Flag down a bus, and all the other tone-deaf ‘advice’ the Met Police is giving women

All of this ignores the actual issue, which is men

The Met Police is telling women to “wave a bus down” if they don’t trust a male police officer, just hours after Wayne Couzens was given a whole-life sentence for the murder of Sarah Everard.

This week has been particularly painful for women. In the very same courthouse as Wayne Couzens’ sentencing, Koci Selamaj appeared, charged with the “predatory” murder of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa.

At the time of his arrest for the rape, kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, Couzens was a serving Metropolitan police officer. This week, people in court at the Old Bailey heard he used police equipment, including his warrant card, handcuffs, and training about Covid rules, to trick Sarah Everard into getting into a car with him before he raped and murdered her. Colleagues at a previous job, before he joined the Met, had reportedly nicknamed Couzens “the rapist”.

Women everywhere are terrified for our own safety, for our friends, colleagues, sisters and housemates. We want assurance and we want to be able to feel safe to leave our front doors.

Sure, the Met Police has pledged to publish a new strategy for tackling gendered violence and will deploy 650 new officers into busy public places, but it’s also issued some very tone-deaf “advice”.

Feminist group Sisters Uncut protest outside the Old Bailey as Couzens was being sentenced

Understandably, women do not feel protected by the police. Outside the Old Bailey yesterday, university student Lois told The Tab: “This is an issue to do with men and to do with women’s rights, it’s nothing to do with anything else.”

She continued, saying: “I am so fearful on the streets all the time, the minute it goes dark. In winter it’s worse because it gets dark earlier. I’m just scared and sad and I feel like we’re making no progress.

“How are we to know now, if you get arrested as a lone woman on the street, how do I know that’s legit? What can I do? It’s a real worry for me now. The one force that’s supposed to be there to protect you, it isn’t.”

Standing with Lois, her friend Esmina said: “If anything happened to me, I don’t think I’d be able to call a police officer in confidence.”

People are questioning why the police are offering women advice on what to do if they feel they cannot trust an officer. One said: “It’s unbelievably bizarre to hear the police openly advocate for women to ‘just ask someone else for help if you’re scared’. If you’re having to literally deter people from speaking to the police, you’re not fit for purpose.”

As Lois said, the issue here is men who harass, assault, and murder women. Women shouldn’t be given tone-deaf advice on how to “avoid” being raped and murdered, we can change every single aspect of our behaviour and this still doesn’t stop us from being harmed – and the “advice” doesn’t address the actual issue.

So let’s take a look at the terrible advice police have given to women (not men!) in the last few months:

‘Wave down a bus’

Speaking after Couzens’ sentencing, Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick said he had “brought shame” upon the police and said she recognised that now some will feel they cannot trust the police.

But the advice the Met has issued for women who fear a male police officer? Seek help by “shouting out to a passer-by, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down”.

One person tweeted: “When putting the onus on women to run/resist/wave down a bus, you’re asking us to decide if we’re more scared of being hurt in the course of criminal activity, or being hurt in the course of lawful activity (being tased, punched, strip searched). That’s not a choice!!!”

‘Call 999’

Another piece of advice given alongside “wave a bus down” was for people to call 999 if they fear a police officer. As one person on Twitter put it: “The police are telling us to run away from the police and then call the police.”

‘Check their credentials’

The Met Police has advised people stopped by a lone plain-clothes officer to “check their credentials”. They say people should ask questions such as where the officer’s colleagues are, where they’ve come from, why they’re here and ask: “Exactly why are you stopping or talking to me?”

Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, called the Met’s advice “tone deaf”.

She told the BBC: “I could scream about the amount of things women are told to do”, adding that Sarah Everard was “keeping herself completely safe, doing exactly what any woman would do”. Jess Phillips said she herself “and almost anybody would have got in the car.

“The onus is on the Metropolitan Police to do better”, she said.

‘Plain-clothes police officers in bars’

Back in March, the government announced proposals for plain-clothes police officers to “patrol” bars and clubs to protect women from predatory offenders. The Tab spoke to young women after the proposals were announced, and all of them said this wouldn’t make them feel any safer.

They worried other men could use it to their advantage; they feel distrustful of the police and didn’t want to give them more powers; and they think the proposal ignored the actual issue – namely, men who sexually harass and assault women.

One said: “They’re not teaching men not to harass women, but just adding a preventative measure. It’s the equivalent to telling women that they should carry a rape whistle but not telling men not to rape.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

‘I am so fearful’: Young women outside Old Bailey as Couzens given whole-life sentence

• ‘Met Police, blood on your hands’: Protestors gather outside Wayne Couzens’ sentencing

77 women have been killed by men in the last six months. How many more need to die?