THE Chief Constable of Cleveland Police was compelled to join a force after being outraged by the attitude of a policeman towards a classmate who was sexually assaulted.

Jacqui Cheer said the police had made huge strides since she joined up 30 years ago, an era when women were not expected to last more than seven years, could only wear uniformed trousers after dark used their handbags as weapons.

“The attitude was we had joined the police to find a husband because we would not find one any other way,” she said.

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“Once we found our man we would get married and never be seen again. But of the people I joined with everyone is still in the service. Our generation followed the people before us and we stuck it out.”

Mrs Cheer was bout to go to art college when a friend was sexually assaulted in a subway - a traumatic event which was to dramatically change her career path.

“A policeman came in and stood in front of a class of teenage girls and said she must have been wearing a short skirt and she was probably drunk,” she explained.

“And then there was this sort of lecture by a guy telling us that it was all our fault as she had put herself into that situation. It was that day that I decided to do something so I joined the police.”

Speaking to an audience celebrating International Women’s Day under the banner 'Inspiring Change’ at Middlesbrough Town Hall on Saturday, Mrs Cheer told the women and girls in the audience that even small changes could be effective.

“You need to believe in yourself and have an ambition, seize the moment yourself or support others,” she added.

As a young 23-year-old constable she was coaxing intimate details out of a woman wrapped in a blanket following a sexual attack when a male officer came into the interview room and asked, in front of the victim, if she was making the story up. “It was not acceptable but it was not unusual,” she said.

With fellow female officers she collected a pile of clean clothes for other vulnerable women which were kept under lock and key, an early forerunner to a SARC or Sexual Assault Referral Centre.

“Despite everything that’s happening at the moment with the police it’s the best job in the world.

"Policing is in a really difficult place at the moment, we cannot say that’s just the past but it’s largely the women officers who are making the changes,” she added.