‘Treating a symptom, not attacking the root cause’ - women react to plans for plainclothes officers to patrol clubs and bars

‘Treating a symptom, not attacking the root cause’ - women react to plans for plainclothes officers to patrol clubs and bars (Photo: Shutterstock)

Following the Government’s announcement that it will trial the deployment of plainclothes officers in bars and nightclubs, with the hopes of protecting women and making them feel safer in these spaces, we wanted to know how women feel about the proposal.

We asked 10 women and non-binary people of different ages, backgrounds and ethnicities how they feel about the proposals, and whether the thought of plainclothes police officers in a bar or club would make them feel safer.

None of the people who spoke to JPIMedia about the proposed policy said it would make them feel any safer, while many said it would actively make them feel more at risk. Below are some of the comments we received.

Sarah

“The idea of plainclothes police in bars and clubs doesn't fill me with confidence, quite the opposite. It would put me on edge in a place where everyone's supposed to be having a good time.

“Sarah Everard was not killed in a bar or club - she was killed out in the open. Placing plainclothes police in bars and clubs is nothing more than an empty and actually pretty authoritarian measure.

“The Government should instead be spending their time, energy and money on education programmes and improving the justice system for victims of harassment and rape.”

Lucy*

“I think education around issues of consent, calling out bad behaviour, and establishing that men are the ones responsible for stopping violence and sexual harassment, rather than women, is going to be more effective that putting police into bars and clubs.

“Reforming the legal system so that sexual violence is taken seriously, and addressed in a timely fashion (these cases can take years to address), is a more vital step. Believing women. Police presence in bars feels like a bandaid over a deep, deep wound, that will take rigorous institutional reform to sort out.

“I've been sexually molested myself. It was by an ex-boyfriend, in a house where there were multiple people at the time it happened. The women I know who have been raped and/or abused, without exception, were hurt by members of their own families, in 'safe' spaces.

“This idea that cracking down in bars is going to fix things seems specious reasoning. The most I can see it doing is cutting down on unwanted groping. That would be nice, but it's a smaller aspect of a much bigger issue. It wouldn't make me feel safer.”

Alex

“What I don't understand is, if it's about deterrence rather than other things, then why are they in plainclothes?

“It seems like a knee jerk reaction. I'd like to see evidence of what the Government thinks it could achieve, or more detailed plans, before deciding either way

“And I can’t help but feel the resources required to do this could be put to much better use in supporting women and making them feel safe, rather than putting police officers into nightclubs.”

Isabelle*

“I can see why the idea has been suggested, but I worry it's misplaced. Unfortunately, while I know nightclubs and other such venues can be used by offenders to meet their victims, I believe it's what can happen to women after they've left nightclubs that is of the biggest concern.

“From that perspective, I feel it would be a much better idea to have visible officers on the streets. I know I would have felt reassured in my university days, as a young woman leaving a club in the early hours of the morning and waiting on the street for a taxi for example, if I could have seen (and clearly identified) an officer nearby who I knew was looking out for my safety.

“In honesty, I think most women have received unwanted attention when out in such venues, but there is a big difference between unwanted attention and potentially dangerous attention. I'm not saying unwanted attention is okay, it's absolutely not, but I imagine it would be quite hard to identify the difference in the two - especially when club environments are so crowded.

“From another side of it, I also worry that it would lead to people trying to second guess who the plainclothes officers were which would make many feel quite uncomfortable. In an absolute worst case scenario, offenders could even pretend to be a plainclothes officer to gain the trust of a victim.“

Zo

“I find the proposal really worrying. It demonstrates that, yet again, the Government and police are not listening to women. Women have not called for police to be patrolling clubs and bars. What we have called for is less policing and more investment into communities.

“We have also called for more transparency and accountability. This recent announcement is a move in the wrong direction and goes against everything that we have been saying.

“Police do not make us safer, they never have and they never will. Statistics show that one in 18 police officers who are accused of sexual assault are subject to formal action. What this move will do is put women in further danger by anonymising potential perpetrators.

