The police and instrumentalising survivors

Content note: this post discusses rape 

On Saturday night I sat shivering outside a police station with a bag of cereal bars and a friendly smile, waiting for comrades to be released from police custody following their mass arrest for Standing While Antifascist. Police came and went from the station, and eventually a car rocked up full of plainclothes cops, one of whom I’m pretty sure I recognised from actions and so forth; a meat-headed hegemonically masculine fucker.

Unsurprisingly, comrades were vocally critical of the police, particularly as it was a day where more than 280 people had been arrested for Standing While Antifascist. The police were asked what good they thought they possibly served in their role of police officers.

And they went on the defensive with a tired old line I’ve heard a thousand times before. “Tell that to the rape victims [sic],” they said. “Tell them we’re not doing any good.”

I’m not sure why it hit me so hard this time, but I kind of shut down. Full anxiety, unable to form words bollocks. Basically, I knew I would either cry or hit one of those jowly-faced pricks, and neither option was particularly appealing as showing weakness in front of pigs is almost as bad as assaulting one directly outside a cop shop. And so my brain decided to temporarily BSoD.

And now I’m left thinking of what I should have said, what I would have said had I been able to.

I’m thinking of how perhaps I could have said that as a survivor myself I never wanted to go fucking near the police because who on earth would? I would not want their sausage fingers probing my recently-violated flesh, hands more suited to violence than to aid. I wouldn’t trust the sensitivity of that porcine pair in any of it.

I’m thinking of how perhaps I could have pointed out the numerous fuck-ups that the police as an institution have made. Losing evidence, dropping cases on purely arbitrary criteria, all adding to unnecessary additional trauma. I could have mentioned how their Sapphire unit seems to be under a near-perpetual state of reshuffle as yet another survivor is let down. I could have mentioned how they continue to pump out propaganda placing blame on the survivor rather than the perpetrator. I could have mentioned how when police officers rape, it is often treated as an internal matter, only misconduct, much like fudging some paperwork (although, often their fudged paperwork happens to help perpetrators). I could have mentioned how they deceive women into sex to collect information on them. I could have mentioned how all of these failings put together paint a picture that suggests they cannot possibly be so awful by accident. I could have asked them whether they think their all-round hideousness contributes to the fact that the vast majority of rapes go unreported.

I’m thinking of how perhaps I could have asked why they had decided to point at an area where they are mostly contributing to a culture of violence by their inaction, rather than their usual method of actively perpetrating violence; in particular on a night where they were holding hundreds of non-consenting people merely because they had Stood While Antifascist.

I’m thinking of how perhaps I could have said that it is utterly disgusting that they use rape survivors as human shields against criticism. We are people, not an abstract concept which helps the filth sleep at night, that allows them to pretend to themselves that they are somehow doing good. We are not a trump card to be played, nor are we a distraction from the utterly unjustifiable. It is vile to instrumentalise human beings, yet this is what the bastards do time and time again. And it is horrible to see this line trotted out, confirming suspicions that this is all the police think of survivors. A problem to be solved so they have a success story so they can deflect attention away from their own thoroughly inexcusable violences.

I said none of this, because I was scared and anxious and angry and upset through their behaviour. I said none of this because as a woman and a survivor, the presence of gigantic meaty men who position themselves as gatekeepers for justice makes me feel fundamentally unsafe. I said none of this because I do not think it would have swayed them at all: they are incapable of reason, and it was not worth my while.

Fellow feminists and survivors, never forget that the police are not our friends.

5 thoughts on “The police and instrumentalising survivors”

  1. As a large, smart-arsed male who has never been raped I am privileged to always be able to find the appropriate response to loudmouthed cops.

    I’ve got the scars and broken nose to prove it too.

    (P.S. I’m sure it’s not about me, but your ‘Content notice’ as opposed to ‘trigger warning’ is noted and appreciated).

  2. Fellow people: the police are not your friends.

    I’m the walking stereotype of privilege: white, male, (nominally) straight and mostly inoffensive, and I *still* get harassed on occasion. It takes only a little imagination on my part to understand what people at the far end of the spectrum go through.

    I’ve known good men and women who were cops, but the good they do is usually in spite of their job and not because of it.

  3. It doesn’t surprise me the police would say such a thing. Yes rape survivors get dragged out as an abstract ‘trump card’ in all sorts of situations, it’s absolutely vile. Pro capital punishment people say things like “how would YOU feel if YOU were raped,” having no idea they are talking to someone who has been. Even in discussions about rape culture, misogynistic assholes pop up to say things like “you’re doing a disservice to real rape victims” or “I’m sure rape victims are really happy to know you’re wasting your energy on barbara hewitt’s silly comments than helping them.” I am so fed up of it.

    I read this with a heavy heart and feeling sick, but not at all surprised.

    You know another thing that occurs to me, is that I’ve seen a lot of discussion about CCP having her tweets/files lost etc by the police. It’s horrendous but again, not surprising to me, having heard and been party to so many stories like this. I don’t want to sound dismissive of CCP or like I’m co-opting anyone’s experiences but it occurs to me that white privilege is being surprised when the police treat you like shit, lie to you, “lose your files,” or generally let you down.

  4. Thanks for this, because it puts into context a discussion we had a few weeks back. I do not believe the police are our “friends” – any more than bank managers or top industrialists or any other member of the ultimately privileged classes dwell much/at all on interpersonal considerations when making decisions.

    And i say that as having grown up alongside a police culture and having seen at close quarters some of the nastier aspects of policing.

    Not “friends” – but occasionally useful (allies) in this or that event. But then, i’m a pragmatist, and almost certainly a relativist as well. I’d happily have signed the pact with Stalin in WWII to rid the world of Hitler…and worried about what to do with Stalin after.

    I totally agree with much of what you write about the victim-blaming culture at the police and their crass attempts to appropriate rape as a shield to ward off some of the heavier criticisms thrown at them. But sometimes, sometimes, i think they can be useful.

    Though maybe we can argue the toss about the frequency of that usefulness:i suspect you consider it to be a pretty rare event.


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