Last year I finally received an apology from the police after I was violently strip-searched in 2013. Video footage subsequently emerged of officers at Stoke Newington police station using ‘sexist, derogatory and unacceptable language’ to discuss my ill-treatment. I was arrested after attempting to hand information to a black 15-year-old about his rights during a stop and search, then forcibly stripped when I refused to give police my details. Officers were recorded joking about whether my body was ‘rank’. ‘What’s that smell?’ asked one officer. ‘Oh yeah, it’s her knickers’.
What happened to me was not exceptional. The solicitor for another victim last week described the use of strip searches to punish and coerce detainees as ‘a low-level form of torture’. Meanwhile the Independent Office for Police Conduct found Met officers routinely joked about raping women, beating their partners and killing black children. Rather than protecting the most vulnerable in our society, the police demean, dehumanise and abuse them. This is why I support defunding the police and instead focusing our efforts on ‘collective care’.
The police’s ‘culture’ problem is not limited to the Met. From the ‘spycops’ scandal to allegations of sexual abuse by guards at immigration detention centres, we see that sexism and sexual violence are normalised in policing. Having experienced first-hand the litany of lies, refusals to disclose evidence and prohibitive costs of legal action that conspire to disappear complaints into a bureaucratic abyss, I suspect cases such as mine are just the tip of the iceberg.
Priti Patel says she is ‘sickened’ by the IOPC report. But she is the author of multiple bills making their way through parliament that would greatly expand the police’s repressive powers. The government’s argument for the bills relies on us naively believing that the police can be trusted to exercise discretionary powers in a reasonable manner.