“This move increases the distrust that we already have for police and as a Black woman this move makes me feel incredibly unsafe. The thought of going into a bar and restaurant and meeting new people who could potentially be plainclothes officers is terrifying.

“Announcements like this make me realise just how rife gender inequality is in this country and how it refuses to listen to women at every turn. It's so concerning because it's the 21st century and we're still fighting to be heard.”

Jane*

“This absolutely wouldn’t make me feel safer - it would do the opposite. I think that police officers are just as capable of being the perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment in those spaces. Issues of institutional racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny within the police force may make certain people feel they are less safe if police are present.

“The most important thing to note is that police officers have institutional power. This could be used by officers - or predators pretending to be plainclothes officers - to encourage trust in their victims.

“In my own experience, I have been sexually harassed and stalked from a club to my home by an off-duty police officer who attempted to convince me he was safe by using his police credentials, while not respecting my boundaries and making me feel scared.

“We also need to keep in mind that police officers used force against women at Sarah Everard’s vigil, and that there are alleged incidents of police officers failing to help women who were sexually harassed at the vigil.

“I fail to see how putting more police around women and other vulnerable people will protect them while the issue of institutional violence within the police is not being addressed.”

Ros

“I think this won't come as a relief to most given the current mistrust within the police and over the Clapham Common vigil.

“While I understand the authorities need to be seen to be doing something, having police in clubs and pubs is addressing the issue as it is happening. We need to start to tackle this with the education of young people about respect, what sexual assault is, and why it happens.

“Fundamentally, we need harsher punishments for those convicted and a better system of reporting crimes. Women need to be able to trust that they will be believed and supported, and current actions have made it hard to see how this can be done with the proposed actions.”

Shivani

“The proposal would make me feel less safe.

“I don’t think there is one particular thing that can fix a lifetime of misogyny. As with most things it has to start at home, parents educating their sons to not see women as inferior or as purely sexual beings.

“The onus has to fall on adult men to educate themselves though, and educate their own friends. Understanding how toxic the ‘lad culture’ is and then doing something about it. Speaking up if you do see your mates being inappropriate.

“In terms of the police, they should use their resources to actually follow up when a complaint is made. If they spent the time and money making real change by not allowing harassers to walk away scot free, and taking accusations seriously would make more women feel comfortable stepping forward, and more men would think twice before harassing someone.”

Kasey

“I think I’d feel more on edge that they were in there, in all honesty. You can’t really avoid weirdos, I doubt a police officer would be able to spot one either.

“It feels like all you can do as a woman is keep your wits about you, and never leave your friends you went out with. I don’t think anything can really help though.

“We all have to [deal with harassment] and we have all [dealt with it]. Yes it’s rotten that that’s normal but all these suggestions seem silly to me, they aren’t going to help. We just need to teach our children to be decent humans.

“Lots of the creeps will have been victims in some ways themselves, which is a sad reality. It feels like there’s nothing the average person can do. But then again, me saying there’s nothing we or I can do about it isn’t okay either. It’s all so difficult.”

Allie

“I appreciate that the Government is trying to address the issue, but this proposal is just treating a symptom, not attacking the root cause. In a way, it is making it worse by reinforcing the symptom.

“Because it’s suggesting that it’s acceptable for society to continue as it is and that the police can just treat this symptom. I actually feel very uncomfortable with the thought as it means they are accepting that women are unsafe to the point that bodies need to be in place to prevent violence against them.

“Also there’s a sense of judgement - like knowing plainclothes officers will be watching and most likely forming their own opinions. It feels borderline authoritarian despite the fact that it comes from a place of good intentions.

“It’s highlighted to me that this Government is utterly incapable of actually listening to what women need to feel safer - I think it’s a pretty serious miscalculation

“I’m an expat, from the United States originally, and since moving here it’s been clear to me that the UK has some deep rooted misogyny which, on the surface, looks like it’s less intrinsic than in the United States (probably because of the religion issue over there) but, in some ways, as a woman I’ve found it more challenging over here.”

*Names have been changed at the interviewees request, to protect their identity