Protesting unethical undercover policing

// 28 January 2011

Emily Armistead demands justice for the women personally affected by undercover policing

Almost three weeks after news broke that police are spying on the UK protest movement, controversy continues to emerge on a daily basis. Whilst any use of undercover agents in a largely peaceful and entirely progressive movement is wrong, the revelations that male undercover police were having sex with women to elicit information adds further outrage.

On Monday I joined with women from across the movement at a blockade of Scotland Yard. We wanted to show our solidarity with the women who have been personally affected by police abuse and demand that the police reveal the names of all undercover officers who have operated in the movement. Women who have unknowingly had relationships with them have a right to know the truth and should be in a position to be able to take action against the police. Of course most of the police officers keeping an eye on (and filming) the demo were men. The police after all is not known for its promotion of gender (or any other kind of) equality. So maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to us, that when a patriarchal police force played dirty tricks to undermine a movement, women should take a double hit.

Whilst the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), the murky private body which ran these operations, claims that police regulations do not allow undercover agents to have sexual relations with targets, a former spy cop revealed last week that sex with activists was encouraged as a tactic. There should be no grey area here. In Germany, where undercover police officer Mark Kennedy had sexual relationships with activists whilst on hire to the German police, the law is clear: it is illegal for police to have sexual relations whilst undercover. It’s shocking hat such obviously necessary legal boundaries to covert policing don’t exist here.

Germany of course has recent historical experience of living with a police state, which might explain why better checks on the police are in place. Whilst Acpo might not quite be the Stasi, its political operations to undermine democratic movements, secret databases of activists, and abuse of human rights through undercover policing still send a shiver down your spine. Numerous inquiries have now been launched into the controversy. All of these are being led by the police and are not likely to shed light on all the details of this shady affair, nor properly hold those responsible to account. A failing police force investigating its own malfeasance smacks of a state institution completely deluded about the democratic principles it should be there to protect.

Only an independent and open judicial inquiry can provide real answers to the many questions raised by this scandal and put in train measures to end the disproportionate and political policing of protesters. And whilst that won’t erase the trauma for women who became both political and sexual targets for PC Kennedy and his colleagues, it may prevent further abuse of female activists at the hands of the police.

Photo by kenjonbro, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Kit // Posted 28 January 2011 at 4:00 pm

Is “duping” someone into sleeping with you covered at all or in any way by rape or sexual assault laws?

cim // Posted 28 January 2011 at 4:51 pm

Kit: partly, but probably not enough for this case. Section 76 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is the only relevant bit I can find. The bit on impersonation is only applicable if a person the victim already knows is being impersonated, which for a fictional undercover identity wouldn’t be the case.

Likewise, it looks like a massive stretch to claim that the other deception clause – “nature or purpose of the relevant act” – covers situations like this, but perhaps a sufficiently good lawyer could make that work.

(More plausible, and easier to prosecute, I think, would be the separate offence “misconduct in public office” which has the same range of allowed sentences, and has been used before in similar cases)

Emily // Posted 28 January 2011 at 5:09 pm

I’m not an expert but my understanding is that rape by deception is not covered by UK rape laws. I would love to be corrected on this as it’s clear that the women in these cases were not able to give proper consent to sex. There are some interesting discussions of these kinds of issues here http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/07/22/on-rape-by-deception/ although these are within the context of US law. Police involved however could find themselves facing charges of misfeasance in public office which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

mavoureen_cc // Posted 28 January 2011 at 6:47 pm

“Whilst any use of undercover agents in a largely peaceful and entirely progressive movement is wrong”.

I disagree with that – left wing extremism is just as dangerous as right wing extremism and the government and the police are justified in taking precautions, although i agree with you on the rape by deception of woman activists.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 28 January 2011 at 11:41 pm

I’m not doing a what about the Menz thing, but the female undercover officers do the same thing, and not really on the extreme left part unless you’re in a position of power and authority over other people. Maybe in an actual revolution. Lol.

Emily // Posted 29 January 2011 at 10:50 am

“left wing extremism is just as dangerous as right wing extremism”

Really? Right wing extremists are advocates and perpetrators of violent hate crimes against minorities. The so called ‘extemists’ within the environmental movement that these agents infiltrated do not such thing. In fact the head of a police unit set up to monitor ‘domestic extremism’ said in 2009: “I’ve never said – and we don’t see – that any environmentalist is going to or has committed any violent acts.”

Emily // Posted 29 January 2011 at 11:10 am

“the female undercover officers do the same thing”

True – but in the majority of cases we know about, the undercover police were men and they were having sex with women, which most likely refelcts the picture as a whole. Some cases of domestic violence are perpetrated by women against men, sexual assaults too, but these are still clearly feminist issues. The impact that this scandal has had on women has been greater than that on men and so I would hope that feminists outside of the protest movement would join us in speaking out against it.

Paul Kelly // Posted 29 January 2011 at 11:47 am

the comments here have made me think.

firstly if rape by deception were to become a prosecutable offence then…

1) in theory would men be able to prosecute women the same way? (The met police have said male and female agents have used this tactic). This point is not “what about the menz”

2) if a man meets a woman in a bar and assuming they both dig each other and they start to talk. So the man lies to the woman and says hes a lawyer making millions in the city as opposed to being a street cleaner (not that theres anything wrong with being a street cleaner). So the woman thinks hell yeah i fancy some of that and invites him back to hers. They have sex. Has he raped her? How many men have told lies to get in a woman into bed?

I ask these questions just out of interest as the points made so far have been good.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 29 January 2011 at 12:33 pm

Well if this woman can get done for fraudulently obtaining sex- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-11428560

Then, why can’t undercover cops?

Qubit // Posted 29 January 2011 at 1:43 pm

Paul, what would you define in the context of women lying to get sex? Would you consider wearing a push up bra, having had plastic surgery or wearing makeup a lie? I have heard this opinion expressed by numerous men so I was just wondering your opinion on it.

To be honest I think most sex is obtained by deception, be it pretending to be something you aren’t or pretending to care about someone. I’d imagine outlawing lying to obtain sex would outlaw 90% of human sexual relations.

Emily // Posted 29 January 2011 at 2:04 pm

Paul – on your 1st point I think you’re right.

On your second point, I do think this is slightly different from the example you give. This isn’t a case of someone telling a lie because they want to get laid, there’s an ulterior motive to the deception – to gain political intelligence. Plus, the abuse is systematic and institutional. I’m no lawyer (which is why I linked to Tamsin Allen’s piece in the blog) but very possibly this shouldn’t be considered as rape. The crime of misfeasance in public office is perhaps more apporpiate as it reflects the instututional nature of this misconduct. Better still would be for a law to exist in the UK to cover the sexual conduct of police operating undercover as this would acknowledge the sexual nature of the offence, which I think is important.

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