The Metropolitan Police has sparked a fierce backlash for “disgraceful” advice urging women who fear a male police officer might not be genuine to ring 999 or “shout out to a passerby, run into a house or wave a bus down” for help.
Women told The Independent they were shocked by the guidance – which recommends women ask a lone officer questions like “where are your colleagues?” and “why are you here?”, partly over fears challenging a police officer could easily aggravate the situation and lead to them potentially being arrested.
The Met Police issued the guidance, which has been widely criticised on social media, in response to heavy condemnation levied at the force in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer.
Wayne Couzens was sentenced to a whole-life prison term on Thursday and will die in jail, with disturbing details emerging about Everard’s death at his hands during his sentencing on Thursday.
The Old Bailey heard how Couzens used coronavirus lockdown restrictions to falsely arrest the 33-year-old marketing executive before kidnapping, raping and strangling her.
“The women and the staff in the refuges are terrified,” Charlotte Kneer, who runs domestic abuse shelters on the outskirts of London, told The Independent. “But women in the wider population are also frightened. They are thinking if they are not safe with a police officer, who are they safe with”.
Ms Kneer, a domestic abuse survivor whose violent partner was jailed for seven years in 2011, said the police had issued “disgraceful” advice and it is “frightening” we are in a situation where women should have to question if a “police officer is safe and genuine”.
She added: “It is unbelievable we have got to this point. I don’t think women will feel confident to question an officer.
“Also women fear asking if a police officer is genuine could aggravate the officer and make their experience worse or escalate the situation, and they could even have charges against them.”
Women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds will be especially fearful they could be victimised if they were to confront a police officer, she added.
Ms Kneer, who is chief executive of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge in Surrey, warned police should not be advising women how to alter their behaviour, arguing the onus should be on the police to change.
“We don’t want to hear there are not enough police officers to carry out these changes, we want to hear there are enough police officers to ensure we are not going to be raped and murdered by a police officer,” she added. “Stop giving advice and start making changes to yourselves.”
Ms Kneer argued the problem of male violence against women is not solely about stranger attacks but is also related to domestic abuse, as she noted the majority of the 80 women who have been murdered since Everard had allegedly been killed by a current or former partner.
“Not only are women not safe on the streets, they are not safe in their own homes,” she said.
Couzens abducted Everard while she walked home alone at night from a friend’s house in Clapham in south London on 3 March, so it is not obvious how the Met Police’s advice would have saved her.
A woman who alleges she was subjected to horrific domestic abuse by her former husband, who was a police officer, also hit out at the Met Police’s guidance.
The 44-year-old, who did not want to be named, told The Independent: “How do you know they are genuine? They can make all these warrant cards – my ex waved them around all the time.
“I have no faith in the police at all anymore. How can they protect people when they protect their own first? It is a boys’ club and it is never going to change. I think if you haven’t got a dark side before you start as a police officer, you will end up with a slight dark side.
“If you challenge a police officer, that police officer will retaliate. The men in the police don’t like being challenged. Their badge is all they need, and they think you should respect it and bow down to them.”
The woman claimed her ex-husband was physically violent and emotionally abusive to her and their two children during their 18-year marriage – adding that she reported his alleged violence towards her after their relationship ended but no action was taken.
Her comments come as fresh data from Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, shows black women were 14 per cent less likely to be referred to their services for support by police than white victims of domestic abuse from March 2020 to June 2021.
Abena Oppong-Asare, Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, has penned a letter to the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, saying the controversial advice issued by her force has “caused confusion and alarm” among her constituents.
Ms Oppong-Asare wrote: “I have concerns that the emphasis is on women to act. While very little has been mentioned about the actions you intend to take as a police force.
“Another suggestion in the media was for members of the public to ‘run away’ from an arresting officer. I have to tell you that, as the member of parliament for a diverse London constituency, this has been met with ridicule and derision.”
Aisha Ali-Khan, a women’s rights activist, also weighed in to criticise the Met as she warned the advice was simply “another mechanism” for the force to “pass on” the responsibility of women’s safety to “women themselves”.
The teacher, who is behind the London Women’s March, added: “All our lives we are told we have to be aware of our surroundings, to watch what we wear, to be careful when we go on dates, and just generally to be vigilant at all times throughout all walks of life.
“And men are often given a free pass to behave in whatever away they want. From day one, women are taught, either explicitly or subliminally, if we do not take care of our own safety we are putting ourselves at risk. The culture needs to change. Men need to be told it is their responsibility to change.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies