UK counterparts to help ‘bring these issues to the fore’.

She said: ‘A lot of UK forces have trialled it and have said that has helped to shift attitudes both towards victims and towards perpetrators.

‘A move like that would certainly help to give us a better picture of how widespread sexual harassment is because, at the moment, there is very little reported to us at the lower end of the spectrum.’

Work to change the law follows a public consultation in April which had been delayed due to Covid. Following that consultation, the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel, late Home Affairs Minister Len Norman and his assistant minister Gregory Guida had agreed that gender should be treated as a protected characteristic in the draft Crimes of Prejudice and Public Disorder (Jersey) Law.

If approved by the States, the move will mean that crimes motivated by prejudice against a person’s gender can be treated as ‘crimes of prejudice’, which carry a more significant penalty than other offences of the same type. In addition, some other offences such as ‘stirring up prejudice’ would also apply to gender.

When asked about timescales, a spokeswoman for the States police said: ‘Policy officers are finalising the necessary definitions to be drafted into the law. The intention is to lodge the revised legislation and have it debated as soon as possible, certainly before the end of the year.’

The United Nations describes sexual harassment as ‘a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices’ that ‘aim at, result in or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm’.

Meanwhile, during the webinar Supt Fossey revealed that although she had not personally felt discriminated against because of her gender during her police career, there were certain ways in which the system, in line with much of society, was biased towards men.

For example, she said that when she was promoted, she had to have special badges made to display her rank on her

shoulders as the standard issue ones were all too big as they were designed for the male body. And she said that special weapons had had to be commissioned to allow women to become firearms officers to accommodate for their typically smaller stature and hands.

‘All of these things help to redress the balance,’ she said, adding: ‘We are making progress and I hope that my promotion allows other women to see what is achievable and that they could rise through the ranks.’

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