Handling of Sarah vigil reinforces my view we've lost faith in police

People clash with police as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets v

People clash with police as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled - Credit: PA

A question demanding an honest considered answer.

If you, your daughter or granddaughter was attacked by a man, sexually assaulted or raped, would you have complete trust and confidence that the police would deal with the complaint appropriately?

I wouldn’t. I want to, I really do. But I’d question if most people, hand on heart, have an unquestioning faith in our police force’s actions, motives and attitude.

There should be no hesitation, or need to even think, of the police should be the first call after any crime. No victim should even doubt that a complaint would be met with help, fairness, efficiency and from people in the organisation whose mission is to protect us.

But that blind faith faded a long time ago, I’m afraid.

Watching two male police officers pinning a young woman to the ground with another leaning in towards her seconds after she was sitting quietly at a vigil remembering a 33-year-old woman murdered walking home at 9.30pm extinguished the last embers of hope that our police force and the views of those in it have evolved with the rest of society.

If whoever gave those orders on Saturday night, and carried them out, believed that was how a nation wanted its police to enforce lockdown rules in a pandemic, professional development in ‘reading the room’ should be this week’s priority.

The police action was heavy-handed and misguided at best. Engrained institutional misogynism at worst. All of which we don’t want in any police force.

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Would I seek help from this institution, with the background that 55,000 women report rape every year with only 1700 having charges brought? No way, and it sickens and saddens me to admit it.

Saturday night on Clapham Common remembering the bright light and promise of Sarah Everard being snuffed out led to women sharing experience after experience of sexual harassment and assault and anger about the police and the wider criminal just system failing to take their reports seriously. Because they were women.

Women feeling dismissed, not believed, made to feel they were making a fuss, over-reacting, had misinterpreted a man’s actions and motives and, that word so commonly used by men about women, were hysterical, because of their gender.

Had I not experienced this attitude from the police first hand, I too might have felt it exaggerated, but, in a police station, in the company of one detective, I heard more than I needed to know to understand that the view of women among some police officers would make me fear any future engagement with them.

Talking to him about an alleged crime against a woman by a man, he did nothing to mask his view that my friend and I were fanciful, over-imaginative, excitable man-haters, conspiracy theorists who were wasting his precious time on “real crimes.”

His terminology, approach and lack of interest and any empathy illustrated perfectly his view of women. Silly little things that get daft ideas about men into their heads and over-react. Men need to be protected from them.

We were shocked and felt physically ill at his attitude. We would have reported him had we thought we would achieve anything. It still makes me feel sick today – not only his words and attitude, but that we gave up challenging his view and walked out when he opened the door for us, bringing the interview to an end when he had had enough, and didn’t go on to make a formal complaint.

Officers and campaigners say progress has been made in the police force but those in it and who use it say there is still toxic masculinity.

Former chief constable Sue Fish once in charge of Nottingham Police, has spoken on institutional misogynism, which was so engrained in the decision-making. They don’t realise they are doing it and why.

Just this week it was revealed that a police probationer working on the Sarah Everard cordon had sent sick jokes about the murder to a male Whatsapp group. There are no words.

Men’s WhatsApp groups have a lot to answer for, where swapping and sniggering at the types of ‘jokes’ that would make them see red if they referred to their wives or daughters.

But anti-women ‘jokes’ under that shameless excuse of ‘banter’ – pulled out as the mask for outrageous sexism, bullying, racism and anything offensive that can be laughed off as just 'bantz'.

What’s so sad about this week’s events, is that nothing is changing. The police might insist it is, but ask a young black man, accustomed to being pulled over and searched, or women feeling cared and unconfident in police doing their role.

Lack of trust in the police is not new. But in a fast-changing world, nothing has changed and an institution that should be the first to understand how society works is an anachronism that is screaming out for reform from top to bottom.