8 March 2023
Sam Hawkins, inspector and National Women's Group secretary, opens up about her experience of sexual harassment as a young officer, as we work towards eliminating misogyny in the service.
I have been a police officer for 33 years and I am pleased to say that much positive change for women in policing has happened in that time.
Joining the service as a woman in 1990 meant that my uniform and equipment were different to my male colleagues. I was issued with a black handbag and a small truncheon that fitted neatly, lengthways, into the bottom of that handbag… and there it remained. What was the use of such a dainty piece of equipment when you needed to protect yourself or the public?
Women were issued with skirts or (extremely uncomfortable) culottes. I had been an officer for quite some time until I was allowed to order a pair of trousers, but these were only to be worn on night duty!
Sexual assault and harassment were rife, from a few male colleagues sticking their hands up my skirt on the premise of ascertaining if I was wearing stockings or tights, to condoms containing hole punch clippings left in my coat pocket and various inappropriate stickers mysteriously appearing on my locker or work tray. These are just a few examples.
I sought counsel from a couple of trusted colleagues about these incidents, but the response was along the lines of: ‘X does that to everyone, he doesn’t mean it, it’s banter’. Throughout these challenges, there were also numerous supportive and appalled colleagues who offered support and advice and these far outweighed the bad ones.
I became a sergeant, a mum and then an inspector. I was one of the first part time officers promoted to inspector in my force in 2005. Interestingly, you had to be working full time to progress to any higher rank than inspector back then… how bonkers does that seem in retrospect?
How far policing has come since 1990? Yes, 33 years is a long time, but so much has changed for the better. Our new recruits come from more diverse backgrounds, work is underway to change the sexist culture and we are embracing equity up and down the country every single day. The numbers of female colleagues in policing are ever increasing and it is encouraging to see more and more women in senior leadership positions.
Let’s keep focussed and strive to achieve more.