Two police officers in high-visibility vests stand before the barriers in a train station
Credit: Ethan Wilkinson via Unsplash

Should we be putting our faith in the police?

The Met had their chance to implement change, but they certainly didn’t do a good job.

CW: Police Violence, Gender-Based Violence, Sexual Assault

Every woman will remember the shudder of horror they felt when the full details of Sarah Everard’s abduction and subsequent murder came to light. We all remember the spine-chilling realisation that, just like Sarah, we all would have gotten into that car. Sarah Everard followed all of the unwritten rules that every lone woman knows by heart: she wore bright colours, she left before it got too late in the night, she stuck to the main roads, and fatally, she put her trust in somebody women have been taught was there to protect us. Sarah did nothing wrong. The only ones who should take the brunt of blame are Wayne Couzens, and those who enabled his behaviour.

Yet, from the moment the news broke that Sarah’s killer was a serving member of the Metropolitan Police, it has been obvious that those in the force are doing all they can to distance his crime from their institution. They refer to Couzens as an “ex-officer”despite his status as a serving officer being the very thing that allowed him to abduct Sarah Everard. They purposefully portray him as a sick individual who slipped through the cracks and duped those he worked with, rather than treating Wayne Couzens as what he really is: a symptom of a much wider sickness that is prevalent throughout the police force. 

“Wayne Couzens [is] a symptom of a much wider sickness that is prevalent throughout the police force…”

I, like many women, am furious at their attempts to shirk responsibility for fostering an environment with misogyny so rampant that a man with such depravity was able to be equipped with power and authority that he would later weaponize to abduct Sarah Everard. In other professions when individuals exploit their power to prey on the vulnerable, widespread institutional changes are implemented; think of the changes made to the medical profession after the arrest of Harold Shipman. Yet, I believe many women are cynical of any such changes being made in the police force due to the abundance of disturbing information that has come to light following the arrest of Couzens. 

His colleagues within the police force had ample chances to stop this predator before he could make anyone his prey. They purposefully ignored these signs and even now they continue to deflect the blame. Couzens was nicknamed “The Rapist” by those that worked with him due to his perverted interactions with women. A 2015 indecent sexual exposure allegation was overlooked when Couzens’ background was checked before he transferred to the Metropolitan. No investigations or suspensions were administered when he was embroiled in another indecent exposure case just three days before the abduction of Everard. The warning signs were not hard to find, if anything they were difficult to overlook. Additionally, as the murder of Sarah Everard proves, Wayne Couzens previous behaviour did not exist in a void. His past behaviours were clear steps in a progression in which Couzens was testing the waters to see how much he could get away with. The answer that he received from the police force was obvious. He could get away with everything but murder. 

“The warning signs were not hard to find, if anything they were difficult to overlook…”

Female resentment and disillusionment towards the police in the wake of Couzens arrest is further exacerbated by female officers coming forward to speak up against the aggressive misogyny that riots unchecked within the institution.  Ex-Metropolitan Chief Superintendent, Parm Sandhu, stated that many female officers fear reporting the behaviour of their male colleagues as they worry the repercussions could lead to them being abandoned if they need help on duty. With women within the police force wary of their male colleagues it is of no wonder that other women fear the police. 

Moreover, their attempts to shrug off accountability for allowing Couzens to murder Sarah Everard would already be enough to decimate any female trust in the police force. However, in trying to slip out of the grasp of responsibility they have instead pushed this burden onto us. In the wake of Couzens arrest the Metropolitan issued advice to women inciting them to be more streetwise and alert for their own safety. This advice is at best incredibly stupid and at worst just outright victim blaming! Women are encouraged to run from a police officer if they doubt their intentions, to flag down a bus for help, or even to enter a nearby house for refuge. When reading this advice, I highly doubted that the Metropolitan had consulted with many women when devising this public response. This is because they have ignored one vital fact; there is no safe haven for women to run to. 

There is no situation in which a woman feels her safety is guaranteed. All women fear riding a bus late at night, running through the streets alone after dark, even our own homes seem filled with various entry points an intruder may make use of. In placing the burden of female safety on women they ignore the fact that this is an insurmountable task. The list of safety tips we have to follow is ever-growing because the perverted imaginations of depraved men like Couzens are boundless. There is no definitive list of rules that will keep us safe, a predator will always find a way to work around them. 

Additionally, the advice they have put out makes it seem as though the issue of violence against women is due to women not taking their safety seriously. The problem is not women. The problem is patriarchal institutions that view women as playthings for men to toy with in order to satiate their own sexual perversion and depravity rather than vibrant human beings with their own agency, thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Women should not have to be constantly vigilant and wary in order to guarantee their safety. We should not have to be constantly making concessions to our freedom to retain our lives. 

“The problem is not women. The problem is patriarchal institutions that view women as playthings for men…”

This is not to say that I am against giving women practical information to aid our safety. I understand that changing societal views of women’s worth will not happen overnight. Whereas women taking more public routes home, pre-booking taxis, and holding their keys like weapons in their hands are all changes that can be implemented immediately. But the police need to make it clear that they are not shirking responsibility and that this advice is intended to aid women not to place the burden and blame on them. The blame does not fall on women not being streetwise, it falls on men being murderers! Moreover, if it was not Sarah, if she had taken every precaution necessary, if she had limited her freedom that night to guarantee her survival, then it simply would have been another woman. This safety advice may stop one woman from falling victim to a violent man, but it will not stop another woman from then taking her place. 

I will leave you with the motto of the Metropolitan Police Force: “We Lead, Others Follow”. This motto has turned out to be disturbingly true. The police response has proven that they place protecting the reputation of men above protecting the lives of women. This is a lead which many other men seem keen to follow. 


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