Misogyny is a step closer to being classified as a hate crime, the Law Commission has said.
A new consultation by the body, which is responsible for reviewing laws, will look at whether those who abuse women due to their gender should face tougher sentences.
As it stands, gender is not a protected characteristic or group under hate crime law and campaigners want that to change.
Currently protected by law in England and Wales are race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity.
The commission has called for evidence from victims of hate crime, police officers, prosecutors and civil liberties groups so it can consider how a misogyny hate crime law might work in practice.
Campaigning Labour MP Stella Creasy, one of the most high-profile campaigners on the issue, has urged women attacked “online or offline” because of their gender to “to come forward and be heard”.
She said: “Misogyny drives crimes against women – recognising that within our criminal justice system will help us detect and prevent offences including sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse.”
Seven police forces in the country have already begun treating misogyny as a hate crime offence, which Creasy said has “proven results” in tackling violence against women.
She added: “I now urge every woman who has walked with keys in her hands at night, been abused or attacked online or offline to come forward and be heard in this consultation.
“This is our moment for change - rather than asking women to pick a side of their identity to be protected, its time to send a message that women should be equally able to live free from fear of assault or harm targeted at them simply for who they are.”
Among the areas for consideration is the level of online abuse and threats of violence directed at women in the public eye and the effect on their participation in debate and public life.
It will look at whether amending offences in which the majority of victims are women, such as rape, sexual assault and female genital mutilation, is helpful considering their already gendered nature.
A preliminary paper also raises the fact that domestic violence and coercive control by men against women may have a complex set of motivations beyond misogyny.
The consultation will also consider whether protection should cover both men and women, or just women.
The proposals on misogyny are part of a wider consultation into the patchwork of existing hate crime laws, which have been criticised for their complexity and the different levels of protection offered to different characteristics.
Offences including assault, criminal damage and harassment attract longer sentences when the perpetrator is deemed to be motivated by prejudice or hatred towards a certain group.
There is separate legislation for inciting hatred on the basis of race if behaviour is found to be “threatening, abusive or insulting”.
But similar behaviour towards a particular religion or sexual orientation can only be prosecuted if the conduct is threatening, and not just abusive or insulting.
Criminal law commissioner Professor Penney Lewis said: “Hate crime has no place in our society and we have seen the terrible impact that it can have on victims.”
“Our proposals will ensure all protected characteristics are treated in the same way, and that women enjoy hate crime protection for the first time.”
As well as misogyny, the consultation will look at whether other groups and characteristics should be offered protection, for example homeless people, sex workers and members of alternative subcultures such as goths or punks.
The Law Commission is further reviewing whether age should be included, citing the physical vulnerability of the elderly and the fact they are often specifically targeted by fraudsters.
It will also consider whether certain non-religious philosophical beliefs merit protection, such as humanism.
The Law Commission’s call for evidence is open from September 23 until December 24.
The campaign is backed by major campaign organisations on hate crime, women’s rights and community safety including Citizens UK, Refuge, Women’s Aid, Southall Black Sisters, the Fawcett Society and Plan UK and Hate Crime Campaigners including the Jo Cox Foundation, Hope not Hate and Tell Mama.
It has also been supported by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotherham, Mayor of Sheffield City Region Dan Jarvis and Shadow Mayor for the West Midlands Liam Byrne – who came together earlier this year to back a call for all police forces to record when existing crimes are motivated by misogyny when Stella Creasy tabled an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill on the issue.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.