Khan needs to “have a word” with himself

Women’s rights deserve more than a PR campaign

Artillery Row

Hey abusers! Have you ever thought about not harassing women in the street? Have you considered that it’s not ok to kick, strangle and punch your wife or girlfriend at home? Well now is the time to stop and reflect on your actions, because Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, wants you to “have a word” with yourself and your misogynist mates to help stop male violence. 

To this end, on Monday Khan launched a campaign to encourage men to reflect on how their behaviour contributes to violence against women and girls. Having faced mounting criticism from feminists over his failure to protect single-sex services, the Mayor of London appears to be on a quest to reinvent himself as a champion of women’s rights.

Only one per cent of rape cases in the capital are reaching trial

City Hall partnered with public relations agency Ogilvy to create the “have a word” campaign which they hope will spread the message that “we all have a responsibility to raise our voices to help keep women and girls safe.” The blokey slogan is designed to penetrate the temples of masculinity, with posters plastered on everything from football stadia to the walls in urinals telling men to take a stand against sexist behaviour.

The focal point of the campaign is a two-minute film showing a group of lads intimidating a lone woman at night, until one bravely speaks up, challenging the ringleader and diffusing the situation. The woman in the film is shown waiting for a taxi, those who remember the John Worboys case will be forgiven for wondering whether she will be any safer once in the cab, or indeed at home.

There is merit to the campaign; as with the “show racism the red card” initiative that targeted football fans in the 1990s, taking the message to the potential perpetrator is a positive step. City Hall reports that feedback from those working in the field has been positive, and that the approach is “underpinned by behavioural science techniques as advised by our agency partners.”

But ultimately, appeals to abusive men to change their behaviour will do nothing to restore faith in the discredited Metropolitan Police. A 2021 report from London’s Independent Victims’ Commissioner found only one per cent of rape cases in the capital are reaching trial and an increase in victims withdrawing cases in the first 30 days. One woman featured in the report recalls having her phone taken from her by the police after she reported being raped, and being told she had probably forgotten that she gave consent because she was drunk. Her rape had been filmed by her attacker, she says:

Instead of blaming me and scrutinising my life with focus on my phone and my behaviour, they should have taken his phone and looked at the evidence immediately. By trying to do the right thing through reporting I have trapped myself in a nightmare that is never ending. Having experienced the justice system, I would not encourage other victims to report.

Perhaps Sadiq Khan should “have a word” with himself

Just a day after the “have a word” campaign launch, details emerged of a black schoolgirl who was subjected to a strip search by Metropolitan police officers while on her period after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis. This is just the latest egregious example of prejudiced policing undermining public trust in law enforcement; a problem which cannot be untangled with a slick PR campaign.

And while City Hall is happy to draw on the insights of PR companies, officials have made it very clear that feminist expertise and analysis is not welcome. Last year feminist author and researcher Joan Smith was sacked via email from her position Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Board, a voluntary position which she held for eight years. 

Smith had long argued that the Metropolitan Police should improve the way they identify sexual predators in their own ranks, and had sought to put the ten-year high in reported rapes in London on the agenda of the London Crime Reduction Board. 

But she fell-out of favour following her attempts to ensure that women’s organisations which sought to preserve women-only services would not have funding withheld.

Reflecting on the “have a word” campaign Smith tells me:

I have questions about how much it costs, whether it will be effective and how the Mayor intends to measure success. Did he commission research to show this will protect women and if so, can we see it? Otherwise it looks performative, which is a luxury when money is so short and women’s services are so desperate for cash.

A statement from City Hall emphasises the importance of “challenging sexism and misogyny. Whether it’s on the streets or online in a group chat, at home or in the pub”. These are cheap buzzwords from a Mayor unable to define “woman”; one so unsure of his position he has included the words “sexism” and “misogyny” as a lazy catch-all without understanding either.

That Khan has the audacity to front an anti-male violence campaign whilst dismissing the expertise of women with far more experience than him, is the epitome of what the woke refer to as “toxic masculinity.” Perhaps Sadiq Khan should “have a word” with himself.

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