By Lara Iyer
As a young woman of colour who lives and breathes London, the news cycle over the past six months has been disheartening, appalling and shocking. I know I am one of the many millions of women and female presenting people that live in London who feel an intense sense of danger walking alone, at any time of the day. Winter is coming and that in and of itself brings along with it its own plethora of challenges to navigate.
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With the sun setting earlier and the number of daylight hours lessening, trust in the police has never been more crucial. After the horrendous murders of both Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa (may they rest in peace), it has never been more imperative for us as a society to address the colossal wrongdoings that exist institutionally within structures that, by definition, exist to protect us.
However, the real issue for me lies in the increase of instances of new products targeted towards women to provide a weak and sometimes insulting impression that something is being done. The notion that women should purchase products in order to feel safer on the streets of London or in bars, restaurants and clubs is the most subtle, yet brutal form of victim blaming and social gaslighting. Such products are often made for women, by women.
While this is empowering, products like a date rape nail polish that identifies if a drink has been spiked, or portable drinks covers that fit over your glass in a club or bar do absolutely nothing to confront the actual issue at hand. There has even been an increase of small businesses selling keychains with ‘self-defence’ attachments targeted for women. Products such as these are simply remedies for the symptoms of the actual disease – public spaces are rarely safe for women and they are definitely less safe than they are for men. This is the metaphorical equivalent of putting a plaster on an arm that is fractured in multiple places. The issues are and will continue to be, internal.
The power of these products will continue to be diminished unless there is a complete re-evaluation of what violence against women is and the debilitating consequences of this. In the past two weeks alone, there has been an overwhelming abundance of evidence to suggest that our leaders, the people we have democratically entrusted to make decisions for the wellbeing of the British people, possess a fundamental and widespread misunderstanding of what misogyny is and how it continues to plague our society.
On the 5th of October, The Independent reported that ‘Boris Johnson rules out making misogyny a hate crime because it would overload Police’. Put differently, our Prime Minister unabashedly stated that he ‘cannot make something a crime as recognition of this crime will lead to an overwhelming instance of this same crime’.
Embarrassingly for the Tories, I am unsure if Johnson or any members of his inner circle realise the utterly nonsensical and insulting nature of this soundbite. Another example includes the comments from Philip Allott, Conservative North Yorkshire police commissioner who stated that ‘women need to be more streetwise’. Let me remind you that these comments were made after it was known that Couzens wrongfully arrested Sarah Everard, a vulnerable woman on her own, just trying to make it home. Do women need to be more streetwise, or do police officers need to avoid doing illegal things?
With the night tube not running (even on weekends) one begins to ask if women’s safety is a priority for this government and for the City of London. Although the night tube does not remedy the rampant misogyny in society, this would at least provide a more practical and helpful solution (albeit superficial) that does not place the responsibility of men’s abhorrent behaviour on women. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, implored this week he will have more updates on the reopening of the night tube in the next fortnight.
Khan comes to mind as one of the few men in a position of power that perhaps mildly understands the absolute lack of knowledge concerning misogyny within the current Tory cabinet. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab’s comments that completely failed to encapsulate the basic fundamentals of misogyny might be what prompted the mayor to state on LBC on the 7th of October that there needs to be ‘education’ for those currently in power. With half the population of Britain identifying as female, it is unbelievably disheartening that Raab, the man in second command after Johnson, lacks such basic knowledge.
With this information then, it might become easier to comprehend the severity of misogyny as a crime within the law. Without a complete re-evaluation and upheaval of the way violence towards women is received and understood, I strongly doubt we will see any subsequent changes in practical solutions and remedies for this horrid disease within British society. Sisters Uncut, the organisers of Sarah Everard’s vigil are a British feminist direct action group that saw its fruition in 2014 as a result of government cuts to funding that supports victims of domestic abuse. They are at the forefront of arguments such as this.
Their website provides the harrowing truth that since 2009, at least fifteen women have been killed by police officers and a minimum of one woman a week comes forward to report a serving officer for domestic or sexual violence. This information becomes more pertinent now as it is a well-known fact Couzens moved to the Metropolitan Police after he received allegations of similar sexual misconduct while serving for the Kent and Sudbury police departments.
What’s more, he was found to be a member of a number of misogynistic and homophobic WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Clearly, there is a lack of basic internal checks and accountability paired with a presumed level of immunity placed upon police officers. There must be a cultural reset if we can even begin to trust the police, those who are supposed to protect us, again.
While currently within the law there exists a provision that allows a judge to increase the severity of a punishment if the fact that the victim was a female was an aggravating factor in the crime, clearly this has next to no deterring qualities. Sexual and physical abuse towards women continues to plague our society. These weak provisions and caveats are simply not enough. Other ridiculous solutions have been put forward – women should call 999 if they feel they have been wrongly arrested or they should wave to get the attention of a bus driver. It is unclear if women should take these actions before or after they are illegally handcuffed.
I do not think I am alone in understanding the dangers of allowing such injustices to continue to flourish in British society. Desensitisation towards stories such as these are a real danger. Action must be taken now. The longer that action toward real solutions is delayed or ignored, more women will continue to have their lives stolen from them.
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