Picture credit: BrianAJackson/Getty
Artillery Row

Abuse in the name of equality

How is it not obvious that women should be searched by women?

Sometimes it feels like a matter of time before I’m arrested for upsetting the sensibilities of drag queens, furries or some other marginalised, oppressed minority. And when the knock at the door does come, I hope I will be fortunate enough to be searched by an officer of the same sex. But my local force won’t guarantee this, and the chances are neither will yours. Indeed, female readers take note; should a woman being searched voice an objection to a trans-identified officer’s trouser truncheon, her words could be used in evidence against her.

Yesterday, a report titled “State Sanctioned Sexual Assault” was published by the Women’s Rights Network (WRN). It confirmed that male police officers who self-identify as transwomen have been approved to perform intimate searches on female detainees.

These findings replicate those of an investigation conducted into the NHS and police forces by the group Standing for Women (SfW) two years ago. In its recommendations, the SfW report reminded police forces that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) states that searches must be conducted by an officer of the same sex. The duty to protect women as a sex under the Equality Act (2010) was also highlighted. Yet just six months after SfW published its research and recommendations, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) quietly approved a policy paper which promoted gender self-identification.

The proposal was tabled in December 2021 by the NPCC’s LGBTQ+ portfolio lead Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Vanessa Jardine. It advised forces “to recognise the status of transgender colleagues from the moment they transition, considered to be the point at which they present in the gender with which they identify”. The paper recommended for the first time that officers who self-identify as transgender be permitted to strip and even intimately search suspects of the opposite sex. The WRN report clarifies: “An intimate search involves the examination of bodily orifices (with the exception of the mouth). Specifically, these orifices include the vagina and the anus.” This means that a male officer, who may have taken no more steps than “presenting” in a female uniform, may commit what in any other circumstances would be recognised as a sexual assault by inserting his fingers into a woman’s anus or vagina.

Jardine’s paper tells forces it may be “advisable” for a searching officer to be replaced should a detainee object to being searched by someone of the opposite sex. However, if this complaint is thought to be based “on discriminatory views”, then “consideration should be given for the incident [to] be recorded as a non-crime hate incident, unless the circumstances amount to a recordable crime”. So, not only do suspects have to suffer the horror and humiliation of sexual assault, if they are suspected of holding the wrong opinions about the gender identity of the officer conducting the search that could be held against them. As SfW Founder Kellie-Jay Keen reflects “no police force differentiates any man who says he’s a woman from a woman, this is up to the Chief Constable of each force.”

The policy follows a landmark ruling from 2004, when a “transexual” male with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), referred to as “Ms A”, successfully sued the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire police for the right to join the force. Ms A’s application had been rejected as at the time a male officer with a GRC was legally barred from conducting searches of women. The House of Lords ruling changed this, finding that no-one could reasonably object to being searched by a “transsexual who is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from non-transsexual members of that gender”. Following this some forces, most notably the West Midlands, began to treat individuals as their self-identified gender from the point at which they underwent “social transition”.

In 2012, Steph Morgan, the LGBT lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO, which became the NPCC), began to push for the right of trans-identified officers without a GRC to perform searches, including intimate searches. Morgan wrote at the time of the organisation’s “commitment to dealing sensitively with transgender issues when they arise” adding that the body had “been working with the National Trans Police Association on trans issues”. A decade on and Morgan’s campaign has succeeded.

As the WRN report points out “Many forces already have officers who identify as the opposite sex including West Midlands where 12 officers identified as the opposite sex when asked in February 2023.” Of the 47 forces consulted, 35 confirm they have either already implemented, or are in the process of implementing the NPPC policy.

The WRN report is peppered with statements from women police officers who are unhappy with the decision

The WRN report is peppered with statements from women police officers who are unhappy with the decision to allow their male colleagues to identify into searching women, who are often at the time of arrest already acutely vulnerable. One WPC, who remains unnamed, is quoted as remarking “Strip searching is very personal, and it can be really humiliating too. Everything is on show, everything is exposed. For the life of me, I can’t work out why we would want to make this even more humiliating and degrading for women”. The answer may well be found in the determined perverts who want access to women, and their dumb handbag holders within the NPCC.

At a national level, policing is in crisis. Recruitment is stalling, morale is low and public trust is waning. Yet the NPCC seems to have forgotten what the first Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis reminded officers nearly two centuries ago, that “the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval”. In pushing a policy of gender self-identification those in charge of policing are putting a divisive, ideological agenda above the needs of the public they serve, and the majority of officers in the force. Ultimately, the only people to benefit from the NPCC’s dangerously misogynist policy will be the lawyers when it hits the courts.

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