Friday, 8 June 2012

KNOCK ME DOWN WITH A FEATHER...



Today I saw a pig fly. It was silhouetted in front of a blue moon and had been catapulted up there by a unicorn. And none of it blew my mind just as much as the news that the Metropolitan Police are admitting they need their McPherson moment because their handling of sex crimes has been so appallingly bad for years.

I could hardly breathe for reading this article when it popped up on Twitter on Friday night. It was too much for me to take in. Part of me was furious that such cases are still prevalent. Part of me was overwhelmed that the Met are being upfront and asking for evidence. And the rest of me was flooded with emotion to be proved that I was right, I am not a liar and I did deserve better.

Seven years ago I made a complaint against the Westminster Sapphire Unit because I was so unhappy about how they had handled my rape in August 2004. I had no idea what I was doing when I started it. I assumed it would be a bit like writing to British Gas and giving off stink, but probably without the M&S vouchers at the end of it. Traumatised, shell shocked, naive and not entirely sure what I wanted or needed, I sat down and wrote them a letter detailing every single issue I had with my case. It took days to write, overwhelmed me utterly and arrived with them exactly one year to the day that I reported the rape. It triggered off more than I ever thought I would cope with and as I detailed here, it would last almost 4 years before it was concluded. It was the hardest and stupidest thing I have ever done.

And I'd be lying if I said I'd done it for the greater good of feminism or other women. I didn't. I did it for me to start with and then by the time it really got rolling, I'm not even sure I wanted to do it for me but I was in too deep and was too stubborn to back out then. I think I thought that the police admitting they were wrong was going to undo the original attack. I never had any grand plan to stand up for anyone other than myself. I had to say that I worth being taken seriously otherwise I'd never believe it again and I'd never move on with my life.

I have no idea why other victims decide to make complaints. Maybe they have a bigger sense of collective responsibility? Maybe they are just grasping at something to stop them drowning as they try to find their way back from sexual violence? Maybe it makes them feel in control? I'm not sure it matters what the reason was, but that they stuck it out and increased the number of voices to be heard to a point where the attitude in the Met has changed so much. When I complained, in fact even when I wrote that blog post last year, I didn't forsee the Met being even the tiniest bit transparent. After all when my officers destroyed evidence in case and faked the paperwork and lied through their fucking teeth for months on end to me and their superiors, nothing much happened. The original officers got 'words of advice' and everyone else got a bollocking, but the Superintendent who forged my signature repeatedly to try and illegally end the complaint got off scot free and none of the officers who phoned me at 4am to put the frighteners on me saw any consequences. And it took almost 3 years to convince them I wasn't lying and make them actually look into the case properly in the first place which messed with my head no end. The mixture of hostility and ambivalence had me sure they would never really change and that they'd just continue to pay lip service.

To hear them go public tonight and ask for evidence of their failings has blown my tiny mind. It does not for one minute say they've changed for good and that no victim in future will have to endure a lack of justice and the worst of institutional failings and misogyny, but it is a massive sea-change that really makes me think that years of activism and campaigning and individual effort has had an impact. There has a subtle shift from refusing to listen even when confronted with the evidence to asking people to come forward and while it doesn't fix everything and it cannot heal the terrible pain their intransigence inflicted, it's incredibly hopeful. It feel like genuine progress when combined with Sapphire officers facing the courts for falsifying evidence when 4 years ago, that still only warranted a stern talking to at best.

So to see people who identify as feminists splash the story all over their timelines tonight by focusing entirely on the negatives is like a slap in the face to me. I'm not for one minute suggesting that this is all down to me, but I am expecting that those people respect the amazing achievements of the hundreds of women who went through hell standing up to the biggest police force in the country to keep the pressure on, even when they doubted themselves and the media ripped them apart and their lives fell apart round their ears. They made this difference in attitude possible and they should not be cheated of their moment. They should be applauded and thanked for blazing a trail and making a change because they stood up and made a fuss. This is an example of activism in action and it's crushing to see it written off by people who should know better as still not good enough. It negates the years and years of effort from victims and their friends and family and the solicitors and support workers who helped. It should be held up as a moment to appreciate the work that has already gone and seize the momentum to keep pushing so that the Met don't get complacent and think this is enough.

It's taken me years to be able to say 'I did something. I helped. I fought back when I could' and whiny as it might be to seemingly make this all about me, it stings when people you have helped smoothed a path for don't even acknowledge the wider issue, instead believing that the Met changed attitude all by theirselves. I mean this is probably the moment where I as a middle class white girl get a lesson about intersectionality and feminism that some women of colour or a different class got a long time ago and they are rolling their eyes at the drama queen over here. But I think it's important that women support other women as best they can and it seems like that message got forgotten. I hope they'll recognise that Rome wasn't built in a day and grow to support those who have been working on this for a long time so that we and the police know this is the voice of the majority speaking, not just the victimised.

In the meantime, I'd like to thank all the people who helped me add my voice. You've helped me pick up the pieces afterwards and you've been essential. Especially the other women I don't even know who also complained and kept each other company from afar in all those bloody waiting rooms. I appreciate your efforts more than you'll ever know. I just hope other people do too. And I hope that now the Met has confirmed we aren't liars, fakers, hysterics, freaks or drama queens, we can continue to put pressure on them en masse and build on what we've managed so far. Turns out it's not as unlikely as we all thought...

15 comments:

  1. Good post, you've been brave and you're right, out needs acknowledging.

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  2. Thank you (and everyone else involved) for going through this and fighting for justice. I am appauled that police officers have behaved this way and have been allowed (to continue) to behave this way by their superiors. I hope that this announcement by the Met brings the sea-change in attitudes that is required for rape and sexual assault to be taken seriously and (maybe even) improve rape conviction rates. Please know that your efforts are appreciated.

