As a white English woman, I’ve always tried to be aware of my privilege. I don’t get profiled by the police for crimes because of my skin colour or religion, I’ve never had to teach my kids strategies for dealing with overly aggressive law enforcement and I’ve largely felt that the police were on my side and could be trusted. I could be pulled over in my car and not have to worry about it.
Sure, there’s been a long-running culture of police protecting their own, but closing ranks isn’t unique to one profession. I’ve got good friends in the police force, people who I’d trust with my life and I know I’m lucky to have been in this position.
Since hearing about the Sarah Everard case earlier this year, my feelings have started to change. I live in the sticks and I’m the only driver, so I spend a lot of time driving along quiet country lanes by myself. Just this week, I had a police car driving behind me at night and I felt very unsure. If I were to be pulled over, what should I do? I’m the last person who’d engage in a high-speed chase with the police, but at the same time, would I feel safe being pulled over at night on a deserted country lane? Not any more.
Sarah Everard’s killer abused his privilege in every way imaginable. He used his police credentials to stop her, he got her into his car under the pretence of an arrest and he had the chance to destroy evidence ahead of being arrested because he knew there were colleagues of his posted outside his house.
His colleagues also failed. Stories have emerged that not only was he reported for indecent exposure on more than one occasion and was never properly investigated, his fellow officers at the station where he worked branded him “The Rapist”. If you had a colleague about whom you had serious concerns like this, a colleague with powers to allow him to control other people, what would you do? Probably go to the authorities, right?
So, what do I tell my kids to do now? Husband and I are probably bordering on the psychotic when it comes to the safety of our kids, but that’s how we’ve always done things. When we’re out in public places, the lesson has always been “find a policeman” if we get separated or something bad happens. We’ve brought our kids up to trust the police and go to them in times of trouble.
I legitimately don’t know if I can do that anymore.
I’m aware that one “bad apple” (and I’ll be honest, I hate that phrase and really don’t think it does justice to refer to a murdering rapist in such louche terms) doesn’t mean that every police officer is untrustworthy, but the whole system of ignoring criminal behaviour and turning a blind eye for fear of alienating colleagues really does not do much for my faith. I don’t think I would be so quick to tell my daughters to be totally trusting of the police anymore, that’s for sure.
Since I started writing this, the Metropolitan Police released some guidance on how women should react if they’re stopped by a lone police officer – their solution is for women to try “shouting out to a passerby, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or, if you are in the position to do so, calling 999.” – they also said that women should feel able to challenge an officer and ask to see their credentials. I really fail to see how this would help, given the fact that Sarah Everard’s killer HAD police credentials and she trusted his actions in arresting her. This also is completely useless if you’re in a secluded location.
I’m not trying to say that I understand what it’s like to be part of a marginalised group of society like the BAME community does, not by a long shot. However, being a woman can make you feel incredibly vulnerable at times. There are already things I can’t do, places I can’t go and certain times during which I should be safely locked indoors, but without feeling like I can put my faith in the police, that window of opportunity feels EVEN smaller to me.
But, the point I’m making in a very roundabout way is this – if I don’t feel safe telling my daughters to go to the police for help and put 100% of their faith in them, what the hell do I tell them now?