Equality In The Law


It’s 2019. We’re all equal now, aren’t we? In the UK, rape is illegal, you’re allowed to be gay. Trans people can get their names legally changed and many bills have been introduced to protect minority rights in the workplace. Our applications are anonymous to protect us against bias and, well, we have our second ever female prime minister?! It’s 2019, and people of colour are now allowed to wear the hair that grows out of their heads. We’re all equal right? Those snowflake millennials can stop crying now?

Perhaps not.

Reported rape convictions are less than 8%. Trans people are being brutalised in places like America and Brazil by state police and other authorities. Our applications are anonymous because we can’t trust employers to have unconscious bias against women, LGBT+ and BAME. Refugees in detention centres are being raped, tortured and brutalised. According to a new American report, black Americans were incarcerated in state prisons at an average rate of 5.1 times that of white Americans. Brunei has just enforced a law that legalises the stoning to death of LGBT+ people. But it’s okay as long as bakers get to refuse service to someone on the grounds of their homophobia, right? It’s okay as long as we can keep using people of colour as scapegoats to avoid our responsibility for upholding these governments?

But to the privileged, equality feels like oppression.

Here is a time line of some major landmarks that have criminalised certain things, or decriminalised them, in the last 100 years in the UK:

  • 1965 Race Relations Act (UK) and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • 1967 – The UK sees the decriminalisation of gay and bi-sexual men (Fun fact: lesbians were never illegals because it wasn’t believed it was a sexual activity if there wasn’t a penis involved)
  • 1988- Section 28 (UK) is introduced under Thatcher which makes it illegal for teachers and authorities to talk to under 18s’ about LGBT issues.
  • 1990 – Data Protection Act was created to ‘control how personal or customer information is stored on computers and filing systems’.
  • 1991 – A man named ‘R’ loses case in court after it is decided that marriage does not ‘constitute consent in all circumstances’, and marital rape is written explicitly in 2003 in the sexual offences act.
  •  Equalities Act 2010 (UK) brought together 16 different pieces of legislature into one single act that legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society.
  • 2003 – Section 28 is dismissed; Sexual Offences Act (includes gender identity and sexual orientation)
  • 2013 – Gay Marriage is made Legal.
  • 2015 – Modern Slavery Act aimed to protect victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
  • 2019 – Economic Abuse to be included in domestic violence law.

Has criminalising discrimination and hate worked? 

Well, hate crimes generally have decreased due to there being more initiatives, campaigns and criminal consequences for offenders. However, they’re far from eradicated.

In April 2017-18, there was a rise of 17% in police-reported incidents of hate crime. It’s undeniable that we tend to see spikes of hate crime during politically tumultuous periods, such as Brexit, General Elections, and controversial topics coming into the conversation such as gay marriage, separation of church and state, and foreign aid.

FullFact.org reports that in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018, there were an estimated 184,000 incidents of hate crime a year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. This is 40% lower than the estimated levels between 2007-08 and 2008-09. They also note that 76% of the hate crimes reported to the police based on this survey were based on race, highlighting the time period of the EU Referendum.

Additionally, the Office of National Statistics report that 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since they were 16 years old in 2017.

This could be read in several ways. We could say that the legal decriminalisation of hate crimes and discrimination has led to more reports, and also more heard and acted upon reports, and thus it looks like it has both increased and simultaneously not been acted upon (e.g. sexual assault and rape convictions).  However, as we know from historical events, the law and society doesn’t always match up. The law may encourage certain hate crimes (as Brunei has now made legal), but the people of Brunei have widely condemned themselves. In the same token, the law may outlaw things like hate crime across the board, as the UK has made progress in, but there’s still social sentiment that goes against these. Furthermore, it’s estimated in the same survey that 5 out of 6 victims (86%) didn’t report their experiences to the police.

Credit: Pxhere (CC0 Creative Commons).
Credit: Pxhere (CC0 Creative Commons).

Outside of statistics, there are many lived experiences that people convey on social media about them being let down by police protection and still facing discrimination and hate, including and especially online, that civil legislation arguably is not accounting for and recognising.

What can we do other than criminalising offenders? We can educate ourselves, educate other people. Don’t take this article as gospel, because there are multiple sources that provide different numbers, answers and views. We should encourage discussion and research (trusted research, not internet trolls), and find ways to grow ourselves and each other. We also need to call more loudly on our governments to identify issues and react appropriately to these, such as the financial barriers trans people face with things like menstrual products, deed poll and surgeries, and the institutional racism and xenophobia within the workplace and educational institutions.


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