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Sian Berry: Reform the ‘deeply sexist’ Met Police

OPINION: The Green Party's Sian Berry argues that action to change culture has been delayed

19 November, 2021 — By Sian Berry

Sian Berry

THE London Assembly last week voted to demand that the Metropolitan Police starts recognising and recording misogynistic hate crime, but much deeper reform is needed in the face of a deeply sexist institution.

In the Assembly debate, my Green colleague Caroline Russell talked about how the first proposals for this change were raised in London five years ago, and how the pace of change has been incredibly slow.

In 2017, the idea that crimes motivated by sexism should be treated like other hate crimes was almost flippantly dismissed, with Met Commissioner Cressida Dick saying “I am deeply sceptical of the use of scarce police resources to clamp down on wolf whistling.”

Now at last the language has softened, but the Met leadership is still delaying real action and, in the face of dismay and distrust from women across London, this just further demonstrates a lack of respect for our voices.

In recent years there has been no shortage of women speaking up about the culture of sexism in the police, including the activists challenging sexual abuse by undercover police officers. So it is a disgrace that any shift at all required the horrendous revelations that came with the sentencing of Sarah Everard’s police murderer.

Stories emerging this year from women who have worked in the Met include officers being sacked for reporting sexual assault at work or forced out by relentless sexist comments, and reports of pornography and vile jokes about victims being shared while on duty.

These stories make the Met seem like the most toxic workplace possible for women, but the attitudes they reveal affect all of us.

They affect whether women who report crimes are believed (particularly women of colour), and whether our crimes are investigated or even recorded.

Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick

Officers left on the street while under investigation for domestic violence or hateful conduct also affect our safety directly, yet this still happens.

Violence against women and girls simply won’t be fixed by sexist people.

Yet in these new hand-wringing times, I hear far too many speeches and statements from politicians that are also sexist – saying things like “we must protect our women” as if we are possessions or pets.

Patronising and sexist attitudes like this always lead to “solutions” like telling us to stay off the streets or public transport after dark, to chaperone each other or change what we wear. And of course they also lead to solutions that involve more policing, not better police.

What women really want is respect for our right to be equal participants in society and to have our own solutions listened to. Ask us and we might say we want police to listen when we report sexual assaults or stalking behaviour.

We want warning signs recorded and action taken on red flags, and we want to be able to get help with housing and services when facing danger at home.

Yes all this means changing our wider culture and public services but, as part of this change, only the deepest police reform will do, as black Londoners have known for decades. We need reform that is not afraid to clear out and replace sexist and racist individuals along with their attitudes.

A bad barrel needs new apples.

Let’s go back to first principles and create a service all of us can trust, based on updated modern, inclusive ideas of policing by consent. In my manifesto for London this year I proposed a citizens’ assembly to plan these reforms, where there would be no options off the table.

Nothing I have seen since May has changed my mind.

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