In an attempt to be seen to respond to acts of abuse and violence against women, the UK government has mooted a new endeavour called Project Vigilant.
Set to be trialled at sites around the UK, it would see plain-clothed police officers placed in clubs, seeking to actively identify predatory and suspicious offenders.
Clash writer Megan Walder argues that in light of the Sarah Everard murder, this is the worst possible idea our government could have had.
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As a woman, a nightclub is a place that exists in the extreme power disbalance of our patriarchal society. It is a place where we are sexually assaulted, spiked, spoke down to, where our outfits immediately warrant abuse and where bouncers often dismiss our complaints in favour of the male perpetrators.
Every time we go, we hope that this time, the space will accommodate, that we will have to stop worrying about how we will get home safely and who has a hold of our drink at any given time. But it never gets easier.
Simply not going is not on the cards. It would mean that the perpetrators of the sexist and predatory actions we have come to expect, have won. That the space now belongs to them and isn’t somewhere we can go to dance and sing and enjoy our time freely.
But the space does need to be improved, to be able to accommodate the women who enter through the doors of nightclubs. How you do this is not solely down to nightclubs, but society as a whole, by educating men and women, by addressing the institutional sexism, racism and homophobia, all of which play a part in this. But many clubs have adopted campaigns like Ask For Angela, which allow women to discreetly ask for help when faced with danger.
It’s not enough, however. Because nightclubs remain an unsafe place for women.
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Now imagine the bouncers mentioned earlier, the ones who do very little to help and support us in our complaints… imagine they’re police officers. Imagine one of their own has just murdered a young girl walking home, that their offices are constantly inundated with complaints about how they deal with victims of male violence, imagine that they are going to be present.
Because this is a genuine prospect that women face. That those who are supposed to protect us, but continue letting us down, are going to be present in a space where they can once again do very little. The picture painted for us as children, of loyal and helpful soldiers of the people, was wiped away pretty quickly in our teen years.
When our friends were raped and the perpetrator still hasn’t been brought to justice, when police officers mocked them and asked what they were wearing. Our trust in this system was broken by each and every abuse of power and continues to be damaged. The police do not offer a safety that we were told they would, instead they are a threat. So why would we want them present in a space where we already feel threatened.
With the horrors of the Sarah Everard case and the blatant racially motivated prejudice Meghan Markle has received when opening up about the racism she endured whilst she was a part of the most powerful family in the country, women of all shapes, sizes, colours and orientations have been left pained. For womanhood does not come in a white, cis, straight package. And the complexities of each woman, those that have endured abuse and those that live in fear of it happening to them every day, they are dismissed by the reductive views of our society, the very views that many police officers continue to uphold.
How are we supposed to find comfort in a space that is not only dominated by predators, but by those who continue to let those predators use their privilege? A power dynamic exists between women and men that places women at a disadvantage when it comes to outing their attacker, speaking up about their abuse or simply leaving an uncomfortable position. Now factor in yet another power dynamic, of police officers, who have dominion over everyone in their vicinity if they choose to.
If they support the men who intimidate and prey upon the women around them, then the power of these men only grows. Because they are not solely backed by their own societal power, but by their supporter’s power.
The proposed plan, to introduce police officers into a space where women already feel threatened, is so counterproductive it is laughable. And it only furthers the point that those in power, are so far removed from the issues at hand, that their only comfortable course of action is to ignore them and continue acting in their own best interests.
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Words: Megan Walder
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