In her speech after the hearing of Wayne Couzens at the Old Bailey last week, Dame Cressida Dick monotonously remarked that the ruling could ‘possibly’ contribute to the insecurity of women and girls across London. Rather than acknowledging that her organisation had facilitated the worst scandal in the 190 year history of the force at the expense of an innocent young woman and resigning on the spot, Dame Cressida continued to bumble along, pledging to work harder with her force to combat the threats facing women and girls on the streets of London.
“I am absolutely sickened”, she said. Sickened that this occurred at all, or that she had the warning signs and the power to remedy the damage to her organisation and possibly save a woman’s life and did nothing about it? By staying in her (already meant to be expired) position of power, Dame Cressida is prolonging the pain of a legacy of failure and neglect that will engulf the Met for years to come.
Couzens should have been off the pay- roll and reprimanded for sexual assault months ago. Inappropriate groping, showing off a prostitute at a work party, indecent exposure all in the midst of a crucial public body; it was as if the Met’s default position was to not respond at all. If Dame Cressida is not accepting accountability, then the Met has failed as a public service.
More concerning is that Couzens was not the only officer which the Met demonstrated a severe misjudgement over. At least 26 serving officers have been convicted of sexual misconduct, including rape and chid pornography in the last 5 years. One of those officers was in the same unit as Couzens. Perhaps the greatest shame of all is that it took such a tragedy of the Everard case to highlight there were issues at all. Of course, there are predators in all walks of life, regardless of their profession, but it must go without saying the Met is designed purely to counter such predators and a zero tolerance policy must be exercised in even the smallest of cases.
Instead, Dame Cressida has encouraged citizens to ‘challenge’ plain clothed officers when confronted. I’m sure it doesn’t take an expert in psychology to understand that the first thought to enter the head of a lone woman at night is not to trigger any form of conflict or unnecessary resistance against a lone male who corners them. That situation is what young girls are warned about from primary school. I distinctly remember being warned of a mysterious ‘white van man’ in school assembly when I was 10 years old. I remember not being allowed out on the front porch after getting back from school after a girl my age was snatched from her doorstep in the next borough.
In a broader sense, what we must not forget is that Sarah Everard and her sickening ordeal, whilst reminiscent of fears and experiences of women and girls everywhere, should not be used lightly as a metaphorical poster for anti ‘rape culture’, anti-police propaganda and Twitter threads. We must acknowledge that the people who loved and lost her will be seeing her face plastered on every social media site and news outlet in the country, possibly trivialising a suffering so great many of us cannot even imagine.
Being kidnapped, raped and murdered is not the same as being called ‘sweetheart’ in the workplace. Whilst a woman should never be made to feel uncomfortable for simply being herself, this case should be set apart as one so heinous, so repulsive, that we should not assume our everyday stories about sisterhood solidarity can amount to the trauma engulfing her family and friends.
The Met owes it to the public as a whole, men and women, to reform the vetting process and sack and reprimand every single officer who has a history of sexual misconduct or who has been found to be engaging in such activity. If businesses and institutions can design psychological tests to examine ‘unconscious bias’, surely the Met is able to engineer something comprehensive to root out potential perpetrating officers. It is clear there are deep-rooted, long term flaws in a system which should be taking on such a sensitive issue of public safety. The first step is to replace the leader who oversaw such malpractice and enter a new era of tighter scrutiny over their officers.
Until then, women will still be holding their house key in between their fists as a first form of defence, taking the long way home, not even confident that their state-mandated protectors will be able to get them to safety.