Police chiefs are looking at recording misogyny as a hate crime – including incidents of men whistling at women.
Forces are being asked to 'consider the case' for monitoring sexist abuse and harassment.
It means misogyny – defined by police chiefs as 'behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman' – would sit alongside crimes where victims are attacked for their race, religion or sexual orientation.
If agreed, abuse directed at women would be treated more seriously than comparable crimes against men, and could even lead to tougher sentences in the courts. Misogynistic incidents will include harassment in the street, verbal abuse, unwanted physical approaches, taking photographs without consent or sending unwanted text messages.
Nottinghamshire Police began trialling the scheme in July 2016 and were followed by a handful of other forces. Now recording misogyny as a hate crime could be rolled out across all 43 forces in England and Wales.
A National Police Chiefs' Council spokesman said: 'Police forces in England and Wales annually monitor five strands of hate crime. 'Police chiefs will be presented with a paper that asks them to consider the case for monitoring gender-based hate crime in the same way.'
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, said: 'Misogyny is so widespread it has become normalised in our society. As a result, women are routinely objectified and harassed. Unless we challenge it, this won't change. We have to start calling misogyny out for what it is: a hate crime.'
Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: 'If recording this abuse as a hate crime is to be rolled out across the UK, it is crucial that police work in partnership with the local community, including women's groups, from the start.'
She added: 'On a broader level, we need to talk about how we prevent this behaviour in the first place through schools work, and through having men and boys challenge each other about its acceptability.'
Helen Voce, from Nottingham Women's Centre, said: 'We believe misogyny is the soil in which violence against women and girls grows. The same attitudes at the root of sexism and harassment are the same attitudes that drive more serious domestic and sexual violence. Classifying misogyny as a hate crime enables the police to deal robustly with the root causes of violence against women.'
In forces that record misogyny as a hate crime, culprits are investigated and specially trained officers offer support to the victim. Police admit no one can be prosecuted, but say the involvement of officers will act as a deterrent.
Although a wolf whistle is unlikely to constitute a public order offence, the perpetrator could be arrested and prosecuted if it is part of a pattern of behaviour, such as threatening messages. But critics warned that officers should not be distracted from tackling serious crimes such as burglary, rape and robbery.
Police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently monitor five categories of hate crime: race, religious, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity. Hate crime is defined as an offence which is perceived to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.
In April, Poppy Smart, 23, reported a group of builders to West Mercia Police for wolf-whistling at her on her way to work in Worcester. The force said it was a matter for the men's employers.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.