The blood-curdling case of Sarah Everard has brought to light the institutional misogyny that prevails across the UK’s police force.

On March 3, 2021, Wayne Couzens, a serving police officer, abused his power to lure Sarah Everard into his car and then kidnapped, raped and murdered her near Ashford, Kent.

The police investigation found that Sarah displayed no signs of struggle. As far as she was concerned, she was being lawfully detained for violating Covid restrictions.

On March 13, hundreds attended a vigil held in Sarah’s memory — protesting to ‘Reclaim these Streets’. It ended with police violently arresting protestors on the same grounds that Couzens used to kidnap Sarah.

The ‘boys club’ culture  

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a case of a murderer who also happened to be a police officer. Sarah’s gruesome death has unearthed that 771 Met Police employees have faced accusations of sexual misconduct since 2010, and more are being uncovered by the hour. These revelations indicate that the police played an indirect role in facilitating Sarah’s murder, as much as they’ve been tiptoeing around it. Just three days before Couzens kidnapped her, he faced two allegations of indecent exposure in South London. This follows a previous allegation he faced in 2015 in Kent.

The string of allegations exposes repeated failure by the UK Police to vet their police officers properly and take cases of sexual harassment seriously. Teaching fellow, Jennifer Grant at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Portsmouth, talks of how even the use of the word ‘flashing’ deflects its severity, encouraging it to be seen more as a ‘nuisance’ than an offence. This illustrates the social hierarchy of similar incidents, with sexual harassment at the bottom of the pyramid.

Being a woman, I’m no stranger to this mentality, having been stalked at the age of 14 and going through a phase when I was 18 when I couldn’t leave the house without experiencing street harassment. In every situation, reporting wasn’t an option — after all, it wasn’t rape and the police would hardly have done anything about it. My own internalized misogyny still contaminates my thinking today. Only last Saturday, I politely declined to dance with a guy at a club. After I turned around to face my friends, he grabbed me around the neck and pulled me towards him. I was shocked … but felt lucky that it was only my neck that had been touched.

The case of Sarah isn’t just down to sexual misconduct being dismissed. We now know that Couzens had been nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ amongst some of his colleagues. He was also part of a WhatsApp Group that shared misogynistic, homophobic and racist content, revealing the ‘boys club’ culture that underpins the male-dominated police force.

It’s not just civilian women who suffer the consequences either. Policewomen fall victim to discriminatory treatment more often than their civilian counterparts. LSE research by Brown et al (2018) identified this range of treatment which includes bullying by someone senior, men taking credit for women’s work, and women refusing to go for promotions. Likewise, a 2016 UNISON survey found that 1 in 5 female police officers had received a sexually explicit email or text from a colleague. It is also revealing that incidents of discriminatory harassment tend to be higher when women are considered a threat by their male colleagues. In this context, ‘threat’ doesn’t refer to a woman’s capability to cause harm, but instead to the possibility of her surpassing her male colleagues in the police hierarchy. While women fear being murdered on their way home at night, male police officers fear having a female superior.

Sarah Everard and femicide

Speaking about Sarah on the news, the police devoted more time to assuring the public that Couzens isn’t ‘one of us’ rather than addressing women’s lack of options when faced with danger. To make matters worse, the Met Police released ‘advice’ on what to do if one is approached by a lone police officer. This includes, (drumroll, please) calling the police and waving down a bus. Needless to say, it’s clear that the Met Police cannot guarantee women safety in the instance of a rogue officer.

Reforms and calls for Cressida Dick’s resignation are not enough. Bringing in more women into the police force (thereby potentially subjecting them to discrimination) also won’t solve the root cause of the problem. The only shot we have of digging ourselves out of this rabbit hole is for an independent authority to be created that deals exclusively with offences of a sexual nature.

Sarah was a victim of femicide, the invisible pandemic. Mexico is all too familiar with this phenomenon. The authorities there have long come to terms with the skyrocketing rates of femicide, leaving victims’ families to investigate the murders. The feminist movement in Mexico has employed creative ways of protesting. On March 9, 2020, ‘un Dia sin Mujeres’ (a Day without Women) was organized. Women didn’t attend school or work to demonstrate what will happen if femicide continues to be ignored.

When Wayne Couzens drove around London, hunting on March 3, he was looking for something very specific: a woman.

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