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Women’s trust in police at an all-time low
Agenda Alliance on women's experiences of the police in the context of the Case report.

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Under-protected and over-policed

This is a guest post by Jess Southgate, Deputy Chief Executive of charity Agenda Alliance (@agenda_alliance).

Sarah, 22, said,

“If one of the police officers sees you on a street, he will stop and search you for no reason… And then what?”

For women such as Sarah, faith and trust in police is at an all-time low. Two weeks ago, Baroness Louise Casey published a landmark report into the Metropolitan Police Service which revealed an institutional culture of racism, misogyny and homophobia deeply embedded within the force.

The findings – such as testimony from female officers repeatedly being subjected to sexist behaviours, racist attitudes of officers and Black Londoners being under-protected and over-policed – highlight the urgent and serious reform needed. This change is essential to ensure that the Met Police are able to truly meet the needs of those communities it serves yet has so far failed to protect.

To many, these findings, though damning, were not a surprise. At Agenda Alliance, a charity that campaigns for women and girls at risk, they know first-hand through their work that Black, Asian and minoritised girls and young women in particular are more likely to be criminalised than offered care and support when they come into contact with the police.

Young women’s justice project

Their Young Women’s Justice Project highlights how the behaviours brought to light by the Casey report can impact the lives of minoritised girls and young women in touch with the criminal justice system whose experiences are often overlooked.

In partnership with The Alliance for Youth Justice, the ‘Young Women’s Justice Project’ engages with young women aged 17-25, front-line practitioners and other experts, with the aim of:

  • Building a strong and credible evidence base about the needs of girls and young women in contact with the criminal justice system;
  • Influencing government policy and strategies to take account of younger women in contact with the justice system, with a focus on Black, Asian and minoritised and care experienced girls and young women;
  • Enabling the development of effective practice through more gender and age-informed policy for this group of young women; and
  • Empowering girls and young women with lived experience of the justice system as advocates to safely share their experiences and use their voices to make change.

Speaking with Agenda Alliance, Sarah, 22, a racially minoritised woman, shared how being subjected to harassment affects how she is treated in interactions with the police. She said, “If one of the police officers sees you on a street, he will stop and search you for no reason… And then what?”

Their final report shows that Black, Asian and minoritised women are significantly overrepresented among young women who have come into contact with the criminal justice system, for example between 2019 to 2021 Black women were twice as likely to be arrested as white women.

Furthermore, Black, Asian and minoritised women within the system are forced to endure systemic racism and unable to challenge the racism they experience. In a 2022 study by the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) and Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) almost half (45%) of Black women surveyed rated their treatment by prison staff as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. The study also showed that women lacked confidence in the system for reporting complaints.

Overlooked and misunderstood

Sarah continued,

“You’re just going to get angry, and you’re probably going to swear at him [a police officer] or do something stupid. And then it’s going to be back to the police station. It’s just a waste of time. They’re wasting their time and you’re wasting your time… Another charge on your criminal record for no reason.”

Their project has found that minoritised young women feel the racism they face within the criminal justice system stems from professional reliance on racist assumptions and stereotypes which leads to their experiences being overlooked and misunderstood. Since her report was published, Baroness Casey has urged the Met Police to accept that its problems are ‘institutional’ in order to truly tackle them. To avoid causing further disadvantage and harm to minoritised young women, police and professionals throughout the criminal justice system can and must engage with the systemic nature of issues such as racism.

This is why the Young Women’s Justice Project calls for Police and Crime Commissioners, including the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to provide training and guidance to ensure all frontline staff are able to both recognise and respond to the needs of Black, Asian and minoritised young women.

This is one of many steps needed to facilitate whole system change and improve the lives – and trust of – minoritised women and young women such as Sarah.

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