riday, 8 June 2012
Today I saw a pig fly. It was silhouetted in front of a blue moon and had been catapulted up there by a unicorn. And none of it blew my mind just as much as the news that the Metropolitan Police are admitting they need their McPherson moment because their handling of sex crimes has been so appallingly bad for years.
I could hardly breathe for reading this article when it popped up on Twitter on Friday night. It was too much for me to take in. Part of me was furious that such cases are still prevalent. Part of me was overwhelmed that the Met are being upfront and asking for evidence. And the rest of me was flooded with emotion to be proved that I was right, I am not a liar and I did deserve better.
Seven years ago I made a complaint against the Westminster Sapphire Unit because I was so unhappy about how they had handled my rape in August 2004. I had no idea what I was doing when I started it. I assumed it would be a bit like writing to British Gas and giving off stink, but probably without the M&S vouchers at the end of it. Traumatised, shell shocked, naive and not entirely sure what I wanted or needed, I sat down and wrote them a letter detailing every single issue I had with my case. It took days to write, overwhelmed me utterly and arrived with them exactly one year to the day that I reported the rape. It triggered off more than I ever thought I would cope with and as I detailed here, it would last almost 4 years before it was concluded. It was the hardest and stupidest thing I have ever done.
And I’d be lying if I said I’d done it for the greater good of feminism or other women. I didn’t. I did it for me to start with and then by the time it really got rolling, I’m not even sure I wanted to do it for me but I was in too deep and was too stubborn to back out then. I think I thought that the police admitting they were wrong was going to undo the original attack. I never had any grand plan to stand up for anyone other than myself. I had to say that I worth being taken seriously otherwise I’d never believe it again and I’d never move on with my life.
I have no idea why other victims decide to make complaints. Maybe they have a bigger sense of collective responsibility? Maybe they are just grasping at something to stop them drowning as they try to find their way back from sexual violence? Maybe it makes them feel in control? I’m not sure it matters what the reason was, but that they stuck it out and increased the number of voices to be heard to a point where the attitude in the Met has changed so much. When I complained, in fact even when I wrote that blog post last year, I didn’t forsee the Met being even the tiniest bit transparent. After all when my officers destroyed evidence in case and faked the paperwork and lied through their fucking teeth for months on end to me and their superiors, nothing much happened. The original officers got ‘words of advice’ and everyone else got a bollocking, but the Superintendent who forged my signature repeatedly to try and illegally end the complaint got off scot free and none of the officers who phoned me at 4am to put the frighteners on me saw any consequences. And it took almost 3 years to convince them I wasn’t lying and make them actually look into the case properly in the first place which messed with my head no end. The mixture of hostility and ambivalence had me sure they would never really change and that they’d just continue to pay lip service.
To hear them go public tonight and ask for evidence of their failings has blown my tiny mind. It does not for one minute say they’ve changed for good and that no victim in future will have to endure a lack of justice and the worst of institutional failings and misogyny, but it is a massive sea-change that really makes me think that years of activism and campaigning and individual effort has had an impact. There has a subtle shift from refusing to listen even when confronted with the evidence to asking people to come forward and while it doesn’t fix everything and it cannot heal the terrible pain their intransigence inflicted, it’s incredibly hopeful. It feel like genuine progress when combined with Sapphire officers facing the courts for falsifying evidence when 4 years ago, that still only warranted a stern talking to at best.
So to see people who identify as feminists splash the story all over their timelines tonight by focusing entirely on the negatives is like a slap in the face to me. I’m not for one minute suggesting that this is all down to me, but I am expecting that those people respect the amazing achievements of the hundreds of women who went through hell standing up to the biggest police force in the country to keep the pressure on, even when they doubted themselves and the media ripped them apart and their lives fell apart round their ears. They made this difference in attitude possible and they should not be cheated of their moment. They should be applauded and thanked for blazing a trail and making a change because they stood up and made a fuss. This is an example of activism in action and it’s crushing to see it written off by people who should know better as still not good enough. It negates the years and years of effort from victims and their friends and family and the solicitors and support workers who helped. It should be held up as a moment to appreciate the work that has already gone and seize the momentum to keep pushing so that the Met don’t get complacent and think this is enough.
It’s taken me years to be able to say ‘I did something. I helped. I fought back when I could’ and whiny as it might be to seemingly make this all about me, it stings when people you have helped smoothed a path for don’t even acknowledge the wider issue, instead believing that the Met changed attitude all by theirselves. I mean this is probably the moment where I as a middle class white girl get a lesson about intersectionality and feminism that some women of colour or a different class got a long time ago and they are rolling their eyes at the drama queen over here. But I think it’s important that women support other women as best they can and it seems like that message got forgotten. I hope they’ll recognise that Rome wasn’t built in a day and grow to support those who have been working on this for a long time so that we and the police know this is the voice of the majority speaking, not just the victimised.
In the meantime, I’d like to thank all the people who helped me add my voice. You’ve helped me pick up the pieces afterwards and you’ve been essential. Especially the other women I don’t even know who also complained and kept each other company from afar in all those bloody waiting rooms. I appreciate your efforts more than you’ll ever know. I just hope other people do too. And I hope that now the Met has confirmed we aren’t liars, fakers, hysterics, freaks or drama queens, we can continue to put pressure on them en masse and build on what we’ve managed so far. Turns out it’s not as unlikely as we all thought…