Featured Illustration: Niki Groom
When details emerged about Wayne Couzens’ criminal past, many of us were left wondering why he wasn’t stopped before taking Sarah Everard’s life. The answer lies in the hotbed of institutional misogyny within the police.
Content warning: femicide, sexual assault, sexual harassment.
A story we know all too well.
. . .
It was March 4th when Sarah Everard was reported missing, the day after her walk home from a friend’s house near Clapham Commons. News of the 33-year-old’s disappearance sent shockwaves around the country, as women everywhere resonated with the dangers of walking home alone. It took police almost a week of searching to find Everard’s body, tucked away in Hoad’s Wood in a builder’s bag. Two days later, 48-year-old Wayne Couzens was charged with Everard’s kidnap and murder — he was a serving Metropolitan police officer.
Unfortunately, stories like this tend not to surprise us anymore. For women, the dangers of walking home alone at night are far too customary, those same dangers that Sarah Everard fell victim to.
The Met and Misogyny
While this news of another murdered young woman felt painfully unsurprising, so too did the circumstances that allowed it to happen — the police’s disregard for Couzens’ previously unacceptable and criminal behaviour against women.
The Met has a misogyny problem. From officers that mocked and photographed the dead bodies of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, to those who abused female colleagues without suspension, to those who made evidence disappear to clear themselves of domestic violence, the Met has made a history out of neglecting women’s safety.
After Couzens’ arrest — and as details about his criminal past slowly began to emerge — many of us began to question how and why he was still a serving officer. Among the details released was the revelation that Couzens was linked to at least three counts of indecent exposure and nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ during his time at the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC). Despite claims that Couzens underwent an “enhanced level of vetting“ before being hired by the Met in 2018, these assertions seem somewhat futile in the wake of his confession to Everard’s rape and murder. How enhanced vetting does not result in a sex offender losing his badge seems unfathomable — perhaps it’s because the Met just didn’t care. In light of this, Everard’s blood is certainly on the hands of more than one officer.
Although London mayor Sadiq Khan reassured the public that the police were “doing absolutely everything they [could]” to help Everard get the justice she deserved, the fact is that they simply didn’t do everything and they could’ve done more. Perhaps investigating claims of Couzens’ criminal behaviour would’ve yielded a different March 3rd, one where Wayne Couzens was not able to use his Met warrant card to coerce Everard into his car, before assaulting and murdering her.
In the midst of Couzens’ arrest, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Dame Cressida Dick made a public statement that felt hypocritical at best, and downright insulting at worst. Dick remarked that Couzens’ arrest had “sent waves of shock and anger through the […] whole of the Met”, that her fellow officers were “appalled at this dreadful news” because their “job is to patrol the streets and to protect people.”
However, the Met failed to do their job when they hired Wayne Couzens back in 2018. Given the track record of the Met’s male officers and institutional misogyny embedded within their ranks, the police actually protecting us seems like a pipe dream, one that no amount of emotive public statements can fix. Women won’t feel safe unless institutional change is made to iron out the biases that are so rife within police forces. Until then, toxic masculinity will prevail, and women will continue to be sitting ducks, waiting for the next incident for officers to ignore.
A Broader Issue
Although Everard’s murder highlights some of the Met’s most shocking failures, the police’s choice to ignore the safety of women is an issue that spreads widely around the UK. The truth is that the police ignore women time and time again. Take Shana Grice for example, who was ignored, even fined, by police for reporting her stalker, before being murdered by him months later. Consider Elizabeth Bowe, whose call to Police Scotland about her “domestic violence situation” went ignored, as officers told her “the police are not going to attend”, just over an hour before she was murdered.
Sarah Everard, Shana Grice, Elizabeth Bowe, and countless women like them would be alive today if police hadn’t neglected their safety or the threat posed by the men responsible for their killings.
So time and time again, the preventable murder of these women at the hands of men reflects a harrowing truth that reveals itself all too frequently. That is, that the police do not protect, or care about, women.