The grounds for this written piece sit within its necessity. The recent publicity on the events of former Metropolitan police officers Wayne Couzens and David Carrick who carried out attacks on women demonstrate the extent of sexual violence that is accepted in this system.
This piece focuses specifically on the accepted and internalized misogyny within the police force that the lack of accountability and consistent abuse of power has exasperated. Currently, women and victim-survivors of sexual violence are waiting for justice and for the system and its agents to take accountability. However, as has been stressed by multiple charities tackling violence against women, this must not be treated as isolated or rare occurrences, indeed, these are only symptomatic of the long-entrenched public health issue of violence against women.
Sarah Everard was stopped by an off-duty Metropolitan police officer, Wayne Couzens, who then took advantage of his power to handcuff Ms Everard, and place her in a car to Dover, where he later raped and killed her.
Publicity emerged of the serial rapist, Metropolitan police officer, David Carrick. He is now sentenced to life since admitting 85 serious offenses.
More than 1,000 Metropolitan police officers were investigated for sexual misconduct.
Recent coverage in the UK of the serial rapist and Metropolitan police officer, David Carrick, has given rise to the discussion of how misogyny continues to exist, untouched, in the police force and criminal justice system. David Carrick has admitted to 85 offenses during his time as a Metropolitan Police Officer (The Guadian, 2023). Carrick joined the Met Police in 2001, however, faced a number of allegations such as an assault on a previous partner, harassment, and domestic abuse. In fact, to his colleagues, Carrick was known as ‘Bastard Dave’. Nonetheless, according to The Guardian (2023), Carrick passed vetting checks and was granted access to guard sites such as the House of Parliament. Carrick was only sacked in January 2023.
“The judge said in one attack – the first he [Carrick] was sentenced for – he told a woman she was safe with him because he was a police officer, before raping her while holding a firearm to her head.” – The Guardian, 2023
Like the case of Carrick, Couzens also showed warning signs of his behavior through reports which went missed by the police. It is reported that Couzens indecently exposed himself at a fast-food drive-through only six days before the kidnapping of Ms Everard. After reporting the incident to the Metropolitan police, it took 5 days for the police to visit the restaurant. After Couzens’ sentencing, the perpetrator pleaded guilty to three cases of indecent exposure. As is stressed by human rights solicitor, Dabaleena Dasgupta, these reports are, unfortunately, everyday occurrences and these incidents committed by Couzens have only been highlighted due to the high-profile case. When these forms of sexual violence are normalized and frequent, how can we ensure perpetrators are held accountable, especially in a system that is continuously failing victims?
Most recently sits the report of an on-duty Metropolitan police officer who, after responding to a domestic incident at a woman’s home, is now accused of sexually assaulting her (The Guardian, 2023). Forms of violence against women such as sexual harassment and indecent exposure must be addressed in a way that shapes policy and the organizational structure of institutions. It is true to say there has been some recognition of the seriousness of this topic. Violence against women has recently been placed under the same priority and seriousness as terrorism in the UK. This means that domestic abusers will be registered under the sex offenders list and undergo monitoring and geographical tracking with tags.
A Misogynistic System Compounded by a Lack of Trust
With consideration of new laws and reforms, for many activists and advocates, seeing violence against women and girls become a national priority is a huge advancement. However, the lack of trust women and girls now have in the police compromises victims’ ability to seek justice and accountability. Reporting of sexual violence remains low due to issues with low conviction rates and a lack of trauma-informed practices in policing and courts. However, with the recent scandal involving the Metropolitan police being complicit in this behavior, trust has increasingly faded. Timely research by End Violence Against Women found that 1 in 10 women are now less likely to report sexual assault to the police after the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard. This demonstrates the scale of damage the Metropolitan police have caused to victim-survivors and their pursuit of justice in addition to the overall mission to end violence against women and girls.
The question as to how misogyny has festered within this system needs urgent clarity and explanation. To me, the root of this problem lies in the lack of accountability compounded with the abuse of power. When a person experiences sexual violence by anyone, the consequences can include feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear of speaking out. However, when sexual violence is perpetrated by a person in authority these feelings can become even more complex as one is hurt by the system that is taught to protect us.
–“I was scared to say anything, then I tried to back out of it because I thought: ‘This is the police you are dealing with.’
– The Guardian, 2023
Sexual violence perpetrated by Metropolitan police must be viewed as a manipulation of power, and nothing less. Although procedures and policies may set the parameters for protecting women from police violence, it remains rooted in the attitudes towards women and misogyny.
Moreover, it appears that when it comes to policing violence against women and girls, the police lack an overall understanding of its root causes, trauma-informed practices, the scale of the problem, and its emotional and physical impact on the victim-survivor. As was disclosed very recently, the acting Metropolitan Commissioner labeled the bulk of rape complaints against Metropolitan police officers as simply ‘regretful sex’. Again, this not only demonstrates the long-entrenched attitudes toward preventing sexual violence but also the system’s inability to hold itself accountable.
As the Metropolitan police stumble to protect its credibility, women and victim-survivors simply demand accountability and justice. How can we fix the long-broken system?
Although there are many well-founded abolitionist perspectives that advocate for a community-based approach to providing justice (Read: Alternatives Forms of Justice for Victim-Survivors of Sexual Violence), for many victim-survivors and their process of healing and recovery, it is important to seek legal justice. Therefore, with the current state of the system, it was important to address how we can go about change.
Accountability and sustainable change
First and foremost, it is paramount that the Metropolitan police are held accountable for the actions of these offices and that there is a pledge for change that is consistently monitored by external experts including women’s charities.
At the moment, charities and women’s rights organizations are dedicated to educating and advocating for trauma-informed ways of working and policing. Although using trauma-informed practices in policing does not tackle the root causes of violence against women yet it does address the seriousness of the matter and take into consideration the effects of violence against women on victim-survivors. For example, Victim Focus “work holistically to assist police forces to embrace truly trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, anti-victim blaming practice that challenges misogyny and sexism.”. It is important to find solutions where victim-survivors feel heard and their experiences validated. By working with trauma-informed methods, victim-survivors of sexual violence may feel more inclined to report their experiences if they believe they will be treated with dignity and respect.
Education and cultural shift
Lastly, as is implied by Victim Focus, misogyny is not a police-specific issue. While it is crucial that conversations and public inquiries surround this misconduct, it is just as important to recognize that misogyny seeps into all other sectors such as healthcare, social care, education, and private companies. It is therefore essential, that ending violence against women in all systems also aligns with ending all forms of discrimination against women. This can only happen with an educational cultural shift in attitudes.