Im not surprised Sarah Everards killer was nicknamed The Rapist by sexist colleagues

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Last week, the serving Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens finally pled guilty to the murder, rape and kidnap of Sarah Everard.

It later emerged that while he was a serving officer his colleagues had nicknamed him ‘The Rapist’ because of how uncomfortable he had made women who he worked with feel.

I just want to repeat that because it is so incredibly worrying that I think we really need to let it sink in. His POLICE OFFICER colleagues nicknamed him ‘The Rapist’ because of how he behaved around women.

They didn’t whistleblow, they didn’t stand up to protect their female colleagues whom he had behaved strangely around, they didn’t come together as a group and raise the issue with their seniors, they gave him a nickname and they joked about it.

A police officer is currently under investigation for sharing a vile jokey meme about Sarah’s murder in a group chat. It featured images of a woman being kidnapped by a man in police uniform.

Two other officers are currently awaiting a court date after taking selfies posing next to the dead bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, two Black sisters who were murdered in a park, and sharing the photos in a WhatsApp group chat. And according to The Guardian ‘A Metropolitan police officer accused of raping two colleagues continues to serve on the force despite being subject to a misconduct enquiry.’

I could go on.

Just Google ‘police officer accused of….’ and you will find enough reports to keep you aghast for at least a few hours.

When I was in my late teens, I reported a flasher to the police. I happen to have very big boobs. I told the officer that I had been flashed at several times before and he looked towards my chest and said ‘I’m not surprised.’ I remember finding it very weird and intimidating but I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing anything about it.

A friend of mine went on a few dates with a police officer who she met on Tinder. They hadn’t slept together but she let him stay at her house one night because they had both been drinking and he couldn’t drive home, she felt safe because of his job.

She woke up to find him inside her. When she told him to stop, he became aggressive, so she threatened to call the police. He laughed and reminded her that he was the police. She never reported the rape.

When I first started working as a social worker, I worked on a child sexual exploitation case. A fourteen-year-old girl was being exploited and forced into sex work by a prolific groomer, a much older man. I went to interview her with a police officer.

The police officer had to complete an official report about our visit which I didn’t have access to until the following day. The report started “xxxxx is currently working as a prostitute…” For a police officer to consider a fourteen-year-old child who was being sexually exploited a ‘prostitute’ who was independently choosing a sex work career rather than being regularly raped was mind blowing to me.

I wondered how he would have treated her if the interview had happened without a social worker present.

In 2019 The Observer completed a freedom of information request and discovered that nearly 1,500 accusations of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, exploitation of victims of crime (including officers having sex with rape victims who’s cases they were assigned to) and child abuse, had been made against police officers in England and Wales over six years.

In March 2020 the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) launched a super complaint against the police after finding that ‘Data gathered from 30, out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, show a total of 666 reports of domestic abuse related incidents and offences perpetrated by officers, PCSOs and other staff during a three-year period’ (CWJ 2020).

The actual figures for both sexual crimes and domestic abuse are likely to be much higher because ten police forces failed to provide data in both cases, and also because many incidents are likely to have gone unreported.

According to CWJ, after the super complaint was launched a further 144 women came forward with allegations of abuse perpetrated by serving police officers.

Alex Roslin, Author (The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic violence) was interviewed by Fatherly magazine where he discussed US research which showed that 40% of police officers had perpetrated an act of domestic violence within the past year.

Information from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) shows that ‘police employees accused of domestic abuse were a third less likely to be convicted than the general public and less than a quarter of complaints resulted in disciplinary action.’ (The Guardian 2021).

It’s a problem, a big problem. The very people who are supposed to protect us are really no different to the people who they have to protect us from. Because let’s be real, the main thing that any of us need protecting from is men, men included.

I’m not saying that women don’t do scary things, it’s just far less prevalent, and female violence is not an internationally recognised issue. Whereas male violence against women is so widespread that there are government strategies and taskforces to address it.

It’s so common and so harmful that both the World Health Organisation and United Nations consider it to be a global health epidemic. Misogyny and gender-based violence run deep in the roots of our society. No matter where you are from.

And they run deep in the roots of the police force. It is a patriarchal and hierarchical system with an old boy’s club mentality. Joining the police force is a very attractive career for someone who desires power and control. It is the perfect job for someone who wishes to exert authority over others. Both domestic abuse and sexual offending tend to stem from the need for power and control, so it stands to reason that that there is a crossover. The career also acts as a protective factor. Victims are much less likely to report crimes by a police officer to the police.

A report by TBIJ (2019) highlighted how women who were in abusive relationships with police officers were treated differently when reporting their partners. Their complaints weren’t addressed, or they were threatened with arrest by their partner’s colleagues. Abusive police officers also used their position to intimidate their victims – including tracking their cars, stalking them, and reading reports they had made about them.

It’s obviously not all police officers. Most officers join the force because they want to serve and protect, not because they want power and control. Most police officers find crimes against women abhorrent, and they work tirelessly to get justice. I have worked with exemplary police officers over the years who have gone above and beyond to support victims.

So, of course it’s not all police, just like it’s not all men, but the reason that the ‘not all…’ conversation is a harmful one is because it ignores the fact that other men, or police officers, could do a lot more to protect women from those men that do pose a risk, the biggest being challenging misogyny and sexist banter and culture.

Challenging the ‘small stuff’ so that it doesn’t pave way for the big.

I once had a conversation with a man about a friend of his who had been accused of raping a girl in their friendship group. He took the stance of ‘it’s one word against another’ because there was no evidence apart from their accounts. But when I asked him what his friend was like around women, he admitted that there had been a time when they had to pull him off an unconscious woman at an after party, and another time when he had them kicked out of a club because he had groped a stranger.

The friendship group laughed at his creepy behaviour and rationalised it as him just being someone who ‘goes too far’ when he’s had a drink. They had plenty of opportunities to challenge him and to show him that it wasn’t acceptable, but they allowed his behaviour to flourish by normalising it.

The fact that Wayne Couzens was nicknamed The Rapist shows exactly why it is so important for those things to be taken seriously. Of course, he is the only person responsible for Sarah Everard’s death, but all of those officers who knew what he was like and did nothing but banter about it should be held accountable too. They allowed a culture of misogyny to fester, and it ended in rape and murder.

The police system and the culture of sexism within it is simply a reflection of society. The examples I have used about police behaviour are all behaviours that regularly go unchallenged in everyday society when carried out by men who aren’t police. It’s just so much worse when it comes from the police because we should be able to expect better from them, and because they have so much power.

I say all this not to scare people, or to make anyone distrust the police, but to highlight how deep the issue of misogyny runs and how unsafe it makes us all.

Most police officers don’t commit crimes. Most police officers are brilliant. But just like there’s far too many men who make the world unsafe for women, there are far too many police officers who are doing the same – or just aren’t doing enough.

I guess that the answer is education, better psychological tests for people entering the force, better systems for whistleblowing, and a huge shift in culture.

Considering that in 2018, Cressida Dick (Met Police commissioner) stated that she would prioritise tackling burglary and violent crime over misogyny, because she doesn’t believe that the public care enough about it and therefore it should not be a crime and police resources should not be wasted on it – we have a long way to go.

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