'They joke about raping women and stuffing them in the boot': female police officers tell their work stories

·9-min read
 It is a culture that condoned misogyny. - Reuters
It is a culture that condoned misogyny. - Reuters

This week we learned the devastating news that Wayne Couzens used his warrant card and handcuffs to falsely arrest Sarah Everard and strangled her with his police belt. He wasn’t just a rapist and murderer who happened to be a police officer. He was a rapist and murderer who deliberately exploited his status as a police officer to commit his heinous crimes.

As news emerges that Couzens was part of a WhatsApp group where he shared “discriminatory” messages and misogynistic content with five other serving officers; it becomes ever clearer that he was not an aberration.

Even as they guarded the cordon where Sarah’s remains were found, other officers were sharing memes about kidnap and murder. Just a year before, yet more officers were taking selfies of themselves with the bodies of murdered Black women Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. It is a culture that condoned misogyny.

Nowhere is that culture clearer than in the entries that have poured into my Everyday Sexism Project. Hundreds of entries from members of the public outline the sexism, racism and class prejudice they have faced from police officers.

But the allegations that really demonstrate just how deeply structural inequality runs through policing are the ones that come from women working within that system themselves.

Women working in policing - many of them currently serving officers in the Metropolitan Police - have written about their experiences of sexual harassment, discrimination, abuse and assault. There are also a disturbing number of stories from women whose partners or ex-partners are police officers. The examples, like the problem itself, are not restricted to the Met. Their stories are proof that this is an institutional problem, and one that requires a deep and systemic response.

In spite of all this, the police seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to avoid systemic scrutiny. In a shocking new low in victim blaming, North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Philip Allott today told a BBC radio program: “Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.” Referring to Sarah Everard, he said: "So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can't be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.”

Such victim blaming, which has today also seen police suggest that women attempt to flag down a passing bus if they have suspicions about an officer, requires a truly shocking refusal to confront systemic failings in the police force. The anonymous stories of these women show those systemic failings in devastating detail. We should listen to them...

"If you had to be raped by one of us..."

“I was out for a drink with colleagues on Friday and was the only female in the group. At one point, two of them, decided to ask me whether if I had to be raped by one of them which one would I prefer.

Seeing the look of disbelief on my face, they then rephrased the question to ask if they were both rapists, which one would I not mind. I was absolutely horrified and asked them if they we're serious.

Several of my other male colleagues looked uncomfortable but didn't say anything. I made my excuses and left, with a smile on my face, but inwardly furious. I'm in my late forties and these colleagues were a few years older. We're all police officers.”

"Women are seen as barely more than the sum of their sexual parts"

“I am a police officer in London and there are days when the sexism and misogyny is almost too much. When a male grudgingly compliments a female officer's capability, 'she's good' is always closely followed by 'for a girl'.

Any criticism of a woman is always based on her physical appearance, and any female who falls short of a Page 3 stunner is verbally ripped to shreds. Any woman under a C bra-cup is also absolutely denigrated, and is considered as barely qualifying as a woman. The constant drip drip of female objectification is hard to take, with women often being regarded as barely more than the sum of their sexual parts.

One of my favourite remarks uttered by a male colleague recently, in reference to a red-headed woman, was ‘I bet she's got an angry c---’.”

"My husband is part of the problem"

“My husband is a police officer and almost always uses words like; useless, idiot, b----, c--- or 'thick piece of s---' when referring to female officers. Especially the ones in management who "only got there because they have a p---- and the police are trying to be so politically correct".”

"He put his hand down my bra"

“I had been on a leaving do for a work colleague. I was giving a group of people a lift home, and this one particular person, married, a father, was the last to get out of my car. He was drunk but not so he wasn’t compos mentis... I pulled up at traffic lights and he leaned over and forced his hand down my shirt and straight into my bra.

