After the tragic death of Sarah Everard earlier this month, the government have announced Project Vigilant, an initiative which sees the introduction of several new policing measures with the aim of improving women’s safety in public. Sounds promising, right?
Well the reality is not so clear-cut. Among these measures is a plan to introduce plainclothes police officers in bars and nightclubs, a proposal which has unsurprisingly been met with considerable controversy.
Putting aside the blatant logistical and practical issues, surely it does make sense that the presence of police in night venues will make women safer and lower crime rates? Well, perhaps, if it weren’t for the fact that police mistrust in the UK is at an all-time high.
shocking scenes of heavy-handed police arresting women peacefully attending the vigil made the headlines
For those that don’t know, the man allegedly guilty for Sarah Everard’s murder, Wayne Couzens, was a serving police officer. One of the very people who are meant to make us all feel safer. And then, at a vigil held for Sarah at Clapham common the same week of Couzens’ arrest, shocking scenes of heavy-handed police arresting women peacefully attending the vigil made the headlines.
The event sparked public anger towards the metropolitan police force and provoked questions about their possible abuse of power. In the days following, calls were made for the met police chief to resign, while the home secretary launched an independent investigation into the force’s actions that evening.
In a separate event, albeit inextricably linked to the scenes at Clapham common, Bristol saw two nights of protests this week over the proposal of a new policing and crime bill which has now undergone its second reading in parliament. The legislation would give police more power to make arrests at protests. It’s fair to say, the police have been the subject of much criticism in recent weeks.
In the wake of Sarah’s death, millions of women across the country took to social media to show their solidarity, sharing their experiences to raise awareness of the alarming levels of sexual harassment they’re subject to, and the general dangers they face when on the streets alone.
With 70% of the UK police force being male, it’s no wonder that women are feeling anxious about the prospect of plainclothes policing
A social media frenzy ensued. The outcry towards the ‘Not All Men’ hashtag was fierce. We know it’s not all men, but 93% of killers in England and Wales are, in fact, male. A 2017 investigation by the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 4% of men experienced some form of sexual assault while in contrast, the Guardian showed that for women that figure was 97% (later amended to 86% due to incorrect findings).
Those statistics speak for themselves. With 70% of the UK police force being male, it’s no wonder that women are feeling anxious about the prospect of plainclothes policing. While the likelihood is that the police officers who misuse their power are the minority, that can’t be so naively assumed by a woman who finds herself alone at a bar.
Undercover officers in night venues will achieve very little in terms of improving women’s safety. What it will do is give police officers more opportunities to abuse their power. Who will protect us from those undercover officers?
Regardless of whether you trust police, there are still reasons to remain sceptical. Every woman you know will tell you that sexual harassment or assault in clubs is mostly sly and covert. How is an undercover cop supposed to spot a guy groping my arse, unsolicited, in the middle of a club? So, even if intentions are in the right place, cases aren’t likely to decrease, and the potential presence of police won’t be much of a deterrent either.
These occurrences aren’t limited to ominous alleyways after dark, they happen in broad daylight in public parks
What recent events have shown is that sexual assault is not limited to predatory men who frequent nightclubs. Sarah Everard was walking home. These occurrences aren’t limited to ominous alleyways after dark, they happen in broad daylight in public parks, in the street, and in the workplace.
Ask any girl you know who exercises in your local park just how many times she’s been catcalled, beeped at, stared at, or followed. The death of Sarah Everard and the reactions across social media have exposed a systemic issue entrenched in the misogynistic attitudes that pervade our society. A handful of plainclothes officers isn’t going to change that. This initiative is nothing more than a subterfuge to satisfy the disgruntled public and silence frustrated women. We demand and deserve more from the government, the police, and the entire male population.
Featured image courtesy of King’s Church International on Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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