Being bedded by a cop is not sexual assault

The female activists claiming that they were violated by undercover police are doing women’s lib no favours.

Nathalie Rothschild

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Topics Politics

How would you feel if you discovered that you had fallen for a cop? Perhaps you would start questioning your judgement. Perhaps you would be embarrassed about introducing him to your mates or telling your parents what he did for a living. That would be understandable – especially so if you were an activist protester more used to be seen scuffling rather than fraternising with the police.

So it is not surprising that the women who had relationships – some fleeting, some long-lasting – with the police officers who in recent weeks have been revealed as undercover infiltrators into British protest movements now feel deceived and regretful.

What is curious, however, is that self-professed political women, who apparently believe they have the power to effect social change through collective action, have so readily stepped into the stereotypical role of the victimised, duped, scarred female. Instead of joining up with their fellow campaigners in a unified critique of the state’s tampering with the freedom of political organisation, some female protesters have invited journalists to shine their spotlight on to their inner emotional states, turning their own sense of personal deception and gullibility into a public, political issue.

Rather than dealing with the emotional effects of the infiltration revelations in private and focusing their public protest on objecting to the state’s meddling in a political movement, a group of women organised a demonstration to vent their fury at the police’s ‘tactic of promiscuity’ and their suppression of women’s ability to ‘give informed sexual consent’. Blocking the entrance of New Scotland Yard in London on Monday morning, protesters waved placards with slogans such as ‘You told me the handcuffs were kinky’ and ‘Keep your truncheon in your trousers’.

The demonstration was organised after it was disclosed that some female protesters had had sex with male activists without knowing that they were, in fact, undercover officers. These revelations followed the Guardian reports on a Metropolitan police officer, PC Mark Kennedy, who spent eight years infiltrating dozens of protest groups, including greens, anti-racist campaigners and anarchists, before, riven with Stockholm syndrome, deciding to turn on his seniors and come clean to some green activists.

Gone are the ponytail, earrings and stubble of PC Kennedy’s alter ego ‘Mark Stone’. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Kennedy appeared in cropped hair and a starched shirt, expressing remorse and regret over deceiving protesters and sleeping with two activists. The Guardian also identified two other police officers who lived for years in the protest movement, before the ex-wife of a fourth undercover cop came forward to tell her story ‘in the hope that it will serve as a warning to police chiefs that their surveillance operation “wrecks lives”‘.

Certainly, investing vast amounts of money and time into monitoring crusties is a dubious strategy on the part of the state, and the individual cops involved may want to search their consciences. But the claim that female protesters who slept with undercover police have been ‘violated’ by the state does no service to civil liberties generally or to women’s rights in particular. Instead, it perpetuates the idea that women are vulnerable and that our relationships ought to be more controlled.

Consider, for instance, one commentator’s claim that ‘if the requirement of respect for privacy under the Human Rights Act… doesn’t cover a person’s right to know who she is having sex with, then it would be a fairly pointless piece of law’.

So should men and women who frequent pubs, nightclubs, protest meetings or any other kind of place where they might hook up with someone else come equipped with CVs, birth certificates and identity cards? Should women demand full disclosure and transparency from their partners before jumping into bed with them? People often sleep with people they don’t know everything about; even people who might have exaggerated how rich or wonderful they are. To say that this is therefore not consensual sex is mad – it suggests that all posing or boastful men are rapists and that all women are delicate wallflowers who must know everything about everyone they choose to sleep with.

There is no right to know everything about a sexual partner. Isn’t hiding unattractive traits and presenting yourself in a good light part of courting and flirting? The unflattering bits tend to be revealed with time, and personal regrets are something we learn to live with.

Sleeping with a cop may be tough to cope with, but it is not, in itself, a violation of a woman’s human rights. The women who slept with the undercover officers agreed to have sex with them – they were not raped. In fact, the woman whose tell-all appeared in the Guardian married the undercover cop after he had revealed his true identity to her. They later had two children together.

The deployment of undercover police in protest movements is a political issue that requires a political response, through defending the right to protest and to interact freely without interference by the state. In contrast, Monday’s protest showed that the state’s hamfisted intervention into protest groups is now understood entirely in individuated terms, as a personal, physical, traumatising assault by some individual men who have violated women’s trust.

Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Topics Politics

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