Wayne Couzens – a serving police officer who was allegedly nicknamed ‘the rapist’ and will keep some of his pension rights – abused his position, then raped and murdered 33 year old Sarah Everard while she was walking home from her friend’s house. He took her dignity and her life. It is time that we ensure his type no longer get to exert their power over women.
This is not an isolated incident
This was a police officer who had numerous complaints against him, including complaints for sexual offences, yet continued to be part of the Met police force. He used his warrant card and handcuffs to abduct Sarah. The situation is not an isolated one.
Despite calls for Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign, she has not done so and neither has Priti Patel. Two women who have the power to make a difference in the lives of millions of women neglect to do so. Instead, there was a flurry of excuses and victim blaming:
Philip Allott, North Yorkshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner, drew widespread fury after claiming women must be “streetwise” about when they “can and can’t be arrested”. He finally stepped down from his position on 14 October.
London’s Metropolitan Police has issued advice to women approached by lone police officers in the wake of Sarah’s murder, including telling them to run “into a house”, “wave down a bus” or call the police on 999 if they do not believe the officer is “who they say they are” after questioning them.
It seems like those in powerful positions decided to reverse time by a few decades – placing an expectation on women to change their behaviour to avoid rapists and murderers.
Apart from the shambolic ignorance of the psychology of the rapist or murderer, women (or any victim for that matter) are not the problem. Men who rape and/or murder are the problem and that is the message we should remember.
It is they who should curtail their behaviour, who should hide away and restrict what they do. Our freedoms and lives are not for the establishment to curtail in order for them to avoid doing their jobs correctly, or avoid dealing with those they work with who portray behaviours which are misogynistic, abusive, violent, or sexualised.
The easiest way to explain this is to give you examples of what people say:
- Look at what she’s wearing
- Look at the make up
- She was asking for it
- Couldn’t she have…
- She didn’t fight back
- She was friends with him
- She dated him
- They were married
- She went out alone
- She was out late
- She was drunk
- She didn’t say no
- She sent mixed messages
- She wasn’t a virgin
- She is a slut
- He didn’t realise she didn’t want him
- He thought she meant yes when she said no
- He was smitten with her
- Men can’t help themselves
- He was only young /inexperienced
- She’s ruining his life with these allegations
- He has sexual urges that have to be filled
Women should not need to adjust their behaviour
These are all statements that I have personally heard about or heard said to rape victims. You may be surprised, but both men and women victim-blame. It is time to point the finger at the right people: men who rape.
The amount of people who have told me – in response to finding out I train for marathons in the early hours of the morning, running with music in my ears – that they would not dare run in the dark or early morning and wouldn’t wear their earphones for fear of attack – is shocking.
Charlotte Purdue, the thirdfastest British woman in history, spoke about this after finishing the London marathon this year, saying, “Even now I wouldn’t run outside alone. I’ve never felt safe doing it. It is sad”.
What’s more shocking is the amount of women who have been sexually assaulted and raped, and how many do not report it (only around 15 percent report sexual violence). We live in a country where misogyny has power over every minute of women’s lives.
How can things change?
A simple change we can all adopt (including men) is to challenge behaviour, so that there is a clear message that any level of unwanted sexual conduct is not acceptable. Behaviour that should not be tolerated, for example in the workplace or education facilities:
- Shouting / whistling at women when they pass
- Commenting on women’s bodies or dress (unless they ask you to)
- Following women
- Rubbing up against women
- Touching women (unless invited)
- Telling women they want you/’it’ when they have not asked you specifically for either
- Forcing yourself on women
Workplaces and education facilities need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy, because the more society rejects the nuances of sexism and sexual misconduct, the more we show that we will not tolerate the abuse of women. But for greater change, we need police we can trust, empowered by a government we can rely upon.
The prime minister said he wanted to have “more successful prosecutions for rape and for sexual violence” and that “too many women are spending too long” waiting for their cases to come to court. Yet Johnson has also agreed with the Met about women needing to flag down buses if they feel threatened.
Perhaps someone needs to remind the prime minister that the Conservatives have been in power for over ten years. It is the Conservative government that has cut the number of police staff and increased the length of time victims wait for closure on cases.
In 2020, YouGov reported that, “fewer than half of Brits are confident that the police would catch their assaulters (48%), rapists (46%) or stalkers (33%)”. The BBC reported that, “in the year to March 2020, fewer than two per cent of rape cases recorded by police resulted in a suspect being charged or receiving a summons”. While this continues, victims are being victimised by a system that constantly lets them down.
Tough action needed
In 2020, only 1.6 percent of rape cases resulted in charge or summons. For the record, less than approximately 4 percent are malicious allegations, which means that plenty of men rape and never face the consequences. Meanwhile, their victims never forget and some never recover.
By now the Met could have reviewed its recruitment policies and introduced a test and/or means of auditing existing officers and confirmed that they will start to take allegations against serving officers seriously. Every police officer in the UK should be re-vetted following the sentencing of Couzens, a former senior Metropolitan Police chief superintendent has said.
Permitting the police to use extended powers at this time is not only inappropriate, it is a recipe for disaster; one that could cost more innocent lives. Papering over the cracks by ignoring them or deflecting by victim blaming, presumably in the hope that the herd will follow that terrible example, won’t work. Neither should we accept it. Public funds pay for the government and the police, and it is time that both serve the public, not harm them.
At the moment, Gov.uk advises victims of rape or assault to:
- Keep the clothes you were wearing and don’t wash them – the police may need them as evidence for the investigation
- Try not to shower as there may be evidence which the police can use.
There are also details of referral for medical examination.
A specialist agency may be the answer; one which has the powers of the police without the stigma or pressure, and where staff have highly specialised training in victim support. Victims could officially report to the agency, have a medical examination (if they consent) – which is similar to the role SARCs play at present – and a witness statement could be taken while evidence is at its most contemporaneous, which would prevent the risk of a victim having to give a statement later.