Policing and Women’s Safety: Who Do We Trust?

Policing and Women’s Safety: Who Do We Trust?

ACAB. All Cops Are Bastards. The phrase seen repeatedly throughout this year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

It’s not a newfound way to belittle police officers, but rather alludes to the foundation which the justice system was built upon. ACAB highlights the fact that police officers are complicit in a system that was built on institutional racism and that actively devalues the lives of people of colour; a system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect. However, recently it’s been used in response to the issues surrounding policing and women’s safety in the UK.

Girls have all grown up with a specific kind of anxiety when they are out in public, all due to ‘catcalling’. Catcalling, by definition, is ‘the act of shouting, harassing and often sexually suggestive, threatening, or derisive comments at someone publicly.’ A study in 2018, revealed that 66 per cent of girls aged 14 to 21 were victims of catcalling. That statistic in itself is terrifying, but as women we had one refuge: calling or going up to the police when we felt unsafe. Now, recent events have brought to light how those who are meant to protect us have abused their power; so who do we trust? 

Sarah Everard was walking home on well-lit streets, while on the phone to her boyfriend. Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police Officer approached her, showed his warrant card and falsely arrested her. Sarah’s body was found on the 12 March, only nine days after her disappearance, and Couzens plead guilty to her murder. During the sentencing, the court heard how Sarah was a victim of “deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation and fire”.

Head of the Metropolitan Police, Dame Cressida Dick, has come forward to say that recent events have “raised important questions about women’s safety”. 

However, events similar to these have been going on for years. The latest figures show that since 2009 women have been killed by at least 15 former or serving police officers in the UK, and more have come forward about sexual harassment and assault. These figures in themselves should be raising questions about how thorough police vetting processes are.

The Metropolitan Police have posted advice in which they say that if you are approached by a lone police officer, and believe yourself to be in danger, to call 999 to double check if the officer speaking to you is in fact not abusing his power. 

Women have spoken up about this. I had the opportunity to discuss this case with multiple women, all of whom wished to remain anonymous.  One said “although it may only be a small number of policemen that abuse their power, naturally we have this new fear, and trust may never be fully formed again. We have to look out for ourselves and our own safety, it feels like a betrayal because we put so much faith in the police force to keep us safe.” 

Women have grown up with a subconscious curfew, naturally feeling scared to leave their homes by themselves, sticking to busy streets and sharing locations with family and friends. That is why this case is terrifying on so many levels, with many women sharing their anger relating to women’s safety and demanding that the government consider putting a curfew on men – why should we hide indoors when we are in fact the victims?

In a discussion with women regarding Policing and Women’s Safety, I asked a few questions:

How has this case changed the way you view the police force?

Individual 1: I definitely don’t trust male officers as much – I never really thought about being attacked by police officers before this case unless it was about racial profiling, not sexual assault, kidnapping and murder. 

Individual 2: It’s had a huge impact. The Sarah Everard case has been in mind more than any other case I’ve heard.  I think it’s mostly to do with the fact that it was an authoritative figure who took advantage of a situation that, in normal circumstances, Sarah would not have been able to resist. I’m more nervous about going out, especially at night, without someone who I think can protect me. I’ve become less trusting of police forces, but I don’t think I’d be completely unprotected around officers, because a lot of them work hard to protect us.

In a situation where you would require going up to the police, in light of recent events and the manner in which Couzens presented himself to Sarah, would still feel uncomfortable or would you approach the police offer to get some help?

Individual 1: I would feel very uncomfortable to go up to a male who’s not in uniform – even if he were in uniform, if there was a female officer present I’d much rather prefer to talk to her.

Individual 2: No I don’t think I would approach him. I mean I’ve got a phone and 999 is one call away which is much safer than approaching someone else.

What do you do, as a woman, do try to ensure your safety?

Individual 1: I always make sure to let someone know I’ve left/where I’m going/when I’ve arrived/when I’m going to be back. I try to stay in groups especially if out late, I try to make sure I get home before it’s dark, I try to make sure I stay in public areas where there are other people around in case of an emergency. I was recently talking to a group of girls starting uni and we all felt unsafe especially with late classes and agreed that we need some sort of defence mechanism that we can use straight away, like an alarm to raise suspicion to the police immediately.

Individual 2: I try to keep my phone at easy access at all times so that if I need to call anyone I can. I have emergency contacts listed ready to be called at any time. I have an emergency mode which is linked to emergency services. I regularly message my mum letting her know about my whereabouts and the trains I’m getting home. I have ’Find My Phone’ activated which simultaneously tracks my location. I try to travel with someone else.

Has this changed since the Sarah Everard case?

Individual 1: I’ve always been wary when walking by myself, especially since I started secondary school, but I have definitely become more conscious and nervous since the Sarah Everard case.

Individual 2: No not necessarily, as I would do this anyway, but I guess I’m doing it more often than I used to.

This distressing case has sparked a much-needed worldwide discussion on policing and women’s safety within politics and current affairs. Women shouldn’t have to be careful about their choice of clothing. They shouldn’t be told to stay in groups, to stay indoors once it starts getting dark, to learn self-defence, to not wear earphones, to hold their keys between their fingers in case of an attack. There needs to be accountability.

The severity of the situation should not be underestimated and pawned off as women being ‘dramatic’. The attitudes towards women need to be challenged and changed, and the increasing distrust between the community and the police force consolidate the need for reform. Reform by definition is ‘to make changes in (something, especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it.’ The justice system is steeped in corruption and to be silent is to be complicit. 

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