Posted by Kara Fox, CNN
As thousands gathered to mourn the death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in March, London police responded with violence.
Scenes of grieving women pinned to the ground and brutally mistreated by Metropolitan Police officers shocked people across the UK. Everard was walking home when she was taken off the street – to the mourners it felt like it could have happened to them. They had gathered to “reclaim these streets,” as the group that organized the vigil is called, and to honor a lost sister. However, the London police described the event as an illegal gathering and handcuffed some of the participants, citing the Covid regulations.
Prosecutors would later say the Covid-19 rules were used by one of their own officials to arrest and then kidnap Everard.
On the night of March 3, Wayne Couzens, a Met police officer, spent the entire evening “chasing down a lonely woman to kidnap and rape,” said the judge who sentenced him Thursday. Couzens stopped Everard on the street pretending to be police and “arresting” her on the pretext of violating Covid rules. Later that evening, he raped her and strangled her with his police belt. A week later, her remains were found in a wooded area in Ashford, Kent – more than 50 miles from where they were last found.
Everard isn’t the first woman to be killed by a British police officer. And activists fear she won’t be the last.
According to the Femicide Census, a group that collects data on women killed by men, at least 16 women have been killed by police officers on duty or retired in the past 13 years, a police priority.
There are hundreds of allegations of gender-based violence by police officers each year. According to a 2019 study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, nearly 700 domestic violence allegations were made against police officers and staff between April 2015 and 2017. Domestic violence was also found to be treated differently by the police in court, with only 3.9% of domestic violence allegations ending in conviction by the police in England and Wales, compared with 6.2% in the general population .
With deadly intimate partner violence typically the culmination of years of ill-treatment and coercive control, there is an urgent need to reform the criminal justice system, activists say. And that has to start from scratch.
Harriet Wistrich, attorney and director of the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ), told CNN that there is a “kind of boys locker room culture in police work, which means that officers are often loyal to their colleagues beyond their obligations.” . proper investigation – and that women are afraid to report to the police. And when they do, they are sometimes the victims. “
The CWJ filed a “super complaint” with the UK Police Station in 2019, highlighting the difficulties that some 150 domestic violence survivors faced in seeking a path to justice. In August this year, the Independent Police Conduct Bureau released its findings, saying that the criminal justice system is not working effectively in responding to domestic violence – despite government claims that it is a priority. (The Domestic Violence Act, passed this spring, creates a legal definition of domestic violence and establishes the role of a domestic violence officer.)
Since the complaint was filed, more women have raised allegations of domestic violence by the police, Wistrich said, allegations that fuel deeper concerns about gender-based violence in the police force.
In a speech outside the courthouse where Couzens was sentenced to a rare life sentence on Thursday, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick – who released Couzens in June as an isolated “bad ‘un” – said she was appalled that he was a ” Position of trust to deceive and force Sarah. “
Dick apologized on behalf of the Met and admitted that confidence in the police had been “shaken”. she said as Commissioner, that she “will do everything in my power to ensure that we learn from it”.
Six years ago, Couzens was charged with indecent disclosure as an officer in the Kent Police Department. Three days before Everard’s murder, he was charged with exposing himself in a fast-food restaurant in south London.
An investigation has now been launched into the Met’s alleged failure to investigate two allegations against Couzens of indecent disclosure in February. Another investigation investigates allegations that five officers on duty and a former officer shared grossly offensive material with Couzens in a WhatsApp group in 2019 reveals violence against women in a WhatsApp group with colleagues at the time of their disappearance.
Inappropriate behavior is not new to the police force. In June 2020, after sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were brutally murdered in London, two Met police officers took selfies next to their bodies and shared them on WhatsApp. Six other officers did not report it.
There is no place for police officers with “question marks” about their previous behavior with the police, said Wistrich.
The Met said in a statement that Couzens was screened when he joined and had “no criminal convictions or warnings,” but that: “The check is a snapshot and unfortunately can never 100% guarantee a person’s integrity.”
But it also has a history of incitement to sexual misconduct.
