Challenging Sexism and Misogny – Protecting Women

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2022 National Delegate Conference
21 February 2022

Conference notes with alarm and shock the report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), into the abhorrent and discriminatory workplace culture at Charing Cross Police Station that was published on 1 February 2022. The report identified the exchange of hateful and offensive messages between a group of 19 police officers.

Numerous messages were exchanged via Facebook and WhatsApp and included:

1)One officer telling a female colleague “I would happily rape you … if I was single … if I was single I would happily chloroform you.”;

2)Another advocating violence to get a “woman in bed”;

3)Several officers pledging to attend a festival dressed as known sex offenders;

4)Officers boasting about perpetrating acts of domestic violence on their partners;

5)One officer bragging about visiting a sex worker when he was on steroids.

The IOPC report further identified a workplace where colleagues feared challenging poor conduct or whistleblowing as they believed managers would not take complaints seriously or protect them from reprisals. The police watchdog noted the offensive messages and bullying was rooted in culture: “We believe these incidents are not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few ‘bad apples’.”

One police officer has been promoted since the incidents – after he was reprimanded for not reporting the inappropriate messages that he received.

The IOPC has ongoing investigations in two forces, Kent and the Metropolitan Police, over whether they missed chances to identify Wayne Couzens as a potential threat to women before he kidnapped and murdered Sarah Everard.

Conference recognises that not all police officers hold misogynistic views but the impact of even a small minority of officers on their colleagues and the communities they are employed to serve, must not be underestimated.

Conference commends the leadership shown by the Police and Justice Service Group in recent years. In 2018 they published the results of a major survey of sexual harassment in police forces in England, Scotland and Wales, undertaken in partnership with the London School of Economics (LSE). The survey results showed that police staff were the subject of extensive and on-going sexual harassment in the workplace, including exposure to dirty jokes, unwelcome touching, repeated requests to go on dates, promises of job advancement in return for sexual favours and in some cases sexual assault. UNISON and Professor Jennifer Brown from the LSE presented the results of the survey to National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) which launched the NPCC ‘Knowing the Line’ campaign to tackle sexual harassment in 2019. Recent events have shown that the police service continues to have a major problem with sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment in its workforce. The SGE is again working with the NPCC on a new Sexual Harassment Working Party to seek to tackle this pernicious, on-going stain on the reputation of the service. There must be a zero-tolerance policy to sexual harassment in policing.

Conference further notes:

a)Misogyny and bullying of women must be challenged every time it appears;

b)Existing policy of UNISON Women’s Conference is clear that women complaining of sexual harassment should be believed and supported;

c)The conduct of police officers at Charing Cross station reflects attitudes in wider society where women’s dignity and safety are trivialised and demeaned;

d)The Metropolitan Police is not the only police force with employees that demonstrate such behaviour;

e)Women police staff have an absolute right to work in workplaces free from sexism and free from colleagues that demonstrate sexist and misogynistic attitudes, in or out of work;

f)All public service employers must redouble efforts to ensure women that work for them or use their services can do so without fear of discrimination or harassment;

g)UNISON branches have a key role in ensuring employers are held to account about what they are, or are not, doing to stamp out sexual harassment, discrimination and misogyny.

Conference is clear that like any other organisation, UNISON should not be complacent, and all activists must be eternally vigilant and call out any incident of sexism or misogyny that they experience or witness. Any member that does should know that their union supports them.

Conference instructs the National Executive Council to:

i)Work with each Service Group Executive and develop clear action plans setting out how UNISON can do everything in its powers to eliminate sexism and misogyny in members’ workplaces;

ii)Make a public statement that they are opposed to sexual harassment, discrimination, and misogyny wherever it rears its ugly head and make it clear that action will be taken against any member who is found to perpetrate such behaviour;

iii)Provide guidance to all members of the National Executive Council, Service Group Executives, and Regional Convenor teams on how to act as champions of anti-discriminatory practice and not to act in a way that could be perceived as belittling, downplaying or obfuscating reports of sexual harassment from women members of our union.