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‘Misogyny in the Police is Why I Did Not Report’

Another day, another damning report has been released about misogyny and men’s violence in policing – is it any wonder women like me don’t report, asks Sian Norris

Two male police officers. Photo: Rodger Tamblyn/Alamy

Misogyny in the Police is Why I Did Not Report

Another day, another damning report has been released about misogyny and men’s violence in policing – is it any wonder women like me don’t report, asks Sian Norris

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I’d come to London for a series of work meetings, stayed the night to catch up with friends, and then enjoyed a breakfast in London Bridge with a close friend. It was sunny, the sky was blue, and I was high on sugary almond croissants and caffeine, taking the Jubilee Line and then the Bakerloo Line back towards Paddington.

It had been a good 48 hours in London but I was looking forward to going home. 

There were two other people in the carriage when I got on at Baker Street. A woman to the far right of me, and a man directly opposite me. 

I noticed the man was staring at me. It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a colleague about those ‘staring is sexual harassment’ signs. Walking home from a party a few weeks earlier, I’d seen graffiti scrawled over one of the signs, whining how men were being criminalised for looking. We all know what kind of staring they mean, I thought, and it’s this kind. 

It was then I realised: staring was not the problem, not now, not here, not for me. 

The man was stroking something around his groin area. I could see something sticking out of the top of his jeans, covered in black cotton fabric – the black cotton appeared to be his underwear. He stared, and kept on gently stroking this area, and stared. 

Oh boy, I thought. Well, let’s be frank, the word I was thinking was not printable in a respectable paper. This is happening isn’t it? This is actually happening. To me. This is actually happening to me. 

I weighed up my options. I could stay seated, and not let him know that I knew what was going on. I could get up, walk away, sit in the next carriage – even get off the tube completely and walk the rest of the journey. But then he would know that I knew. 

For some reason, I could not bear for him to know that I had seen what was happening. I felt that, if I gave myself away, by reacting or moving or leaving, then he would somehow win. So I sat there, for the short tube journey, my eyes glued to the faded ad copy selling me Wellness in a capsule, until I reached my destination and called my friend who, smiling and happy, I’d shared breakfast with half-an-hour earlier. 

“Something so weird has just happened I don’t even know how to describe it,” I said. “I just can’t believe it, I can’t believe it. I almost wonder if I misinterpreted it, you know? But how could I have misunderstood it when it was obvious what he was doing?”

The whole experience lasted about five minutes. 

I did not report. 

How Much Longer Can Women Live Like This?

Sian Norris

Why Don’t Women Report

I’m not telling this story to win sympathy or to make you feel sorry for me. It was not pleasant but I was fine, I got the train home and carried on with my day. I think about it sometimes and I talk to friends about it, particularly when something comes up in the news about indecent exposure or sexual harassment on public transport. But to be honest, it quickly became one of those things that happen and are put in the mental file of “gross s**t men have done to me”. 

I’m telling this story because once again, the police are under fire for a culture of misogyny and it’s because of that culture that I chose not to text the British Transport Police. I did not “see it say it sorted” and I did not report. 

Findings in His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services report on vetting, misconduct and misogyny in policing help to explain why. It revealed that domestic abusers and men who have accused of serious sexual crimes were free to serve and work with vulnerable women victims. 

It’s the latest in a string of reports that have found an embedded culture of misogyny in the police – including Baroness Casey’s interim report on police misconduct in the Met and the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing which found forces are failing to act on police-perpetrated abuse.

The report found that police officers and staff received vetting clearance after committing offences of indecent exposure and domestic-abuse related assaults, as well as being suspects of racially aggravated damage, serious violence and rape. Too often, those in charge of vetting considered these incidents a one-off, even though all the evidence suggests that men’s violence against women is often part of a continuum, with lower-level offences later leading to more serious violent attacks or even murders

This was clear in the findings of the report itself. Far from the problem being “woke police” – as culture wars waged by Conservative MPs and a right-wing press would have you believe – women officers describing “appalling behaviour” by male colleagues. Often, “the perpetrator was someone who had previously been reported for similar behaviour”.

Crucial to the report was the finding that “some forces have failed to consider the link between misogynistic behaviour towards colleagues and similar behaviour towards members of the public”.

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This is the crux of the issue. Why would a woman report indecent exposure, when she’s not confident the man taking the statement has not committed the crime, or covered up the crime, himself? Why would she call the police, when the police officer on the other end of the line may enjoy hitting, assaulting, abusing women? How can we trust the police to take our experiences of men’s violence seriously, when within the police it is not even considered a vetting issue? 

There are other experiences that influenced my decision not to report to the police – experiences that happened to loved ones and so are not for me to share here. What today’s report shows is that this lack of trust is not irrational, it’s not wrong, or paranoid. 

It’s instead based on the very real and lived experiences of thousands of women who have learnt too harshly and too painfully that the crimes committed against us are also committed by those meant to protect us. It is the rational response to a broken system that treats women’s victimisation as a joke on a WhatsApp group. It’s the learnt response to a broken system that allows for men to abuse their power, to keep women in their place. 

According to crime statistics, in 2020/21 there were 1,031 sexual offences on public transport. Of these, 219 were classified as exposure or voyeurism. 

If you have been a victim of rape or sexual assault, you are not alone. You can call Rape Crisis England and Wales on 0808 8029999 or chat online. If you live in Scotland, you can call 08088 010302. If you have been a victim of a crime on the UK transport network, call the British Transport Police on  0800 40 50 40 or text 61016.


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