Content note: this post discusses sexual harassment, violence against women, and police
Last night, women gathered to remember a sister who was killed. A police officer has been arrested for her murder. The police responded to a series of vigils across the country by trampling flowers, trapping and beating women, and snatching them.
You may have seen an image of the woman in the photo at the top of the post, just minutes later. A small, red-headed woman, pinned to the floor by police. Haunting, yes. But that’s not the one that stays with me. It’s this one.
It is a uniquely banal image, and that is why I find it hits so hard. It is something most of us – all of us, perhaps – as women have experienced. It is a man, standing over a woman, touching her, while she looks visibly uncomfortable. If you watch the video, you will see that there is no reason for him to stand like that, no reason for him to touch her like that. He’s not arresting her.
He is doing it because he can.
And that’s what it comes down to every time a man stands over a woman like this. Every time a man gets in close for no good reason (in the middle of a pandemic, no less!). Every little touch to your body, those touches you’re told you’re overreacting about. It’s no different.
This picture, perhaps, shows clearly the veiled threat in this behaviour. This woman really was snatched away simply for existing in public after the little wholly-not-innocent unwanted touch. It’s not an overreaction to flinch away from the man too close. He really is a threat.
Policemen are just bog-standard men with even less accountability. I don’t doubt that through mouthfuls of boot, men without a tit-shaped hat will defend police behaviour on Clapham Common. At its root, it’s because they all want to be able to continue to assert dominance over women, and they don’t like anything that makes that even slightly more difficult.
There is no innocence to the unwanted touch. It’s sexual harassment, whether the perpetrator is a policeman or not. It’s an assertion of power, an assertion of dominance, an assertion of ownership. And they don’t like it one little bit when women point that out.
And how have police responded to criticisms that maybe enacting mass violence against women – both the banal and the egregious – is a pretty bad thing to do?
Remember, they’re just common-or-garden creeps. So they released a statement with the age-old motto: “look what you made me do”.
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