SOCIAL media has created a toxic environment of “disinhibition” which has led to an increase in face-to-face misogynistic abuse of women and girls, a human rights lawyer told MSPs.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC authored a radical report calling for world-leading misogyny laws to be introduced in Scotland.

Kennedy was tasked with investigating how the Scottish justice system deals with misogyny in January 2021, and her working group backed the introduction of a Misogyny and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act. The Scottish Government launched a consultation on the issue after the report was released.

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Giving evidence to the Criminal Justice Commitee on Wednesday, Kennedy also said that the introduction of new misogyny laws would not clash with the Scottish Government’s attempts to reform the Gender Recognition Act [GRA].

Kennedy told MSPs that she was “shocked” by evidence her working group heard about the “high level targeted behaviour directed at women”.

There is a feeling amongst women in the Scottish public that "something must be done" about the high-level of "harassment and misogyny" that they experience daily. 

The National: Kennedy launched the working group report on misogyny on International Women's Day Kennedy launched the working group report on misogyny on International Women's Day

She said: “One of the results of social media is that there has been a disinhibition about what people are prepared to say, what people are prepared to throw at each other.

"And let me immediately say men receive horrible messaging too, but there’s something particular in the ways about women experience social media, girls from a very young age and how it impacts on their lives.

“That disinhibition that happens online has now kind of spread its wings and it now is in the public square, it is actually happening in the public spaces too, so the stuff which is of threatening rape, speaking in very hostile language, abusive, undermining in many ways almost pornographic, at times actually pornographic, it now lives in the streets.

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“It lives in our playgrounds, inside clubs and outside clubs, in bars and places where people gather.

“Things are said which some of you probably have never experienced and would never know about.”

The Misogyny Act, as recommended by Kennedy, would include a statutory aggravation of misogyny, which could lead to a harsher sentence, and a new offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls.

It would also establish two further new offences - public misogynistic harassment, such as street harassment, and of issuing threats of, or invoking, rape, sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls - both offline and online.

Some have claimed attempts to reform the GRA in Scotland could impact the implementation of the new offence – something the high-profile human rights lawyer and Labour peer rejects.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill seeks to remove the requirement for a medical diagnosis for a person to receive a gender recognition certificate, as well as decreasing the length of time a trans person has to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months with an additional three-month reflection period.

Kennedy told MSPs: “I say, in my introduction to this report, that many people will have seen it as a hospital pass, why was I wanting to get involved in a debate which was going to inevitably involve the great schism that seems to have taken place between many women who have struggled for a very long time for women’s rights and the issue of trans rights.

“I really do not think this piece of legislation I’m proposing has got anything to do with that – it really hasn’t.”

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Kennedy added that her job was to deal with the fact that 50% of the population are experiencing misogyny “all the time”.

She added: “Women have experienced this – we all have as women – and I’m sure that trans women will experience misogyny too as they live out their lives.”

Kennedy went on to say she would not be “lifting people’s skirts to see what their genitalia is like”, adding: “Nobody should have to prove that they are a woman in order to bring down this type of protection from abusive behaviour.”

During her evidence, Baroness Kennedy also said she had spoken to female police officers in an “off the record” setting, claiming they feared speaking to her would “make life within their working environment more difficult if they had (spoken publicly)”.