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UK police have been accused of sexually assaulting female anti-fracking protesters, including groping and exposing their their breasts while placing them under arrest, reports The Guardian.
"I’ve seen women have their tops, as they’ve been restrained or dragged, their tops are deliberately pulled up so that their breasts and bras are exposed … I’ve seen girls pulled by their hair, if they’ve got hair in ponytails and stuff like that," said one 45-year-old female protester.
According to a report by a team of academics who studied three years of anti-fracking demonstrations, female protesters were treated more physically than male protesters.
"These tactics have been understood by protesters as an exercise of power and have left women feeling violated and frightened," said researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, the University of York and the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.
In addition to groping and humiliation, police regularly used violence and aggression to intimidate protesters.
Disabled and older protesters had also been subjected to violent policing, they said. They recorded testimonies from protesters who said police officers had shoved, pushed and dragged them.
“In some cases … this type of violence was said to take place on a daily basis and became a defining feature of the experience of protest,” they said.
“Some of these violent incidents have led to protesters reporting physical injuries, including severe bruising, broken bones and chronic pain.” -The Guardian
The researchers analyzed policing practices at protests across seven UK fracking sites since 2016 - conducing in-depth interviews with 31 activists.
"Many protesters outline marked differences in how men and women are policed, albeit both violently, with women protesters reporting being physically moved, carried and manhandled using specific restraint techniques," they report. " Broadly conceived, these techniques involve a much closer form of bodily contact between women protesters and male police officers, which, according to the testimonies we have collected, includes the use of groping and tactics such as the pulling of clothing to reveal women’s breasts."
The researchers concluded that the heavy-handed police tactics were disproportionate and undermined the right to protest, and suggested "the use of violent police methods is not in response to violent behaviour by protesters or in response to acts of criminality."
"In some instances, this reported violence has had an effect on the willingness and capacity of some protesters to engage in anti-fracking campaigns. This has serious consequences for rights to freedom of assembly and expression."
While the protesters say their official complaints went uninvestigated, the National Police Chiefs' Council took issue with the entire report - as the researchers didn't contact them for their side of the story.
The report said that protesters who submitted official complaints to the police often found these were “dismissed without thorough investigation”, a claim rejected by the police as speculative.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on shale, gas and oil exploration, DCC Terry Woods, said: “The police service always welcome feedback concerning policing operations and we will always consider carefully issues raised with us.
“However, I feel there has been a missed opportunity to make this a more meaningful piece of research by not consulting the police for their side of the story, and limiting the research to the opinions of a small number of people with what appears to be a similar point of view. -The Guardian
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