Have you ever felt unsafe walking down the street, just because you’re a woman? Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Paddy Tipping spoke to us about what the police are doing to fix this.
By Annabel Ostell | @ostellannabel | Photo by Mik Webster-Iacovou (instagram)
Olivia Hopkinson is still mentally scarred from her harrowing experience of being asked to get into a car by an unknown man. At the time, she was just 14 and was walking to school in her home town of Nottingham, feeling anxious about passing her latest test. And these are the things that teenage girls should be worrying about – no woman should ever have to worry that she’s going to get kidnapped or assaulted while walking down the street. But the grim reality is that women and girls often don’t feel safe on the streets – so are these fears unfounded? And is Nottingham a particularly bad place to be female?
Certainly, Nottinghamshire Police are keen to show they are being proactive about protecting women. In June 2014, in a highly publicised move, force announced that they were working with Nottingham Women’s Centre to officially label activities such as catcalling and upskirting as misogynistic hate crime. Nottinghamshire police currently define a hate crime as “any incident which may or may not be deemed as a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hatred”.
But is Nottinghamshire Police Force as progressive as it could be? I sat down with Police Commissioner Paddy Tipping to try to find out.
Mr Tipping is passionate about his hate crime policy. “We introduced it because I thought it was important, because the Nottinghamshire Police Force thought it was important, but most particularly because women in Nottinghamshire think it’s important,” he told me. “And it’s wrong: people aren’t treated with respect and it’s wrong that women walking down the street are abused.” Personal experiences also played in to his decision: “I have two daughters of my own, and I’ve got three young granddaughters, and I don’t want them to be subject to this kind of behaviour.” When asked why it’s taken so long for the police to take misogyny seriously, he explains that it is only recently that the issue has come to the fore. “I think the Me Too movement, glass ceilings for women, and everything you now read about in the press [have raised awareness] – but it’s always been there.”
It’s hard to deny that the policy is a positive move towards protecting women and girls, but is it having a real impact? Mr Tipping concedes that few cases have gone to court, but stresses that “I’m not too concerned about that. What I’m concerned about is changing the culture and changing the atmosphere… We don’t need to take people to court to sort this out, we just need to behave in a sensible manner.”
This seems reasonable, but it’s not unreasonable to want more concrete evidence of a change in culture. A recent poll suggests that nationally, a shocking 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching (which qualifies as sexual assault). Gathering data specific to Nottinghamshire is a bit trickier, but according to a report conducted by The University of Nottingham, 61% of women still feel uncomfortable about reporting misogynistic hate crime. Of women who did report misogynistic hate crime to Nottinghamshire Police, two-thirds were happy with the way the police handled their complaint.
So far Nottinghamshire is the first and only county in England to put this policy decision into place, which does suggest that local authorities are trying to tackle the hatred and make women feel safer, less insecure and more appreciated. But isn’t there a hypocrisy here? If the Nottinghamshire Police is so committed to women’s rights, why does the regional pay gap within the police service remain so high?
Few people realise that the East Midlands has the second largest gender pay gap of anywhere in England and Wales, at 26.8%. A major example of this is the Derbyshire Police Force: men are payed 28.8% more than women, when working at the same level, so for every £1 a male police officer earns per hour, a woman earns 71p. Things are slightly better in Leicestershire, but the gap remains at around 14.3%, according to the Police’s own Gender Pay Gap Report. This places nearby police forces well above the national average of 9.1%, and far behind Northern Ireland, where the pay gap is actually reversed to -3.4%. So how does Nottinghamshire Police Force compare?
Mr Tipping acknowledges that there is a cultural problem here. “The police force has typically been seen over the years as pretty male dominated”, he admits. “In the Metropolitan Police, for example – the biggest police force in the country – 70% of the officers are men, only 30% are women. Here in Nottinghamshire, because we’ve worked harder at it, the proportion is 55% men, 45% women.”
He continues: “we’re recruiting at the moment so the gender balance is more or less exactly right. But we’re working hard with everybody in the force, particularly with women, to put them up the promotion ladder.” Mr Tipping is proud of his force’s record on gender equality: “We’ve had two women chief constables here in Nottingham, and the deputy chief constable is a woman as well.” He also points to positive moves nationally. “In the country, one of the three most senior police officers, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick is a woman. The chief executive of the national crime agency, Lynne Owens is a woman, and the president of the Police Chief’s council, Sara Thornton is a woman. So we’re on the road, and we’re winning, we’ve got more to do, and we’re gonna get there.”
There is still a long way to go for women and men to be on a truly equal footing in the police force. I asked Mr Tipping whether Nottinghamshire Police are doing enough to persuade women to join.
“We try and persuade people that policing isn’t just about what you see on the telly: fighting in the street”, he says. “It’s about safeguarding and caring for people, we’re trying to give a different and wider image of what the police are doing at the moment.”
He points to educational opportunities available locally. “They’ve got a really good criminology course at Nottingham Trent, and a good proportion of their students come to join Nottinghamshire Police [..].” He adds that it’s not just women who are needed to change the cultural make-up of the force: “we’re keen to attract people from disadvantaged or traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds, people from the black and asian community to come and join us.”
Despite the fact that a significant gender pay gap remains in the East Midlands, it would seem that Nottinghamshire Police are working hard to tackle both inequality and hate attacks towards women. We have come a long way in the fight for women’s rights, but as Olivia’s story reminds us, women and girls still feel a long way from safe on our streets.