‘We are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes which betray everything we stand for,’ said the Metropolitan Police in response to the sentencing of Wayne Couzens. He is the former police officer who, when in service, kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, later setting fire to her body. The case in March sparked national outrage about the levels of male violence towards women and girls.
Not only do significant numbers of police officers spectacularly fail women when it comes to sexual and domestic violence, but they commit these crimes themselves. The two things are connected. If male police officers see women as worthless, and if there is little accountability when it comes to violence against women, they will feel double impunity.
At least 15 serving or former police officers have been responsible for killing women since 2009. The Femicide Census, which tracks women killed in the UK by men, revealed that the majority of such cases involving men who had worked in the police were homicides of partners.
One of those cases is Timothy Brehmer,who was jailed for ten-and-a-half years after admitting the manslaughter of Claire Parry last May. He claimed she died accidentally during a ‘kerfuffle’ in his car.
Police officers are rarely sanctioned for domestic abuse: since a super complaint was launched by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) in 2020, more than 150 women have come forward to allege abuse at the hands of serving police officers.
Why should male police officers be different from other men who assault women, especially when some can use their police officer status to mask their crimes and instil further fear and vulnerability in women? It’s a perfect cover for the people who are supposed to protect us.
Inherent misogyny within police culture creates a context in which men like Couzens can operate in plain sight. Couzens’ colleagues jokingly named him as ‘The Rapist’, and they failed to arrest him following allegations of him flashing his penis at women. Reports from female colleagues that Couzens made them feel uncomfortable were not acted upon.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan recently stated there was an ‘epidemic’ of violence against women and girls. However, in August, feminist campaigner Joan Smith left her role as special advisor on London’s violence against women and girls board after raising concerns about transgender women using rape and domestic abuse refuges. Khan has so far failed to properly engage with women asking him why she was let go.
Khan isn’t alone in not facing up to the seriousness of this issue. When shadow lord chancellor David Lammy claimed – while discussing trans rights – that some ‘dinosaurs’ are ‘hoarding’ rights, it was clear he did not understand why single sex services, and spaces such as domestic violence refugees, hospital wards and rape crisis centres exist. Men like Lammy really don’t get how our rights are curtailed on a daily basis, because of the fear and reality of male violence. Not being able to trust the police to protect women from violent men is terrible. Knowing that some police officers are themselves domestic abusers and sexual predators is outrageous.
Senior police officers and politicians can no longer get away with throwing around the phrase ‘one bad apple’ about police officers who violate women. Nor can they play the trick of distancing themselves from men like Couzens.
Former DCI Simon Harding, a senior investigator on Sarah Everard’s case, says police officers ‘do not view’ Couzens as a police officer. Harding said Couzens ‘should never have been near a uniform’.
But why was he still a serving officer after three allegations of indecent exposure were made against him to two police forces and not investigated? Who left him free to murder Sarah Everard because he was ‘one of them’?
The ‘one bad apple’ excuse is as lame as it is offensive. Unless there are serious, sustained efforts to rid the police service of institutionalised misogyny, women can never be safe.
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