Sexual harassment, again
The case of Rebecca Kalam against West Midlands Police is a stark and horrifying example of sex discrimination, sexual harassment and discrimination. The behaviours that Ms Kalam was subjected to during her time with the Firearms Operation Unit saw her medically retire in July 2023. Ms Kalam worked for the Unit from 2008 to 2012 and during that time:
- Was used as a mock victim of a shooting which saw her clothes cut off her so first aid could be administered. The scenario was based on her having suffered a bullet hole to the top of her left breast;
- A male colleague pushed his foot down on her neck whilst she was doing push ups saying ‘having breasts does not mean you cannot do a press-up’;
- She was considered the ‘poster girl’ of the Unit and expected to engage in a photo shoot when 5 months’ pregnant;
- She was not provided with the correct PPE including ballistic body armour or a handgun with an ‘easy trigger pull’ like male officers.
Ms Kalam brought claims for sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. The Tribunal found in her favour: she had been subjected to sexist and derogatory language by West Midlands Police.
Initially she has been awarded £30,000 as an award for injury to feelings and there will be a further hearing in January 2024 to determine future losses and pension loss. Ms Kalam is a woman who had a potentially successful career with the Police taken away from her, for simply being a woman. Ms Kalam’s husband was also impacted by the treatment afforded to her as he was denied promotion following her discrimination and as an act of victimisation.
West Midlands Police have only latterly conceded that ‘mistakes’ were made. But these were more than mistakes. This is a cultural issue where certain professions/niche areas of professions are male-dominated and where women are not accepted or treated fairly or reasonably.
The Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands Police has said that he is ‘sorry that more was not done sooner’ and that ‘the firearms unit had worked hard to improve the culture…. with all female officers issues with specific uniform and equipment.’ This issue goes a lot deeper than being given the right clothes and equipment. There is no reason why Ms Kalam should be treated this way, in the workplace, just because she is a woman.
I would love to be able to say that Ms Kalam’s experience is unique or unusual. It simply isn’t. Misogyny, sexism and discrimination against women are rife and, despite ‘commitments to cultural change’ and ‘EDI training’ it does not seem to abate. As a women’s rights lawyer, I see sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation cases come across my desk nearly every day. It disappoints me but also makes me more committed to support women who have experienced these issues in the workplace.