Police fine woman $500 for stealing $6.75 tampons, brag about it on Twitter

Welcome to Coolgardie, a small outback town of 1,000 people, 558 kilometres east of Perth.

Once it was the third largest town in Western Australia, but yesterday it made the news for a different, less glamorous reason.

It made the news because on Tuesday local police issued a $500 on the spot infringement penalty to an aboriginal woman for trying to steal a $6.75 pack of tampons from a Caltex service station.

The police was so proud of themselves, they initially tweeted the news, but did not mention the tampons, because that would have been … inappropriate? Tampons!

Coolgardie Police tweet

The tweet was deleted by Friday afternoon, after public outrage grew over the incident.

I don’t quite know where to start.

First, bragging about something like this on social media is not the best social media strategy for a law enforcement agency that needs the goodwill of the community.

Second, if the police was so proud of themselves they really should have also mentioned the ‘item’ involved was a sanitary necessity for women.

Third, the police reportedly admitted the woman in question had no criminal history, which makes one wonder why they chose to exercise their discretion to issue the $500 infringement penalty, instead of cautioning her, especially in light of the alleged ‘item’ involved?

#TheHomelessPeriodWhere was their humanity? Have they offered her any help? One can’t help but wonder: why would a woman, with no criminal history, feel compelled to steal tampons? Perhaps they were a necessity? Did any such considerations entered the mind of police at the time? And, if not, why not?

This kind of public humiliation of a woman in need by law enforcement is appalling, and reinforces uncomfortable messages about the status of women in our society.

We understand the position taken by Police Minister Liza Harvey when the on the spot infringement penalties were introduced in March, noting ‘stealing of any kind is an offence which the community has no tolerance for.’

However, fining a woman $500 for trying to steal $6.75 worth of tampons, an essential feminine hygiene product, is beyond the pale and a clear misfiring of the law, and our society.

If she can’t afford $6.75 for this absolute necessity, how is she going to pay a $500 fine?!

In a later tweet, in response @E4WSA (Essentials4WomenSA), also deleted since, the police indicated their decision to fine her may have been influenced by the fact that she had purchased some hot food and a drink at the same time. How dare she prioritise food before her period …

Thankfully, a crowdsourcing campaign popped up almost immediately, raising the funds required to pay her fine, and a little extra.

As Amy Rust, the woman behind the crowdsourcing campaign put it, ‘the crime is that a servo is charging nearly $7 for a packet of tampons!’

She had a few more choice words to say about the events in question:

What kind of desperation does a woman find herself in that she STEALS a packet of TAMPONS? Imagine the sheer embarrassment of getting caught doing such a thing, let alone having the police called AND THEN have them fine you for it!! The boys in blue couldn’t have said “put the tampons back, I’ll let you off with a warning, go use some newspaper/here’s a tissue to sort yourself out”? No?

I’m thankful everyday I’ve never found myself to be in such a position whereby I can’t afford basic hygiene products like tampons but I damn well show a bit of empathy and understanding for those who can’t. As the WA Police Minister clearly Liza Harvey MLA can’t bring herself to imagine what it must be like to live in the shoes of a woman who can’t afford essential products such as this.

We truly don’t expect to hear a story like this in the ‘lucky country’ and when we do, we expect a very different ending, say:

Coolgardie Police were called to a Caltex service station over an alleged theft. Police ascertained the item in question was a $6.75 pack of female hygiene products. Police cautioned the woman involved, assisted her in obtaining the item legally, and put her in touch with services to provide her with long-term social assistance and support.

The police would have been celebrated as heroes, instead of being nationally derided, and losing the respect of the community, in one fell tweet.

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