The government’s response to improving women’s safety is introducing undercover cops in nightclubs, and people are angry

Try again, government

A policeman standing in front of a street
The government’s response to violence against women, allegedly by a police officer? Implement more police surveillance, apparently (Credit: King’s Church International)

The latest in the string of government plans to go down like a sack of shit in the court of public opinion is the idea of hiring undercover police officers to patrol nightclubs to ‘protect women from sexual harassment’. You’ve probably seen the protests and clamour online following the suggestion, so let’s break it down.

This questionable step is part of ‘Project Vigilant’, a new project with a number of immediate steps to be implemented in England and Wales to protect women from predatory men. The measures follow a meeting of the government’s crime and justice taskforce, which Boris Johnson chaired last Monday night. It was called in response to the protests and vigils held across the UK after the death of Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped and killed while walking home from a friend’s house in London earlier this month. Oh, and allegedly by a police officer.

Signs from Cardiff’s Reclaim the Night vigil have been placed in Bute Park with candles Credit: Rebecca Astill

At the end of the meeting, Johnson said that Sarah Everard’s murder had “unleashed a wave of feeling about women not feeling safe at night”. So he does know what the issue at hand is, that’s a good sign at least, he’s just ineffective at coming up with an answer. The undercover police idea was put forward as part of the plan to double the Safer Streets fund to £45 million. This would also go towards improving street lighting and CCTV. 

The peaceful protests which caused the meeting

The protests which preceded the meeting did call for governmental reforms in how they address violence against women. However, given that Sarah Evarard’s alleged murderer has been revealed as a Met police officer, and the police were pinning women down at Sarah Everard vigils for innocently mourning, the prospect of undercover police officers keeping women safe has not been well received.

Nia Morris, a 29 year-old theatre director, attended the Cardiff protest outside the police station in Cardiff Bay last Monday. She said, “There were three or four hundred people there, and the speeches were aimed at the police standing outside the police station.”

This is different to many protests, because people had somewhere to aim their anger rather than just galvanising people who attended. The speeches were loudly and clearly directed at the police, verbalising the anger of the nation.

The figure that shook the internet last week

Last week, the internet was in uproar after The Guardian reported that a startling 80% of women have been sexually harassed, which goes up to 97% between 18-24.

According to the ONS estimations of population, women over the age of 18 make up 26.5 million of the population. Using the 80% statistic, this means 21.2 million women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Is the answer to this undercover cops? The happenings on the last couple of weeks would suggest not, and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Only last night, The Guardian revealed a list of 119 cases of sexual abuse cases upheld against the Met police, including one officer who was sacked after having sex with a rape victim. Last June, Sky News reported that more than 200 serving police officers have previous convictions for criminal offences, some of which include assault. Call us paranoid but we can’t say we’re filled with confidence.

Twitter doing what Twitter does best

Many people took to Twitter to express their frustration at the prospect of increased police presence in spaces like nightclubs, which should encourage freedom of expression. It goes without saying, the users of Twitter best express their emotions through memes.

Obviously, this meant the iconic club meme made a comeback

Another used this Peep Show video to satirise the idea of plain-clothed police fitting into clubs

Instead of tackling the issue at hand and helping women feeling safer, the proposed measures bring about a separate issue of surveillance. Those who attended the protests and vigils, and others who are sharing their fears on social media have all come to a common conclusion – increased police presence won’t make women feel safer. 

Nia admits, “On Mother’s Day I went to see my mum and ended up having a good cry about it in the garden.” It surprised her brother, she said, but she was glad that he had seen how the situation impacted her. This is just one story out of the millions of women across the UK who have been personally affected by the fallout of Sarah Everard’s death. 

Nia said, “Yes, I am part of the 97% who have been sexually harassed and anyone that is shocked by that figure needs to have more conversations with the women they know.”