There does seem to be a bit of confusion as to what the issue was with the incidents on Friday, with a fair bit of cis privilege creeping in to some of the formulations. So let’s try to split out what happened into its component parts, of which there are three.
Tedious legal stuff
First is the police widening of the use of the law to encompass a whole host of stuff that many of us didn’t think it did. Suspicion of being likely to cause a breach of the peace, and being arrested for possession of a tube of fake blood both strike me – and many legal folk beside – as stretching the rule of law into total Mickey Mouse territory.
No doubt, the legal profession and legal commentators will get round to that at some point in the not too distant and it seems likely that some, at least, will conclude the police exceeded their powers.
Sexual assault: not part of UK policing
Second is the meat of the complaint. In searching the two individuals who seem now likely to be making complaint, the police crossed the line between acceptable search and sexual assault. This blog is NOT pronouncing authoritatively one way or another: merely observing that the reports received suggest at least a case to answer, and that there is a need for an investigation.
Here, it seems, is where the cis privilege thing first pokes its nose in, with various people I have spoken to starting, politely, down the road of…”yes, but given the importance of the day”, or “yes, but given the pressure the police were under…”.
No. Absolutely no. There is no way on earth that anyone is going to convince me that, depending on the pressure they are under, the police in some circs may or may not be entitled – because that is what is really being suggested – to sexually assault someone. I hope, in the end, that the conclusion is that they didn’t. But if an investigation finds they did – then I don’t want to hear another word of excuses.
Unless from someone who might also argue that “sometimes, you know, the police just NEED to sexually assault a woman. The pressure of circumstances, innit?”
Search: the “problem” of gender appropriate searching
Third – and this is what seems to be giving some problem to cis friends, is around the gender of the person searching. Now, as far as I am aware right now, this was not an issue on this occasion. So raising it…as well as raising questions like: so how could the police tell the arrested person’s gender…is both red herring and derailment.
Still, let’s look at it in more detail. Most cis people – espesh women – have strong feelings on the gender of who searches them or gets to see them undressed. So, if we were simply, boldly to suggest that any old bloke in a police uniform should search our mothers, sisters, girlfriends…I think there’d be an outcry.
Yes, but…its supposedly different with trans, because one task the police need to carry out is to ascertain gender. They don’t: but it’s a neat derail tactic, all the same.
Police tactics are going to get police injured
Hmmm. First up, if cis women are sensitive about who touches their genitals, trans men and women are probably doubly so. If I were to be searched and police insisted on putting a bloke to the task, there would be one of two outcomes. Either I’d have a breakdown on the spot, and end up curled crying in the corner. Or I’d just explode and the chances of a PC ending up with a broken nose would be pretty high.
In court, I’d happily defend that. Any number of experts could explain to the police what a sensitive psychological issue this is – and if the police still willfully continued to try and get a bloke in close proximity to my genitals, then I’d say they were absolutely responsible for whatever consequence followed. Some trans men and women might not react in so extreme a fashion: others, I suspect, might happily take down half the police station as a result.
So, if police insist on applying the wrong gender search in such a situation, that’s a monumental FAIL, likely to leave a police officer badly injured.
The obvious answer? Common-sense policing
But hold on. This is getting ahead of itself and is all far, far too melodramatic. I’ve had cis folk putting all manner of hypothetical to me today: but it ignores the common sense approach.
When the police need to search someone, the first thing they should do, always, is explain and ask.
This isn’t some tinpot dictatorship in which individuals are slammed against the wall and searched “willy-nilly”. Police, for reasons for politeness, to minimize agro and yes – to weed out those non-trans individuals, perhaps, who have a phobia around searching – need simply state: “You are suspected of x: I am now going to search you in accordance with such-and-such law. Do you have any objections?”
That is a pretty good point for a trans man or woman to raise the issue of the gender of the would-be searching officer and for the police to respond accordingly. If they feel the request is ill-conceived, or being made specifically to obstruct, then they have various options, including taking the individual down to a police station, explaining to them the penalties for obstruction and, if necessary, getting a medical expert to intervene.
But, but, I’ve had people claiming: what if the police need quickly to establish “gender”. Er. And in what circumstance would that be appropriate or necessary?
Turn it round again. An individual has just objected to being searched on grounds of the gender of the would-be searcher. Police can go along with that request, assuming an officer is happy to do the search. Or they can object. If the police object, then there is a serious issue on the table that needs to be dealt with.
This isn’t, despite what I’ve heard said the past few hours, a “floodgates situation”. It won’t be the case that the world and its wife will instantly start putting forward spurious claims, because these would be obstruction, which is an offence, likely to be treated as such by the courts.
Rather, if police are faced with an individual who responds to a polite search request with a statement that they will only comply if the searching officer is of a particular gender, common sense dictates that the police should listen to that and respond accordingly.
Groping someone’s crotch to do a quick and dirty gender check is offensive and possibly criminal. And on the whole, I thought police were meant to be defending us from criminality, rather than committing additional crimes.