2nd October 2021
Reclaim the streets protesters demand action
Lack of confidence in the police is nothing new. As the enforcement arm of the state the police have a long history of intervention in industrial disputes, violence against pickets and covering up their actions from scrutiny. The Miners’ Strike of 1984/85 is the most significant recent example, the actions of the police against miners on a picket line at Orgreave the most flagrant example of their violation of human rights.
The failure of the police to protect football fans in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 and the subsequent lengths to which the police went to cover up their ineptitude, with falsified evidence statements and false accusations, has taken decades to be fully uncovered.
The murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, which resulted in the MacPherson Inquiry which found the Metropolitan Police to be institutionally racist, has still not seen the perpetrators brought to justice. The failure of the police to take the initial investigation seriously meant vital time and evidence, which could have led to convictions, was lost.
The level of violence and intimidation that black communities across Britain suffer at the hands of the police has long been a factor in the relationship between those communities and the police being one of mistrust.
The recent conviction of a serving Metropolitan police officer, Wayne Couzens, for the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, has re-activated the discussion about trust in the police, in particular in relation to violence against women.
Couzens is clearly a particularly malign and disturbed individual but the fact that he could not only survive but prosper within the police forces for which he worked points to a deeper, more intractable cultural issue which needs to be addressed. That Couzens was known ‘jokingly’ as ‘the rapist’ amongst colleagues is bad enough. That he was implicated in at least two incidences of indecent exposure is hard to believe. That, in spite of this, he went on to secure a position as an armed officer with the Metropolitan Police is a scandal.
Couzens’ rise through the ranks is symptomatic of the institutional failings of a police force where there is widespread acceptance of sexism and, worse still misogyny, as banter. The problem however, goes much deeper. As Anthea Sully, CEO of White Ribbon UK has pointed out,
“86% of women have been harassed in public places, 9 in 10 girls of school age have experienced sexist name calling or sent explicit videos and 1 in 2 women have experienced harassment in the workplace. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and every year in the UK 120 -150 women are killed by men. This violence, coupled with women’s fear of men’s violence significantly reduces women’s freedom to live the lives they want to lead.”
The growing prominence of women in the fields of sport, the arts and politics all helps to change wider perceptions of women’s capability and achievements. Women visibly being in important and challenging roles are vital and necessary role models for girls but also for boys, many stillcurrently raised on the assumption that it is men who will, and should, do the most important jobs.
Conversely the roles in which women are prominent as the majority workforce, often in the areas of caring, nursing and teaching, should be as valued as any professions in which men currently predominate.
The changes required go deep into the assumptions of roles in family structures and at every level of the education system, including the Early Years. They require the challenge to long held institutional throwbacks to women as property, to the concept of a family ‘breadwinner’, to the role of both parents in raising children and how that is accommodated by employers and not seen as an impediment to career advancement.
It requires a change to the teaching of history and bringing to the fore the invisible women whose achievements have been written out of the narrative of society’s progress.
Such actions challenge the very edifice upon which the capitalist system has evolved and the structures which have developed to support that system, denying women their voices as equal citizens.
None of this will bring back Sarah Everard or the many other women who have suffered a similar fate. It may however accelerate the process of valuing women more highly and reducing the possibility of such acts occurring.
In the short term, reform of the police force and how it deals with crimes of domestic violence and rape will be necessary. This is a vital first step towards women simply feeling safe in their own homes and their own communities. It is a vital step towards women being empowered to speak up and know they will be taken seriously.
The longer term eradication of violence against women is inextricably bound up in the ideology, values and assumptions upon which the British state is based, all of which are long overdue for revolutionary change.