'We need a shift in culture on violence against women'
- Credit: PA
The ruling of the case against Sarah Everard’s killer, police officer Wayne Couzens, came in last week. He was sentenced to a rare whole life term for her kidnap, rape and murder, during which he abused his position as a police officer by using his police warrant card and handcuffs to lure her off the street and into his car.
It is a case that has reverberated through British society and has brought to the forefront questions about how seriously we take violence against women.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick made a statement outside the Old Bailey saying that the case had "brought shame on the Met" and that for some "a precious bond of trust has been damaged".
In the case of Couzens there seems to have been missed opportunities by the police to identify his problematic behaviour before it reached such a violent conclusion. Two instances of indecent exposure were linked to Couzens via his vehicle. Moreover, he had a reputation among his colleagues and was even nicknamed ‘the rapist’ by some.
These incidents suggest that there was a culture within the Met that tolerated poor and sexist behaviour, didn’t give enough resources to cases of indecent exposure and protected their own.
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This could be seen as an isolated incident; the he was in very small minority of officers or it is a problem that’s confined to the Met. However, on Friday the Independent newspaper published an article that was a result of multiple Freedom of Information requests.
They analysed data from 41 forces and at almost every force there were allegations of sexual misconduct against police officers. They the ranked forces in terms of the number of sexual misconduct allegations as a percentage of the total force. Hertfordshire Constabulary were ranked 14th, with 3,680 officers and staff and nine officers arrested.
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Moreover, misconduct hearings concerning inappropriate treatment of women and abuse of position present an insight into the behaviour of some officers and the culture present in the workplace.
This year there has been the case of PC Mohammed Huzair, a Hertfordshire officer, who sent sexual snapchat messages to a teenager who he first met as a potential suspect in a car theft case.
A Welwyn Hatfield Times article from October 1 details the rulings of a misconduct hearing about the behaviour of Sgt Ricki Vaughan who has been dismissed.
A Hatfield police officer, who worked in the Incident Response Team, he sent ‘deeply inappropriate’ text messages to an 18-year-old barmaid he met at a Welwyn pub and had offered to arrange work experience for. Vaughan also messaged his colleagues crude and cynical comments about her.
The problem is not isolated, although it is comforting in these cases that incidents were investigated and those involved lost their positions. Still there is a question into why police officers believe than can conduct themselves in this manner.
The Prime Minister urged the public to trust the police but also said that change was needed. The government are planning a nationwide communications campaign to tackle violence against women and girls. This will raise awareness, but not use legislation to tackle the problem head-on.
The Met have pledged to publish a new strategy for talking violence against women and girls. However, this is just one force and, unfortunately, policing minister Kit Malthouse stated that it would be up to individual areas to create their own strategies.
The verdict of this case has been anticipated for six months and it is surprising that the police and the government have come up with no solid and ready-to-go plan of action. Multiple ideas have been floated about what measures could be taken, such as criminalising public street harassment and reclassifying misogyny as a hate crime.
If this was to be done it would require the police to collect specific data on crimes motivated by misogyny. On the police’s publicly assessable crime map ‘violent’ and ‘sexual offences’ are grouped together, both of which contain offences against women. but the figures cannot be seen clearly when the statistics are arranged this way. Highlighting this information would be a step towards a greater understanding of the problem and signal within the force the seriousness of these offences.
All these would help to shift the culture and how we discuss and think about violence against women and girls within the police and among the general public. Hopefully this will be the case because the details of present police misconduct trials and the murder of Sarah are very scary.