MISOGYNY could become a distinct hate crime in Scotland as part of efforts to tackle the wave of abuse directed at women on social media, the Justice Secretary has announced.

Humza Yousaf said the option of a new standalone offence of “misogynistic behaviour” would be included in a forthcoming consultation on a new hate crime Bill at Holyrood.

The move goes further than a recent review of hate crime, which said misogyny should be an aggravating "hostility factor" in prosecutions, but not a separate offence.

However as part of a shake-up of Scotland’s hate crime legislation, Mr Yousaf said he would consult on both the aggravation option and the distinct offence.

Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, welcomed the development.

She said: “Rape Crisis Scotland supports the introduction of misogynistic harassment as a hate crime as we consider that it has the potential to improve the protection offered to women and girls in Scotland.”

The three-month consultation is due to be launched in the coming weeks, with a consolidation Bill drawing together all of Scotland’s hate crime legislation published later next year.

On the opening day of the SNP conference in Glasgow, Mr Yousaf said: “Whether it is anti-Catholicism, anti-Protestantism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia or any other hatred – it has no place in Scotland .

“Hatred isn’t directed only to minorities - ask any woman that.

“Misogyny is so ingrained, so normalised within our society, so structural within our institutions it needs some radical action to tackle it.

“I can therefore confirm that in our consultation on Hate Crime I will ask a specific question on whether to make hate motivated by misogynistic harassment an offence, just as hate based on religion and race is.

“We will send a signal that Scotland has zero tolerance for hatred directed to women."

Earlier this year the SNP MP Mhairi Black called for misogyny to be treated as a hate crime after reading out examples of the graphic abuse she endured regularly on social media.

The Paisley MP said: “You're left reading them on my screen every day, day in, day out. I've been assured multiple times I don't have to worry because I am so ugly that no-one would want to rape me. All of these insults have been tailored to me because I am a woman."

In his recent review of Scottish hate crime legislation, the former judge Lord Bracadale said misogyny should be regarded as an aggravating factor in prosecutions.

He said there was evidence of “a very significant problem of abuse (both online and offline), assault and harassment which is directed at women for a reason related to their gender, and which could be dealt with more effectively by the criminal law than it is at present.”

Although some of this could be dealt with under existing legislation, he said “the scale of the existing behaviour” meant an additional response was needed.

“I would propose that it be left to the prosecutor’s discretion whether it is appropriate to add an aggravation to any offence at the point that it is charged, including a sexual offence.”

He said this would make it “more culturally acceptable to object to the behaviour”, recognise the harm caused, enable the behaviour to be recorded, and ‘send a message’ to society.

However he said he was “not convinced” that a stand alone offence was the best way to tackle the problem of criminal misogynistic harassment.

Mr Yousaf also announced he was to chair a new “Victims Task Force”, to improve the way the justice system dealt with victims of crime.

He said: “Beginning its work this year, the Task Force will focus on delivery of the ‘victims package’ commitments in Programme for Government.

This will provide the necessary oversight and momentum to ensure progress and achieve better outcomes for all victims of crime.

“We will ensure that our work to place victims at the centre includes specific actions to improve the experience of victims of rape and sexual assault.”

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “This task force must address how the SNP's soft-touch approach to justice lets down victims of crime and their families.

"It is a start but the only legislation proposed is all about soft touch offender ‘rights’.

"Warm words will never replace strong action."