A Whole Rotten Orchard: Sexism And Policing In Britain

Poppy Read-Pitt

The issues our police have with sexism has been no more apparent than today, in light of the murder of Sarah Everard. But we have to shed the maxim that it’s just a few bad apples and start recognising that we’re faced with a whole rotten orchard.

Our police force is no stranger to having its relationship to gender inequality publicly scrutinised. Notably, during the Yorkshire Ripper murders in the 1970s, many feminist groups fought against police attitudes that seemed to lay the lion’s share of the responsibility for keeping safe at the feet of women. They considered curfews for women and their safety advice effectively consisted of ‘don’t be a prostitute and don’t go out when it’s dark’.

They are again putting the onus of safety onto women

Now, the Mets most recent advice for women on keeping safe if they feel suspicious of a lone officer (call 999, flag down a bus or challenge their legitimacy) is frustratingly reminiscent of that time, in that they are again putting the onus of safety onto women. There are also questions over how effective this advice will prove to be. Would it have mattered if Sarah Everard had challenged Wayne Couzens’ legitimacy, called 999 or tried to flag down a bus? Probably not, because in that situation he was the police officer; a trusted figure and the person with far more physical and social power than her.

Women are now publicly voicing their lack of trust in our police force, as many share stories of traumatic encounters where they felt unprotected or experienced members of the force being the perpetrators themselves. More so than anything else, it is the police’s responses to public complaints that deters women from trusting them the most. Every time there is a scandal our police continuously tell us to place our trust in them and they will tackle the issues raised, but each time they seem to fail to fix the issue, and their words become hollow as a result.

If our government truly wants to protect women and girls, they must start but compelling the police to enact changes

A change is needed because this is not just ‘a few bad apples’, this inequality is written into the DNA of our police force. It should not be the case that the institution designed to protect people are often viewed as perpetrators or aggressors by those who generally need protection the most.

I don’t want to hear about another case like Sarah Everard’s, but I’m absolutely certain I will because the same issues have been raised with the police for years now and we are still yet to see any major improvements. The idea of extreme reform or even abolition starts to feel less and less radical with every story like hers that we hear, and if our government truly wants to better protect women and girls, they must start by compelling the police to enact changes.

Poppy Read-Pitt

Featured image courtesy of Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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