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  3. Back in 1977 when I reported an attempted rape to the local police, the officer told me that all my attacker needed was probably a good f**k.

    Glad to see things have changed!

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  4. Thank you for writing this, and thank you for standing up. You've done brilliant work, though you never should have had to go through this in the first place.

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  5. Anybody remember that case in the mid 70's where there was a film crew in a police station filming a documentary,fly on the wall style, and a woman came in to report a rape? Both male cops interviewing were really so horrible to her, saying she was asking for it etc that eventually she didnt take the case further. I remember it being quite big news then because of the cops ineptitude and downright nasty attitude. Its shocking that nearly 40 years later women can be treated in a similar fashion.

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  6. I'm so shocked that you had to be violated and disrespected twice . I have so much respect for you keeping up the fight I hope at the end of it you find peace x

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  7. I remember that documentary punchcroft. Was it the Thames Valley police force one? If I remember correctly, the woman invovled had mental health problmes, which made the police dismiss her complaint out of hand, even though we know that women who have mental health problems are statistically more likely to be raped, than the average. Maybe they didn't know that in those days, but even so, it was a really awful interview. Everything is supposed to have changed since then, but it doesn't sound like it...

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    1. I know the documentary you mean. I don't think things have changed enough since then, not helped by the fact that thr film-maker Roger Graef who made it seems to have become more right wing and less sympathetic to the issue.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1044160/Dont-blind-drunk-women-rape-bear-responsibility-happens-them.html

      This is his response to my rape compensation case. The man has never met me, doesn't know my blood alcohol levels that night and appears not to have researched that it was a drug rape, but he ripped me to shreds in the Fail. I also know several women on that follow up Panorama and he had an axe to grind about women and booze. Like Mad Mel and his fellow Mailites, he can't differentiate that drinking can mean anywhere between a glass of wine with dinner and three bottles of vodka, but that none make rape ok. Yet he continues to exert influence over the police...more than the thousands of women who actually know something about this instead of a bee in their bonnet from 30 years ago. Pah.

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  8. Dear Gherkingirl,
    Please don't bin this post, im am a serving police officer and am disgusted by the way you were treated. I have dealt with rape victims and know what a life changing experience it is for people and how it can utterly ruin a persons life. I had a girlfriend who was raped and she was not believed by the police so i do speak with a little experience from that point of view.
    Im going to come at the problem of conviction rates for rape from a different angle and try to show you the frustrating process the police face with this crime
    The public perception of rape generally is of the lone women walking home at 3am who is grabbed by a stranger, dragged down an alley and raped.
    You, me and i suspect a lot of your readers are probably aware that this rape is actually very rare and the simple truth of the matter is you are more likely to be raped by your partner, ex-partner or someone you know in your own home.
    The frustration the police face is a lot of allegations are very confusing (not confusing due to the allegation, confusing about what happened). I can tell you from experience that an allegation can be thus.
    " i went out last night, had 8 double vodkas, 6 shots of spirits, some cocaine. When i woke up this morning i knew i had had sex, but i didn't want to have sex as i have a boyfriend"
    This girl has been raped, simple. She would of been in a position where consent could not be given. Now lets say from forensics a suspect is identified and its someone she knows, in interview he states that he did have sex with the victim but she consented and it was before she was drunk and she came onto him. A good lawyer would run rings around police evidence in interview and later a court. The sad thing about rape is that its usually one persons word against another and to get a conviction in court its has to be established that the suspect is guilty beyond reasonable doubt and as he could be facing up to life in prison any doubt and a not guilty verdict will be returned.
    Im afraid i dont know the answer for this problem. Its the british legal system that is skewered towards the suspect as it is understood that it is better to let 100 guilty people go free than put 1 innocent person in prison.
    We should also live in a world where women can be free to dress how they want and drink and go where they want without the fear of predatory men thinking that just because a girl is drunk she is 'up for it'. Problem is we dont live in this world, we live in a world where immature men do think this and some regard women as a lower class and thus able to be violated.
    Ramble over, keep fighting the good fight and remember a few bad officers dont reflect all 140000 of us. I wish we could convict more on this crime (which is the most serious crime after murder in my book) but the whole british justice system (of which the police are only a small part) needs an overhaul.

    P.s please forgive spelling, written on iphone

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    1. Thanks for your offering from the inside perspective. The way men perceive women as objects to use is a problem. To ask the question of why do they view women as objects and to ask what can we do about that - is a good step for safety enforcers to be asking. Perhaps if the police would agitate the people who have the responsibility to create the laws to protect citizens; it could have an amazing response, as Gherkingirl and other victims did. Davids against a Goliath. Please consider taking up the standard to a safe world for women. Join the struggle - we need all concerned.

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    2. Alright! Survivors, not victims. I get that survivor is active and victim is passive. So speaking out is a way of being active. It is a good distinction.

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    3. Thank you for commenting. And I certainly wouldn't bin your comment (although Blogger hid it for a while!)

      Funnily enough, you aren't the only copper who has commented here and it really helps me to hear police show that the instutional failings and bad apples bother them too. Keep being good at your job, keep reminding your colleagues not to be blindsided by personal opinions or myths and to follow the evidence and you'll be doing amazing things.

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  9. Dear Gherkingirl,

    Thank you so much for the courage you have shown in persevering with your complaints. Women refusing to accept this treatment, as you have done, will eventually make the world a safer place.

    I wish you deep and sincere peace and release from your trauma.

    FreeIrishWoman

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  10. You, and the others, are game-changers. Your names may not go down in any history books, but you've all contributed to changing the way police approach sexual violence against women.

    Thank you all so much.

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