The case of Shana Grice, the 19-year-old stalking victim who was fined by Sussex Police for wasting their time before being murdered by her ex-boyfriend, makes for disturbing reading. As a man, I do not know what it is like to be hounded relentlessly as a woman. But as a black gay man, and as a former detective, I know how it feels to be powerless – and I know exactly why women like her would be wary of reporting crimes to the police.
The officers involved in this case are facing disciplinary action, but whatever the specifics, I know that the sexism and discrimination inside the police force is very real.
Many women are treated badly, both internally and externally, and the evidence proves it: 13 other women had already reported Shana’s killer to the police for stalking, but their cries for help went unheard and no charges were ever brought.
In my family, my late mother was our matriarch. She believed in fairness and equality and she was the inspiration behind my career inside the force. Sadly, too many supposed to be upholding the law did not share my values.
There can be no excuse that these errors occurred because the job is difficult. I know how hard it is. I served in both the London and Greater Manchester forces and my workload in the north, within criminal investigation, covered rape and serious sexual offences – the majority of victims being women. Yet during my training, men commented that they didn’t like women teaching on that course because police work was “a man’s job”. Another asked why staff associations for women, black and gay people exist. “Why isn’t there a straight white man’s one?” he argued. Well, that already exists: it’s called the police force.
Patrolling the streets, I witnessed my male colleagues using patronising language towards women. At social events, some men were fearful of gay officers like me, presumably scared that gay men might treat them the same way some of them may have treated women.
It was common talk in the police that women were either “bikes or dykes” – sexist and homophobic slurs. Half the population are women yet still in the police they represent 30 per cent. In London, women make up just 27 per cent of officers.
In these times of global threats, the public tend to give the police a free pass when it comes to failings. “It’s a hard job, I couldn’t do it,” they think to themselves. But we must have higher standards. There is too much empathy within the police for bad behaviour. The amount of officers I have known being told “don’t do it again” over the years is mind-boggling. If officers were financially penalised when at fault, for example, as opposed to dismissed, wrongdoing would stop overnight.
The problem is that there is no willpower by either the pubic or elected officials to act on this. That’s why it’s important we keep discussing these issues publicly, so that one day we have a police force we all can be proud of and trust.
I don’t advocate sacking officers for the sake of it, because ultimately that is like cutting down weeds rather than pulling up the roots. Though the police urgently need to address the interlocking systems of oppression, which run throughout society and within its ranks, causing justified distrust within marginalised communities. Because until the roots of the weed – the sexism that allows ignorant and chauvinistic officers to not take women seriously – are pulled out, then vulnerable women like Shana Grice will continue to pay the price.
Published by The Independent on 10 April 2019.