How Can Women Trust Police To Protect Them After Sarah Everard's Death?

Photo: Shutterstock / Met Police
Protests Over Sarah Everard's Death

Following the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by then-active police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021, widespread anger over how little is done to protect women’s safety rocked the globe.

As they mourned the death of the 33-year-old who was abducted while walking home on a well-lit street, women everywhere spoke out about the times they have been harassed, abused, stalked, attacked and violated by men.

What was meant to be a peaceful vigils held to commemorate Everard and show solidarity with victims of male violence became another source of outrage after images showed police violently pushing protestors, handcuffing women, and preventing crowds from paying their respects.

The police response added to the feeling that law enforcement is unwilling to hear the needs and concerns of women fearing for their safety.

The reckoning has raised questions about a culture of misogyny that makes women responsible for preventing and avoiding violent crimes against themselves rather than focusing on holding the men who commit them accountable for making such behavior stop.

Many have also voiced their extreme frustration with the ways in which the police system enables violence against women, both externally and within their own ranks.

In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a plan generated by the government's Crime and Justice Taskforce that would include measures such as providing better street lighting and CCTV, as well as sending undercover police "to clubs, bars and popular nightspots to relay intelligence about predatory or suspicious offenders to uniformed officers" — a bizarre strategy with little correlation to the issue at hand.

Everard was abducted and killed by a police officer in the middle of a pandemic when no bars or nightclubs were open. And regardless, how do the police plan to protect women from the dangers they themselves present?

The way police treat women erodes their trust in the justice system.

Police have a long history of mishandling crimes against women across the globe. Many women feel reluctant to even report crimes due to fears of not being believed or taken seriously, or worse.

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For those who do come forward, the results often leave them feeling only more hopeless.

Less than 1% of reported rapes lead to felony convictions in the US. Similar figures exist in the UK.

Of these reported rapes, 89% of survivors face serious emotional and physical consequences after coming forward.

Frequently, police fail to collect and/or accurately record vital information from victims, meaning investigations are compromised if they are carried out at all.

The added trauma caused by systemic racism within police force makes it almost impossible for women of color to put their faith in the systems that fail all aspects of their identities.

Transgender men and women, who face sexual violence in high numbers, are seven times more likely to experience physical violence from police after reporting a crime than cisgender victims and survivors.

Sarah Everard’s case has also reignited fury over police handling of the murders of sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in Wembley Park in mid-2020.

Their mother was forced to organize a search for the women herself after police initially ignored missing person reports. Smallman’s boyfriend was the one who found both the sisters and the murder weapon.

Further adding to the family's pain, it was later uncovered that police had taken selfies with the young women's bodies at the scene and shared them with others, including members of the general public.

Women and other vulnerable groups are not protected before, during, or after violent crimes, so how can anyone be expected to trust the police?

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Police are not the solution — they’re part of the problem.

Putting faith in a police force that so often mishandles crimes against women is made even more complicated given that police are often perpetrators of these crimes.

Everard was murdered by a police officer she should have been able to trust with her safety, and she is one of many women who has been taken advantage of by the police.

A 2019 UK investigation showed that nearly 1,500 accusations of sexual misconduct were made against police officers over the course of six years, with only 25% resulting in a dismissal or resignation.

Police officers in the US were charged with forcible rape 405 times between 2005 and 2013 — an average of 45 rapes per year. They were charged with forcible fondling in even greater numbers, at 636 instances, for an average of 71 per year.

Additionally, data suggests that 40% of police officers have admitted to "being physically violent with their spouse."

If police cannot even take care of their own families, how are they going to protect women from men like them in nightclubs?

One could argue, then, that police disguised in plain clothes in nightclubs and bars may potentially leave women even more vulnerable to rogue officers willing to abuse their power.

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This nightclub policing plan is particularly archaic given an ongoing public inquiry in the UK that has uncovered several undercover officers who had relationships with, and even children by, women who had no idea of their true identities.

"Solutions" like undercover policing in bars and additional street lighting only puts responsibility for women's safety back on women.

Crimes against women do not happen because there aren't enough police officers around to stop them.

They happen because of the institutionalized misogyny that is engrained within policing and wider society.

Ninety percent of sex crimes are perpetrated by someone familiar to the victim. They happen predominately in homes, within relationships, or in spaces where police presence is nonexistent.

A police officer watching from the corner of a nightclub isn’t going to save a woman from her abusive partner or protect her from what goes on behind closed doors.

Policing consistently perpetuates a narrative of women as constantly-potential victims rather than focusing on the men from whom they are truly most at risk.

The funds allocated to policing could be better distributed into better sex education, including more comprehensive understandings of consent, and addressing systemic misogyny throughout all areas of society.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.