A women’s safety campaigner who has worked with 500 police officers to address rape culture is urging the Metropolitan Police to urgently address institutional misogyny within its ranks.
Earlier this week, a report by Baroness Louise Casey found the Met to be institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic. The review added the force is in denial about its failures.
Karen Whybro, who was invited by Essex Police to work with its officers earlier this year, said at the start of her sessions most officers didn’t know what “rape culture” meant or how it created an environment where crimes against women become normalised.
Ms Whybro told i “lower level behaviours” such as jokes about rape and domestic violence are being tolerated in police forces across the UK.
She said: “There’s definitely an attitude that this kind of dehumanisation of women is funny. A lot of the time it’s quite difficult to convince people why that matters.
“A lot of the time from the police you get an excuse from them that it’s just dark humour because of the type of role that they have, they almost need this dark humour as a release from the trauma that they experience.”
But Ms Whybro, who works as a women’s safety consultant, said these attitudes among police officers are impacting on their interactions with the public.
She added: “If you have a culture where these lower level behaviours are normalised, then it starts to create a culture of degradation of women, objectification of women.
“They need an understanding of how that then leads on to more serious incidents. The David Carricks of this world don’t happen in a vacuum. It just doesn’t happen without him being empowered, emboldened to play those things out and use his position of authority.
“There has to there has to be a culture that’s supporting this, there has to be a culture that’s allowing these behaviours to progress.”
To disrupt sexism and misogyny in the workplace, Ms Whybro uses a visual called the rape culture pyramid. It has four layers – victimisation, the largest section at the base, followed by degradation, removal of authority and explicit violence.
She said: “I work with that model to show how we can disrupt those lower level behaviours, so finding ways to step in if there’s [misogynistic] behaviour that you’re seeing within your culture.”
Ms Whybro said the vital work the Met needs to do has to start from within – and it needs to happen now.
“There’s not enough focus on internal culture first. You can’t have a really strong VAWG [violence against women and girls] strategy – if you are not acknowledging that internal culture needs to be the first place of focus and the first place that you improve standards. The professionalism pillar must focus on VAWG and that work must happen before we even try to change what’s going on in policing externally.”
Many serving and former officers have repeatedly shone a light on the Metropolitan Police’s culture of silence and misogyny.
One female ex-Met officer who quit the force after less than a year, told i officers refer to the public as “slags”, routinely make perverted comments about women while on patrols and ostracise new recruits who speak out.
Baroness Casey’s report found its VAWG strategy does not prioritise such crimes and victims.
Ms Whybro said: “The VAWG strategy 2021-23 is very vague. It doesn’t really have enough focus on the internal culture. It doesn’t really have enough focus on the lived experiences of women, victims voices, but also VAWG experts, so that’s something that should be happening immediately and actually I haven’t seen Mark Rowley do that yet.
“I’ve seen him reach out to black communities so I know he’s been having conversations with black communities about rebuilding faith in the police but I haven’t seen that focus on women and that worries me.”
She added: “He has committed to seeing changes within the next two years. So to me, these things should be happening right away. There is no time to wait.”
Baroness Casey’s report found the force to be institutionally racist, homophobic, sexist and misogynistic.
Sir Mark has refused to use apply the institutional term in relation to the Met’s failures. He has been criticised for refusing to accept that the force is institutionally racist and failing to meet with the heads of the National Black Police Association (NBPA) and the Metropolitan Black Police Association sooner.
A meeting with the presidents of both associations is due to take place on Thursday, president of the NBPA Andy George told i.
Alongside getting rid of rogue officers and changing misconduct processes to make this easier, improving the standard and diversity of recruits, Ms Whybro believes the Met would benefit from implementing a women’s charter. She said she used the tool successfully in collaboration with Chelmsford City Council to drive down incidents of sexual violence in the area.
Ms Whybro added: “An accreditation to a charter like ours would mean grassroots work being done with rank and file (all positions in the police), monitored and measured by an independent external body.”
The charter pledges could include:
- Appointing an ambassador for a cultural context of work to safety of female staff and women
- Training for all staff on VAWG, rape culture and lived experiences from VAWG experts
- A national campaign to show a zero tolerance approach to sexual and misogyny with an emphasis on everyone having a role to play
- Academic and evidence based initiatives that are reviewed externally by VAWG experts
“If it doesn’t take Wayne Couzens or David Carrick for something like this to happen, then what will it take?” Ms Whybro said.
Following the publication of Baroness Casey’s review, the Metropolitan Police said it welcomed its findings and that the force would “shape an ambitious plan to reform and build trust”.
Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said: “This report sparks feelings of shame and anger but it also increases our resolve.
“I am proud of those people, our officers and staff, whose passion for policing and determination to reform moved them to share their experiences with such honesty.
“This is, in many ways, their report. It must be a catalyst for police reform.
“This report needs to lead to meaningful change. If it only leads to pillory and blame of the exceptional majority of officers then only criminals will benefit.”