I have watched the national coverage of policing following the shocking murder of Sarah Everard through three different lenses; as a woman and as a woman in policing and, more recently, as a senior woman in policing.
Those three lenses have frequently been in conflict and accurately capturing feelings has felt complex which is why I’ve taken some time to talk to colleagues and community members before committing my thoughts to publication in this way.
As a woman, I have felt the same way as many women that have bravely spoken this last few months; just like you, I have felt the need to take steps to protect myself when off duty. I’m sure most of us have felt unsafe in some places but I know that this is something that women feel more often and in more ways. This ‘mental load’ is being recognised. This needs to change and men need to embody that change. It’s not for women again to have to amend their behaviours and the decisions they make.
As a woman in policing, I can say categorically that things have improved over the course of my 21 years of service. However, better does not mean perfect. We see in forces across the country that misogyny exists in the same way it exists in society; policing is made up of people from our communities. But we must and should expect more from police officers. We all have a responsibility to tackle and point out things which can make a workplace less welcoming for all and to provide a safe space for women to speak up.
My encouragement to our male colleagues is to start talking (and not simply amongst yourselves) about what they can do to help women in policing – it starts with simple actions such as tackling any inappropriate comments. The standard you ‘walk past’ is the standard you accept, and our standards have to be set to value and empower women in our ranks and in the community.
I would ask colleagues to think ahead of time how they would react to an inappropriate comment, text message or social media post they see. Preparation on how you would challenge a comment assists in taking that first step to challenge and its why talking about it ahead of time with colleagues makes it easier. This is a responsibility you have; it isn’t optional in nature. Appropriate challenge is about acknowledging that across society we all now need to do better.
As a senior woman in policing, I want to hear a diversity of voices talking about the safety of women in society. I do not doubt that Sarah Everard’s tragic death will bring reflection and change, not simply for the police service but the whole Criminal Justice System and society in general. The dignity shown by Sarah Everard’s family is an example, and a demand, that we do much better.