Its nice to know that I occasionally make a difference. Even if that’s not necessarily what I set out to do.
Especially gratifying, this week, when the world has been full of big national stories about trans matters, that a single phone call to Surrey police may mean that there is a chance of justice being done for one victim of trans hate crime – and of a perpetrator being caught and punished.
Let’s start with Surrey. A couple of days ago I wrote up the story of a trans woman who had been cut up on the M25, suffered minor damage to her car and – more significantly – was then subject to a verbal assault on account of her gender.
What I didn’t mention was the police response. Or rather non-response. The individual involved rang Surrey police and was treated to a depressing yawn of call centre indifference. Despite giving background that quite clearly indicated the transphobic nature of the incident, the individual was merely asked to follow standard procedure, bringing documents in to a local police station the next day.
Now that’s bad. Because while most hate crime is nowhere near rape in its abject awfulness, it shares this common feature: that it takes courage to pick up the phone and report it. And any obstacle placed in the way can lead to an ebbing of courage: a decision that after all, its too much bother to report.
Police on the ball
So I rang Surrey Police to inquire what was going on …and was much cheered by a fairly full and frank response I received just a few hours later. They recognise the issue: are already working with GIRES to put training in place; but this call made them realise that maybe training at the call centre level was not quite up to scratch.
Mike Patey, of Surrey Police’s Diversity Directorate, said: “Hate crime will not be tolerated in Surrey and having reviewed this incident it should have been flagged as a hate crime in the first instance. It has now been recorded correctly and is under investigation by CID who have made contact with the victim.
“Whilst staff in the Contact Centre do receive hate crime training, this incident has highlighted a specific training requirement to improve awareness of hate crime against transgender people and we are now looking to progress this through our links with GIRES – the Gender Identity Research and Education Society.”
Brilliant! A result!
The importance of asking questions
And while I didn’t set out to achieve that, its often the case – what I refer to as the Watchdog effect – that the mere fact of a journo phoning with an inquiry can magically lead to the resolution of long-festering problems. I know that’s happened to me on more than one occasion – and is also why I am more sanguine about the alleged wall between reporting and activism.
Its unrealistic to imagine that opening a dialogue – any sort of dialogue – with an organization will not have an effect.
Sometimes, its because decision-makers handle the press directly. Mostly in small businesses – though I am frequently amused, when phoning the House of Lords, to find my call fielded by a peer of the realm. MP’s appear to have researchers in much the way that dogs have fleas: Lords seem to manage a lot more of their own caseload.
Then there’s the press office. Some, few, are staffed by jobsworths – the type of individual who sees their role as shuffling words between users (the press) and providers (senior management). I am not fond of these, since they are often confrontational, often fail to understand the point of a story, and are incapable of nuance. Still, the mere fact that they must bustle off and ask senior managers awkward questions can have an effect.
Much more interesting are those press officers who see themselves also as ambassadors for their organization. One of the most impressive in that respect was Sarah, one time of the IWF, who engaged with issues. She also gave 110% to the job: well remembered was one Sunday morning, as a major global news story broke (and I was one of the first thru the door) sat chatting to Sarah on the phone.
Both of us, it later transpired, still in our pajamas: such was the ferocity of the news agenda that day.
In this case – I’d better not name her as it really isn’t done – I am pretty sure that the Press bod over at Surrey understood instantly the import of questions I was asking and didn’t just issue the usual anodyne response – but engaged.
So a result, of sorts. Not, as maybe I was expecting, a story about police insensitivity – which it certainly would have become had Surrey preferred to stonewall. But a much smaller, but in a way much more heart-warming story about a force prepared to listen…and in time, maybe, a transphobe waking up to a knock on the door from his local plod.
ETA: omg…a swift response this morning from Surrey, who would like some trans input to their Independent Advisory Group. Let me know if you are interested and i’ll pass on details.