When Couzens was convicted Thursday, a landmark IPT ruling ruled that the Met had violated the human rights of an environmental activist after she was seduced into a long-term sexual relationship by an undercover officer. Senior officials are likely to have “a lack of interest in protecting women” before violating their human rights and privacy, it said.
The IPT ruling sheds the spotlight on other documented abuse of power in the police force.
From March 2017 to 2019, 415 officers were referred for abusing their position to sexually assault someone, a 2018 report from Her Majesty’s Police and Firemen Inspection.
Nearly 500 Met police officers were there from April 1, 2014 to 31. Of the 493 complaints, 148 led to an investigation.
Violence against women in the police is “not an isolated incident,” says Wistrich.
“There is something, much more rot within the system that needs to be eradicated.”
In an interview with the Times on Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described police failure to take violence against women and girls seriously as “angry”.
“Do the police take this issue seriously enough? It’s annoying. I think the public has a feeling that they are not and that they are not wrong, ”Johnson said.
“There’s an issue with how we deal with sexual violence, domestic violence, sensitivity, care, time, delay … that’s what we need to fix,” he said. the time between the filing of complaints by women and the time action is taken.
Rape allegations continue to rise, but cases indicted by the Crown Prosecutor’s Office have declined significantly, according to an October 2020 report by the Victims Commissioner that said 55,000 rape reports were received by police in 2019-20, but only 1,867 cases were charged. In addition, the proportion of survivors who chose to withdraw their case is increasing (from 25% in 2015-16 to 41% in 2019-20).
And the current strategy of the government gives many women’s rights activists little hope. The government has separated domestic violence from its new strategy on violence against women and girls, a move that many say misses the crucial point that women’s experiences of violence and abuse are linked.
In response to criticism of the Met in that article, a spokesman told CNN in a statement: “There are many wide-ranging points here – mainly the views of critics and commentators, and we don’t want to push back criticism.” They may want to do. “
Separate and agree
Since Couzen’s conviction, senior police have carried out a media flash to signal that the public’s trust has been broken and said they will take steps to win it back. They also outlined measures they think women should take to feel more secure.
Women who are approached by lone police officers have the right to request confirmation that the officer holding them is legitimate, the Met said in a statement Friday.
But that wouldn’t have stopped Couzens from “arresting” Everard. He wasn’t disguised as a policeman, he was a Met policeman with an officially issued arrest warrant on hand.
The statement also stated that if a woman had any doubts about the validity of the arrest, she would advise “running into a house, knocking on a door, waving down a bus,” or calling the police.
Activists argue that the police leadership is deaf, placing responsibility on women to avoid crimes against them, and shifting the focus from the real problem: how to best identify and eradicate predators from their ranks.
A member of Sisters Uncut, a direct-action feminist group that led the Everard vigil in March, called the council “ridiculous.”
Mirry, who asked CNN to be identified by her first name for security reasons, said the “Council of the Met shows the discrepancy between police management and the everyday experiences of the people who allegedly operate them.”
She added, “I think the main focus of this advice is to make it appear that Couzens is a rogue cop when we actually know he was very much part of a product of the institution.”
Activists also argue that such advice mostly fails to address the concerns of people of skin color and minority background, who are disproportionately stopped by the authorities when compared to their white counterparts. They also say that it failed because the police did not take the rights of disabled people into account.
The Met’s new guidelines come as the UK Home Secretary calls for policing to be overhauled. On Thursday, Priti Patel said that “we all want to feel and be safe”.
Patel also backed a bill that would give the police more powers, including stricter control and search powers.
For months, thousands have been demonstrating against the Police, Crime, Conviction and Courts Act – which is currently going through parliament. The details of Everard’s assassination could add to this resistance.
“In this country of consensual policing, there is a kind of myth that the police are able to use violence over us because they have the public’s trust, because we are okay with it,” Mirry said, adding, “In the case Sarah Reed (a police violence victim who died in prison) is used to beat us up; in the case of Sarah Everard, it is used to kill us.
“We do not consent to violence being used against us in the name of our own protection,” she said.
The CNN Wire
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