Sunday, May 21, 2006

Indecent Assault

So I went to the police today and laid a formal complaint. The police were very polite, and appeared to take it reasonably seriously. They would have obviously preferred it if I didn't lay a complaint. But they recognised that I was reasonably determined and responded accordingly. The man committed an indecent assault, which should scare him, if they ever find him.

I still feel that there are serious political problems with going to the police in the way that I did, and I thought I'd explore them in a little more detail.

The more simple reason is that I know that the only reason they listened to me was because I was white, middle-class, well-educated, and reasonably forceful. If my complaint was much more serious, but I didn't have those qualities, I'm sure they could have behaved much worse.

I also had the confidence that comes from the fact that he was a stranger, and this lessened the chance that laying a complaint would give them power over me. He wasn't just a stranger, I was sober anddressed in jeans and a polar fleece when he assaulted me. I knew that laying a complaint wasn't going to be a nasty experience for me.

While this sucks, I don't think it's a particularly good reason not to make a complaint. In this situation, having a complaint to the police taken seriously is a result of prviledge, but it's not a particularly personal benefit. I don't gain at someone else's expense because I'd be taken seriously.

If anything I felt more compelled to make a complaint, because I knew I'd be taken seriously. The next woman's body that man considered his property may not have the same options I do. If there was a tiny chance that by laying a complaint against him I could scare him into respecting women's bodies, then I felt I should take it. Precisely because so many woman's complaints wouldn't be taken seriously.

My other, more serious, concern was my analysis of police's role in society. I don't see the police as a benign (let alone positive) force in society. I am opposed to both the economic system and the state and the police's main role is to enforce both of these.

I don't think that means that I'm a hypocrite for going to the police in all circumstances. If I had to report a burglary to the police to claim it on insurance, then I would. But under those circumstances I'd probably hope they didn't catch the burglar. I don't think that having an analysis that is critical of the way the police operates doesn't mean that you can't have a utilitarian view of the ways in which they might be useful to you.

But there's a huge difference between reporting a bulgulary to the police, because you'd get something out of it, and trying to get the police to convey a particular message to another person.

The problem is, when it comes to violence against women, we have so few options. Traditionally there are four ways women can respond to violence:

1. Do nothing
2. Get your male friends to hurt or threaten the guy who was
3. Go to the police
4. Tell other female friends

2. wasn't an option since there were no male friends around (and I suspect if I'd had a male friend to hand the guy wouldn't have slapped me as I would have been another man's property). There have been times that I have been very appreciative of other men's intervention. But as a strategy this just makes me feel icky. If we're going to fight violence against women in a way that upholds ideas of women belonging to men, I'd rather my friends weren't the ones doing the upholding actually.

In my experience 4. is the least supported. It's also the only one that doesn't reinforce male power. Even among supposed politically aware people I've heard a lot of disparaging comments about gossip.

I know women who could have been kept safe if people had gossiped just a little bit harder. I know a woman who was kept safe, because other women did gossip. I make no apology for spreading any information I hear about violent men. It's the strongest form of protection we've got. Sure it's not enough but it's a start.

Any stronger form of resistance to male violence would start with women talking to each other. But unfortunately it wasn't an option in this case. I didn't know his name, or how to find him.

So my options were to do nothing or to go to the police. I don't know if going to the police will have any affect at all, let alone the effect I want. I don't know if scaring someone makes them less likely to hit women. But I don't think it'll make anything worse, so I don't regret doing it.


  1. Good for you for reporting it. I probably wouldn't have, because I assume the police would do nothing, but your post convinced me that we should report it regardless. Indecent assault is not OK. It is never OK. There are some folks out there who need to learn that lesson, and maybe if all women report this shit to the police when it occurs, the culture of women's bodies as public property may be lessened. I hope. I really hope.

  2. Another reason for reporting it is that it gets recorded. Big organisations and governments tend to act based on statistics - if you don't report it, it didn't happen. So we get top cops and politicians appearing on TV talking about assault/sexual assault figures, as though the stats they have in front of them reflect reality. Every instance you report makes it harder for the people running things to pretend it's not happening.

    A liquored-up rugbyhead is a threat to anybody, male or female, if he's got his mates with him and you haven't. If that wanker had been by himself and you'd had 3 or 4 other women with you, your ass would have been safe. They're not only shitheads, but cowards with it.