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2 June 2022

The Met’s treatment of women is an outrage – but who will act?

We must not let our lack of surprise at the police’s misogyny turn into apathy.

By Rachel Cunliffe

The Metropolitan Police has charged six people for attending the vigil for Sarah Everard in March 2021 and breaking lockdown rules.

This was, to recap, a vigil in response to the brutal rape and murder of a woman at the hands of a serving police officer – an officer who was nicknamed “the rapist” by colleagues and who had been accused of indecent exposure in the weeks before kidnapping and killing Everard. It was a vigil that the Met Police did everything in its power to prevent, wrongly refusing permission to the organisers in a decision that a court has ruled was “not in accordance with the law” and breached the rights of those wanting to protest. The Met has attempted to appeal this ruling, and been denied. Twice.

In timing that seems far too convenient to be a coincidence, the Met’s second appeal against the decision was dismissed one day before the six individuals were charged for breaking lockdown regulations by turning up on Clapham Common to mourn Everard and protest against violence against women. It is very difficult to read this decision as anything other than pure vindictiveness: in response to being disgraced by revelations that one of its officers was a murderer and a rapist and humiliated by the court ruling, the police force prosecutes those who attended the “illegal gathering” – a gathering that would not have been illegal had the Met not illegally refused it permission to go ahead.

That conclusion – that the largest police force in the country appears to be actively punishing women and those who support women instead of protecting them – is appalling but it’s not shocking, not really, not when you put it in context. That context, of course, includes the botched investigation into parties at Downing Street that turned a blind eye to photos of the Prime Minister at social gatherings full of people and alcohol, but fining junior (mostly female) staff.

But it encompasses so much more. Such as the official advice in October after the sentencing of Everard’s killer that women who feared a lone police officer should run away or “wave down a bus”. Or the admission from a former chief superintendent in the Met that female officers are afraid that if they report their male colleagues they might be abandoned while on duty, putting their safety at risk. Or the official report into the Met in February which revealed text messages sent between officers joking about hitting and raping women, with one male officer telling a female colleague “I would happily rape you.” Or the Met officer charged with rape just this week (he was “not on duty at the time of the reported offence”, we have been told – well, that’s alright then).

Most damning, perhaps, was an under-reported finding by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism just two months ago that 80 per cent of police officers accused of domestic violence kept their jobs, with most facing no sanctions at all. The Met received 398 domestic abuse reports over three years; nine people were dismissed. In so far as the force cares about misogyny and violence against women within its ranks, it seems to primarily care about covering it up.

No one appears particularly motivated to do anything about this. The Home Secretary is too busy working out how to deport desperate refugees to an African dictatorship to care much about the police, and when she does turn her attention there it’s to grant them more powers to shut down protests they don’t like. The policing minister thinks forces should focus on random drug tests for middle-class users of cocaine and MDMA – an interesting allocation of resources, considering 1.6 per cent of rape cases lead to a charge in England and Wales. And, of course, the PM has little interest in taking on a police force that has just exonerated him and his top team from an awkward political scandal. Labour, meanwhile, is tied up in its own lockdown knots, and besides there’s so much else going on. The cost-of-living crisis. The war in Ukraine. Rising inflation. Monkeypox. And anyway, hasn’t the Met always been rotten and misogynistic? What can you do?

As for women themselves, there is real righteous fury there alright – the backlash against the Met’s decision this week has been fierce. But you won’t see much of it make the headlines or broadcast rounds. It’s not sexy to talk about rates of domestic violence and misogyny among the police. It’s not a culture war issue; it’s not provocative; it’s not new. Much more important to get women to argue about what JK Rowling has said about trans people recently, or how Amber Heard has destroyed the #MeToo movement, or whether good old-fashioned marriage is the best way to protect women.

I’m not sure how any of that would have helped Sarah Everard, though. Or the women hurled to the ground by police for the perceived crime of publicly mourning her. Or those married to abusive officers who face no consequences for their actions.

And I’m not sure how we fix the fact that the capital’s police force would rather prosecute six people for attending a vigil than tackle the toxic, sexist corruption that prevents it from serving half the population it is meant to keep safe. But whatever the solution is, it starts with outrage, and with not letting our lack of surprise become apathy. London’s women deserve better.

[See also: Of course the only person to resign over partygate is a woman]

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