Koshka Duff: Professor says she faced victim blaming over police claim

A professor who won an apology from police over sexist language during a strip search has said she felt like she had been on trial for eight years.

Dr Koshka Duff was arrested in 2013 after trying to help a black teenager who was subject to a stop-and-search.

She told the BBC it was "dehumanising" - and she had experienced a "barrage of victim blaming and gas lighting" as she pursued a claim against police.

For years after she faced flashbacks and panic attacks, she said.

Dr Duff - now an assistant professor of politics at the University of Nottingham - was trying to give a "know your rights" legal advice card to a 15-year-old boy in London when officers accused her of obstruction and arrested her. The boy was found to have a knife, which Dr Duff had not been aware of when she intervened.

She was taken to Stoke Newington police station, where she was strip searched by two female officers.

On CCTV footage, officers can be heard laughing about her hair, clothes and talking about her underwear. In one clip, one officer references a smell and then a different officer says "Oh, it's her knickers".

Dr Duff - who was 24 at the time - made a civil claim against the Metropolitan Police for the way she was treated and earlier this week, the Met said it had settled her claim and "sincerely apologised" for the "sexist, derogatory and unacceptable language used".

In her first broadcast interview since the apology, Dr Duff told the BBC's Woman's Hour that she was "terrified" as she was pinned down by three officers, had her hands cuffed behind her back, legs tied together and clothes cut off.

"While they were doing that they were cracking jokes with each another, for example about the benefits of strapless bras when they were talking about whether to cut off my underwear. The overwhelming feeling of it was physical pain and I was terrified.

"They were kneeling on me with their full weight and they had my hands in cuffs and they were jerking them around behind my back. My wrists and arms were completely cut up from this, I had quite extensive injuries."

This photo of Dr Duff's injured arm was taken while she was at the police station

She said she had been told by officers that the strip search was as a way of trying to identify her, as she would not tell officers who she was.

But she said: "I don't see how stripping me would reveal my identity in any way apart from they wanted to soften me up, to kind of intimidate me into telling them my details, and to punish me for standing up for a young person's rights.

"And one of the officers who arrested me called me a 'bleeding heart leftie' and 'some sort of socialist'."

Speaking about CCTV footage she managed to obtain years after the search - that showed officers laughing about her hair, saying her clothes stink and talking about her underwear - Dr Duff said "it was really clear they were trying to humiliate me" and the comments were "a peephole into culture of misogyny".

"They called me childish. When I was being arrested I was called a 'very silly girl'.

"The sexism of the way they were treating me was really obvious at the time. I guess it was very dehumanising language."

In November 2013 she was acquitted of assaulting a police officer and obstructing a police officer. However, Dr Duff continued to make a civil claim against the Met Police for the way she was treated.

As part of the misconduct proceedings, she said she was "grilled for hours".

'I was terrified'

Asked about the impact of pursuing the complaint for eight years, she said: "The process of going through this complaints procedure - I've just felt like I've been on trial for eight years... I've just experienced a barrage of victim blaming and gas lighting."

She added: "One of the things I found particularly distressing over the last eight years is they have continually used the fact that my body tensed up during the strip search as a justification for having used more force. Because they said, 'oh you clenched your fists and you were holding your arms rigid'. I was terrified and my body was kind of seizing up."

"What I've experienced over the past eight years is a legal system which is absolutely set up to protect the police from accountability and to prevent complaints from getting anywhere, to just disappear them into a bureaucratic abyss."

She also referenced the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer in 2021, which led to a discussion on confidence in policing and women's safety.

Dr Duff said: "After the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, the police put out statements saying women should challenge officers they think are behaving in a dodgy way, kind of again putting the onus on women in a victim blaming way, saying you know, if you don't challenge them and stand up for your legal rights then that's the reason you might be raped and murdered.

"On the other hand if you do stand up for your legal rights and in solidarity with those of others, then I've seen the way you get treated for that."

The Metropolitan Police has compensated Dr Duff.

In a statement after the Woman's Hour interview, the force said: "In 2018, a police sergeant faced allegations he had breached the standards of professional behaviour in relation to the strip search of a woman arrested in Hackney in May 2013.

"A misconduct hearing led by an independent legally qualified chair found that the officer had made several attempts to engage with the complainant and were satisfied that he had reasonable grounds to justify his actions in authorising the search. The panel found the allegations not proven and the officer retired from the Met in 2019.

"In November 2021, the Met settled a claim brought by Dr Duff and sincerely and unreservedly apologised to the complainant for the language used while she was in custody and any distress caused.

"A review was undertaken following the civil claim; this was referred to the Directorate of Professional Standards for assessment. A public complaint was also received and is currently under investigation. We have also made a voluntary referral to the IOPC.

"The Met takes all complaints incredibly seriously. We have a robust process in place to establish whether any misconduct may have occurred and to determine the appropriate next steps."

Earlier this week, Inspector Andy O'Donnell, of the Met Police directorate of professional standards, said: "I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely and unreservedly apologise for the sexist, derogatory and unacceptable language used about yourself and for any upset and distress this may have caused.

"There's a hope that this settlement and the recognition of the impact of what happened will enable you to put this incident behind you."

Dr Duff - who has written a book on abolishing the police - accused the Met of deflecting public scrutiny "by presenting what they did to me as an exceptional incident".

But she said she was "really happy that the conversation is happening right now about misogyny and normalised sexualised violence in policing".

Dr Koshka Duff: "I've just felt like I've been on trial for eight years"