Todays guest poster is Ohmykozy, who lives with her family in Sydney’s western suburbs and doesn’t take crap from anybody
Picture this: teenage girls out for the day, accused of shoplifting and taken aside by security guards wanting to ask them a few questions. A normal Saturday afternoon in the local shopping centre? We should all hope not, if a recent incident in a Sydney shopping centre is any indication of the way security guards behave toward young women.
Let’s put aside for now the chain of judgment errors and procedural mistakes that led to these girls being taken to a surveillance-free service corridor to be interrogated and have their bags searched. Those responsible have apologised to the girls and their families, and have promised to rectify the shortcomings in training and systems that allowed this to happen.
Consider instead the thing that cannot be altered with “better training” and “improved security procedures”. Consider the verbal and physical intimidation that these girls were subjected to while they established their innocence. And ask “Why?”
For several minutes the girls stood with their backs to the wall in a corridor that lacked security cameras, shielded from public view by a guard in the doorway, while two other guards accused them of stealing and lying. Under this barrage of accusations, and concerned for their personal safety, they felt compelled to empty the contents of their bags onto the floor of the corridor. When no stolen goods were found the guards allowed them to leave, but not without a few parting shots about the things being returned to the girls’ bags ““ comments that the girls took to be accusations of earlier theft.
During the investigation of this incident the senior guard described his manner toward the girls as “light hearted” and “humorous”. There are two possibilities here. Either he knew that he had dismally failed in his conduct toward these young girls, and was trying to cover up. Or ““ and this thought is possibly scarier ““ he really had no idea of the effect of his words on them.
Why did the guards conduct themselves this way? Was it because of the girls’ age? Or their gender? I doubt they’d have dealt with a group of 40-year-old women, or men, in this way. Or was it because the guards were in uniform, in authority, and (so they might think) in a position to behave however they wished. I suspect it’s all three. One of the tragedies here is that we teach our little girls that people in uniforms are safe and responsible, yet in this case is was they who left them terrified.
The coda to the incident came a week later when the girls and two of their mothers returned to the shopping centre to receive a formal apology. While we waited in the centre court a man walking by stopped to chastise the girls for taking up so much space in the walkway. They weren’t (unless of course he actually did need 5 metres or more to get past), and I doubt he’d have said anything if he had realised that the two adults standing nearby were part of the group. I think he spoke from a position of assumed authority, even though he wasn’t wearing a uniform.
You see, we’d come straight from school, and the girls were wearing theirs.