Policing Sexism

Police officers are there to serve and protect. Some do neither. Last month the VR reported on the Viennese police’s dismal record on racism (Your Friend and Helper? VR Feb 2012, p.4). But sexism may also be a problem.

To uphold the law is one thing, but to apply a personal bias – racism, sexism, ageism, or xenophobia – is another. And how many of these transgressions go unreported?

Three young women – this writer included – crossed a side street behind the Austrian Parliament in late Feb.; the sun was out and the crosswalk’s red man obscured in the reflection. Barely two steps onto the deserted street, two uniformed policemen barked that we retreat. We obliged. So far so good. Our mistake was that when the light turned green, we headed back across the street towards the officers.

Eyeing us up and down, they stopped us, and fined us on the spot – €35 each. Not for crossing the road illegally – we had retreated – but apparently for our presumed intentions.

“Stupid girls!” one of the men dismissed us, heavy with sarcasm. We were clearly too dumb to know any better.

Carrying no money, we asked for a Zahlschein to pay at the bank. No go. Would we like to escort them down to the station? We stared in horror. The policeman – a moustached man of a certain age – then asked us for a deposit in the form of jewellery. Or perhaps a mobile phone? His colleague stood by sniggering; we failed to grasp the joke.

Meanwhile, three guys walked the whole length of the crossing in full glare of the red man. Were they stopped? No. Maybe the cops were just too busy with us, but I don’t think so.

So it seems the policeman took issue with us being young, “stupid girls”. But no sooner did we have the newsroom on the phone, than his power trip abruptly ended. No fine, no arrests, no prison cells.

Rattled, we forgot to take his name. Perhaps that’s why these cases rarely get reported.

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