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Stella Creasy MP: ‘There’s never been a more important time to change culture’

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Stella Creasy has had enough of consultations. “We need deeds not words,” the MP for Walthamstow tells me. “This is a moment to take action otherwise we will keep having conversations about how to tackle violence that women face and nothing will change. Women in my constituency have been complaining about street harassment for years.”

Last night, the House of Lords debated an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill about whether misogyny should be a hate crime. At the moment, if a woman reports a crime that she feels happened because of her gender, the police have no obligation to record that gender or sex was relevant to the incident.

Creasy says that changing the way crimes are recorded could have a transformative effect on society and encouraging women to come forward when they have been abused. 80 per cent of women of all ages have been sexually harassed in public spaces but 96 per cent of women don’t bother reporting it because nothing will happen.

At the moment, though, a quarter of police forces are currently either recording or trialling recording where a crime is linked to sex and gender and, Creasy says, “where they do, they find that women report more confidence in coming forward to report harassment.” For comparison, there is a requirement to say if skin colour is a reason for why someone has been targeted.

“This is not a silver bullet,” says Creasy. “But we know from police trials that classifying misogyny as a hate crime can encourage women to come forward, about domestic abuse, rape, forced marriages –there are lots of examples of how it can make a difference. All the evidence shows that this can make a difference.

“There are so many crimes that women have internalised. We have asked women to find ways of coping rather than asking the police to intervene and stop it.”

Critics of the bill, including Laurence Fox, say that conflating misogyny with sexism is complicated but Creasy says this detracts from the point, which is that “there are streets women can’t walk down without being groped or abused and there is no action being taken. There is no clarity that this is a crime, and it is a crime.”

The police got it catastrophically wrong and what people saw will have broken trust between women and police. It will take a lot of work to repair that.

The debate happened in the wake of the devastating death of Sarah Everard and a vigil on Clapham Common for her on Saturday where officers handcuffed women and removed them in a way that the Prime Minister has said he is “deeply concerned” about.

“I wish this hadn’t been the point at which we had the conversation because we have been trying to talk about these issues for years,” says  Creasy. “There has never been a more important time to change the culture of the judiciary as well as the culture of the police with regards to these crimes. We need the government to listen to the proposals that have been put forward and to use legislation that is there now to make sure change happens.

“Cressida Dick has serious questions to answer,” she continues, referring to the way the protestors were treated. “I want to see this independent report into the police’s behaviour on Saturday. They got it so catastrophically wrong. My constituents don’t feel that the Met takes violence against women seriously enough. What people saw on Saturday will have broken a bond of trust between women and the police in London that will take a lot of work to repair.”

In Walthamstow on Saturday night, Creasy was part of a protest where women dressed as characters from the Handmaid’s Tale. “We tried to have a vigil but when we heard that the police didn’t want to work with those organising the protest that felt like Handmaid’s Tale level of control. Thankfully some women in Walthamstow can sew, because I can’t, so they made the costumes.”

Nicola Tree

Compounding the lack of trust in the police is the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being debated this week. It gives the police power to fine and stop people if they are causing a serious annoyance or noise but there is no definition of what a serious annoyance is. “There are a lot of things that seriously annoy me,” says Creasy, laughing at how ridiculous the suggestion is that a protest being annoying could be a crime. “We don’t have clarity.”

In Creasy’s experience, have the police been receptive to change? I expect her to talk about her job but she tells me about a personal experience. “They have been shocking. I was targeted by anti-abortion protestors when I was eight months pregnant and felt complete indifference [from the police] about the risk I was at, the harassment I faced and the impact it was having on my wider community. They didn’t have the courtesy to come back to me about it. And I know my constituents have also been repeatedly let down. This has to be a moment of change.”

Frontline officers, she says, are not the problem. “Their morale is completely broken and the support for them is non-existent, they are being stretched so far that they can’t build up relationships of trust. We should be holding the leadership of the police to account.”

Speaking about Saturday’s events, Creasy says, “it is clear that there could have been an alternative plan in place that respected why women wanted to be there. The Duchess of Cambridge turned up – that should tell you this is not a violent protest. There is a blind spot if they think that the police trampling on flowers left for a woman murdered where a police officer has been charged is an acceptable response. Everyone knows how dangerous coronavirus is and they could have been two metres apart as it was not a moving protest. We have police by consent in this country.”

She urges people to support the bill, adding: “We are trying to get something done about it so that every woman can go out just like every man without thinking twice.”

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