Trust the Uniform
The recent disappearance, later confirmed to be abduction and murder, of Sarah Everard in London has thrown me. It threw me early on, just after she’d been reported missing, before anyone knew it was a murder; the confirmation that it was murder (and that the suspect is a serving police officer, no less) only made things worse. I don’t really know why — there’s nothing really unusual about this case (other than the serving-police-officer thing, but even that’s not unheard of) — but much of the UK seems to be feeling something similar.
Fair warning: this is just my reaction to all of this. This is what I’ve been feeling. I cannot imagine what those close to her are going through, and this is not to diminish any of that — I just wanted to get this out somewhere, and this little-read blog that I write for my own benefit more than anyone else’s seemed like a good place.
Now and then, when it’s piddling with rain, or I’m tired, or have lots of stuff to take, I’ll take an Uber in to work. I got out of my Uber this morning and posted this:
It’s 0530. I’ve just got out of an Uber, that I got into on my own, in the dark, with minimal precautions, and felt confident that I was safe all the way.
I feel… not guilty, but disappointed in myself that I haven’t been more aware of this. I am now, though.
Twitter is never a great place to post about complex things because it’s so restrictive, but I got the essence of it there. It’s not guilt; I have nothing to be guilty over. Disappointment in myself? Slight sense of shock at the scale of this that I hadn’t realised? Disgust that men* don’t seem to care enough about doing something so women are left picking up the pieces? Absolutely.
I can do that. I can get an Uber alone and be 99.9% sure I’ll arrive safe at the other end. I can walk around the city in the dark and be reasonably confident of not being attacked — or at least that I might stand a fighting chance if I am. I can exist, in public, and not get catcalled, or raped, or murdered. And half the population (or 97% of half, according to the number that I’ve seen going around) can’t? What the fuck, men? How is this just… accepted?
It’s not that I didn’t know about this, either. Offering to walk a friend home, or through the park, or checking in to make sure they got home safe, is second nature — though whether it should be or not is a whole other question. The nationwide outrage at this particular happening — and the threads of women posting the endless lists of male harassment and violence — has just brought it home just how endemic this really is.
Emergency services — certainly in the UK, likely the world over — work in very close proximity and harmony to each other. In the UK, we have specific protocols to help agencies work together more effectively, and inter-agency training is common. So are “blue light families”: grandad was a firefighter, dad’s followed his footsteps, mum’s a police officer, and there’s a kid in the ambulance service. Even outside of blood-related families, there’s a very strong sense of shared experience, bonding, and family built up by working the kind of stressful environments that come up in the emergency services. It’s families all the way down: my watch-family, my control-room-family, my service-family, my green-family, my national, emergency-services, all-together family. It’s genuinely one of the best things about working in the emergency services.
Families have feuds. They fall out. There are rivalries. There are tensions (some of the comments that go over the linked systems to our local police… are best left unpublished). There’s banter, there’s fun, but there’s also drama and crises — and very occasionally, someone does something so unforgivable that they’re disowned entirely.
There’s a lot of nuance and lots of odd little dynamics in our big dysfunctional family, but to the public it’s often the impression that a single brush paints us all.
Breach of Trust
What our emergency services do is incredible. We show up on people’s worst days, and do our utmost to help and to make things better. It doesn’t always work, of course it doesn’t — crimes go unsolved, patients die, buildings burn down — but even in those worst cases knowing that the most highly-trained experts showed up and did everything possible can be a comfort. Folks recognise that, on the whole, and an emergency uniform often confers an instant level of respect and trust that not many other things can.
That’s an incredible privilege to have for those wearing the uniforms, no matter which service. Complete strangers will let us in, talk to us, confide in us, and quite literally put their lives in our hands because they trust the uniform.
It’s also an incredibly dangerous position to be in. The old saying — power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely — applies equally well to the kind of unreserved trust folks will put in the emergency services. It’s hard-won, but easily taken for granted and, if you’re not careful, easily abused. Every service puts new recruits through training about this: people trust you as an extension of the uniform, and if you abuse that you abuse it for everyone.
Abduction and murder is already a horrific enough crime, but if there’s a level of unforgivable beyond that unforgivable, that’s it. Abusing the automatic trust placed in us through the uniforms to commit that crime? There are no words strong enough.
Moving on? How can you? Those close to Sarah may never be able to. But if there’s one thing that taking 999 calls has taught me, it’s that while the 55 people who’ve called me today were having the worst days of their lives, for me and for the rest of the world, it was just Tuesday. Regular old Tuesday. The world keeps going, even when you'd really like it to pause a moment out of respect.
I don’t want to keep being casually blind to the scale of the problem facing women’s safety. Tonight, a colleague — someone I’m proud to call a friend — texted me about being harassed on the train home, laughing it off as just another man being just another man. Male harassment and abuse and violence is endemic, and I have mostly swanned casually past it by privilege of birth. Since when is that okay?
I’m one person. I’m not a superhero, whatever people think of the emergency services. There’s a limit to what I can do. But if I can make the world safer for one person — make one worst day better or maybe, just maybe, prevent it entirely — then that’s worth it every time.
* No, not all men. But any man. That’s the point. Not-all-men-ing helps nobody. Shush.