I elbowed him away and told him to pack it in, I didn’t fancy him, he was married etc. He kept directing me the wrong way to his house and kept doing this, lunging into my top and grabbing my breasts while I was driving. I eventually pulled over and shoved him out of the car.

What makes it worse? He's a police sergeant. And I still have to see him regularly. I didn’t report him because I knew he'd deny it, I'd have to go through the trial process, and every other police officer who I work with daily would know I had made this complaint and most wouldn’t believe me.

I was the victim of sexual assault and it would have been MY career ruined.”

"They joked about kidnapping and mutilating women"

“My ex-partner was a police officer. He told me occasionally about the ‘black-humoured banter’ him and ‘the lads’ would engage in, that it was part and parcel of the job and that if I didn't find it funny it was because I didn't understand.

One story was apparently if they passed attractive women in the street in the police car, they would discuss how they would love to kidnap her, mutilate her body and stuff her in the boot. That apparently was hilarious.

I'm not making this up. When I didn't find it funny he told me I just didn't share their sense of humour.”

"I'm told to make the tea"

“I am the only female on a section of emergency response police officers. I am the butt of daily jokes, none of which are funny, all of which are tedious. I am called "slit arse", "whoopsy" and told frequently to get in the kitchen and make the tea - because that's all we are good for apparently.

At best this institutionalised sexism extends to me being always assigned to incidents that involve children and or sex offences against women. While I find helping these victims of crime enormously rewarding, it is a foregone conclusion that as the only woman on section I should deal with them.”

"They look at porn at work"

“I have to listen to daily conversational drivel involving football, female breasts and genitalia, Playsation shoot 'em ups and other brain numbing tripe. The men… that I have to endure working with look at porn on their mobiles almost daily and make revolting and shallow comments about my female colleagues and female members of the public.”

“If a female officer gets promoted to specialist role I have to endure days of their bitter remarks about positive discrimination. I have never heard any of them praise a female officer for her achievements on merit…”

I love my job, and endure the working conditions because I know if I complain I will be sidelined to some obscure office at the farthest reaches of my force.”

"Rape evidence was passed around for laughs"

“I was appalled by the way rape victims were spoken about. I had only been in the job six months when my crew mate showed around the evidence from a rape victim who had been left with very soiled underwear.

The offending item was in a sealed forensic bag waiting to be booked into property - when he ran about the office waving the stained crotch, visible through the clear seams of the bag, in people's faces. Oh how they all laughed.”

"Rape is funny"

“I work with a police officer who used to be on the rape unit. He thinks rape is funny and referred to women as 'hookers' on Twitter.... Yep, he still has a job.”

"Non-stop sexism"

“I used to be a Sergeant in the Police Force and encountered pretty much non-stop sexism from day one. I had my bottom squeezed by my patrol partner who I was meant to patrol with, on foot, every day alone.”

"What a firm grip she has"

“When I did my three week driver training course I spent eight hours a day in a patrol car with three other officers. Every time it was my turn to drive the instructor would, without fail, make a comment like ‘Ooh - look at the way she handles the knob’ or 'What a firm grip she has'. It was relentless.”

"My boss fancied me"

“I worked really hard, passed my Sergeant exams after only two years and was promoted.

On the way back to the station from a meeting, the senior male officer I was with - my boss - stopped the car and told me he really fancied me… why did I think he had helped me get promoted?”

"He had been doing this for 30 years"

“After two years of being groped and continual sexual comments by my boss, one of my male colleagues stepped in and blew the whistle. He was disgusted by the behaviour but because of the rank structure felt unable to do anything until he actually felt I was in danger.

Thankfully everyone believed me and he is no longer in his job. What was even scarier was the number of women who subsequently came forward and told their story of this man's behaviour towards them.

He had been behaving in this manner for nearly 30 years.”

"If we complain, we're 'dangerous'"

“Officers who did make complaints were deemed 'dangerous' and were not to be spoken to. 'Don't talk to her - she'll make a complaint about you.' They weren't backed up at incidents and were not supported in their work.”

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