Invisible Women: No True Policeman
Dear GFPs, a word of warning that I will be discussing sexual violence against women in this edition. I will be focusing on recent events in the UK, but obviously this is a global issue.Also a quick heads up that I am deviating from our standard format for this issue. I had originally written the whole newsletter as usual, but the section about institutional police misogyny just kept growing and growing as the story got worse and worse and eventually my witterings about workboots (excellent though they may be) just felt too jarring to include, so they've gone. The newsletter will be back as normal next week.
Just a bit of housekeeping before we get going:
First up, there is another GFP LIVE coming up if you can believe it! On the 14th October at 12:30 pm BST, I will be speaking to software engineer Tracy Chou about how she set up the anti-harassment tool Block Party:
Online abuse has upturned my life many times, and completely changed the way I live. Yet despite its terrible reach, it seems no one is even really trying to solve it. It is profoundly infuriating that this problem disproportionately affects women, non-white people, and other marginalized communities, especially when we are trying to give voice to our expertise, opinions, lived experiences, and demands for a better society. In the end, the only thing I can do to try to fix the problem for myself is to build a company to try to fix it for everyone.
Sounds like a GFP right? If you want to tune in live to hear our conversation and maybe ask her a few questions of your own, all you have to do is sign up as a member BEFORE 06:59 am BST on Thursday 14th October; I will send out the zoom link to all members on Thursday at 7am sharp!
Membership also comes with free access to the thriving online GFP community and the warm glow of satisfaction of knowing that you're making the work I do to put together this weekly newsletter possible.
Well GFPs, it's been another week in which women are faced with the bleak reality that we just aren't safe doing, well, anything really. In one London courtroom, a man appeared charged with the murder of Sabina Nessa. And in another, the man who raped and murdered Sarah Everard attended his sentencing hearing. Both these women were simply walking near their homes: Sabina was walking out, Sarah was walking back. And both paid for this everyday activity with their lives.
As I write, we don't yet know the full details of what happened to Sabina Nessa and we still know little about her alleged attacker. But we know plenty about what was done to Sarah Everard and the man who did it.
We know that he was a firearms officer with the Metropolitan Police in London. We know that he was hired by the Met in 2018, despite reportedly being called "The Rapist" by his colleagues at the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, a nickname he was given thanks to how uncomfortable he made his female colleagues feel, and despite having been accused of indecent exposure back in 2015.
We also know that three days prior to abducting, raping and murdering Sarah Everard two further allegations of indecent exposure were made against him. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is now investigating whether these allegations were properly investigated.
We know that he abused the powers he was given under Covid lockdown regulations to con Sarah Everard into getting into his car. We know he flashed his warrant card and we know he handcuffed her. Most chillingly, a witness saw him do it but didn't intervene because, completely reasonably, they assumed it was a police officer going about his official, legal, police officer business.
All of this raises serious questions for the Met specifically, and policing more broadly, about the standard of the background checks they carry out prior to hiring an officer, as well as any ongoing monitoring of their behaviour. As I wrote in the Telegraph last week, contrary to the Met police commissioner, Cressida Dick's framing of Couzens as an aberrant "bad 'un," his case may have been extreme but it was certainly not isolated:
Between 2019 and 2020, 160 officers in the Met alone have been accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct. Only four people have been either “suspended or restricted” as a result. This month, another Met officer has been in court, charged with 19 voyeurism offences. High standards indeed.
Meanwhile, one woman every week is coming forward to report domestic abuse by a police officer. At least fifteen women — the majority of them domestic violence victims — have been killed by police officers in the past twelve years. And the conviction rates for police officers who abuse their partners are almost half the national average. In April the BBC revealed that the Met was investigating an officer for raping two of his colleagues an astonishing three years after the allegations were reported. He had not even been suspended.
That "high standards" jibe btw is also in reference to Cressida Dick who in the same speech she downplayed Couzens as an isolated bad apple, also claimed that the Met has “high standards in how we work to identify and tackle and prevent any such behaviours.”
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Data in fact shows that fewer than a quarter of domestic violence complaints against police officers even result in disciplinary action. Between 2015-2018 there were 79 reports made against officers in the Greater Manchester Police; only one officer was convicted. A Freedom of Information request earlier this month found that in the four years to 2020, more than half of Met officers found guilty of sexual misconduct have kept their jobs.
And when you read the details of the cases, you can see why the conviction rate is so low. Evidence not taken, evidence conveniently lost. Evidence leaked to the alleged perpetrator. Women, many of them police officers themselves, bullied and intimidated -- one woman reported being driven by her male colleagues to a forest at night and leaving her stranded to "teach her a lesson." Bros before hos, amirite?
In response to all these allegations the forces always trot out tired lines about how seriously they take reports of domestic violence and how the reports are always investigated sensitively and to the highest possible standard. Tell that to the woman who saw a photograph on social media of her partner hanging out with the officer investigating him for domestic abuse. Tell that to Sarah, a police officer with Gwent police who started dating her colleague PC Clarke Joslyn, "after another recruit, Jodie, reported him for controlling behaviour and stalking; Gwent police had not acted on her complaints."
Unaware of his past, Sarah reported several assaults – including an allegation that he pinned her to the wall while holding a knife – but Joslyn was never arrested.
In other news, on Friday The Times reported that Couzens was allegedly exchanging misogynistic, homophobic and racist messages in a Whatsapp group with 5 other serving police officers. They are all now under internal investigation, with two of them under criminal investigation. And here comes the kicker. The two officers under criminal investigation are from the Met. The other three are from different forces and are facing lesser allegations. Guess which two officers remain on duty?
Which is all completely fine, sure why would you suspend an actual police officer while he is under actual criminal investigation 🤪 definitely no culture problem to see here, just the Met having a completely normal one.
Over the weekend it further transpired that:
In 2019 Cressida Dick was informed about another WhatsApp group similar to the one Couzens was in. No action was taken - well, other than the police officer who reported the group having her job offer suddenly withdrawn.
In the past five years, 26 Met officers have been convicted of sexual crimes including rape, possessing indecent images of children, and voyeurism.
Last year the Met recruited an officer with a conviction for indecent exposure.
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One of the most upsetting things I uncovered while I was researching my piece for The Telegraph, was that we were having this conversation A DECADE AGO. In 2011 a constable with Northumbria police was convicted of two rapes and three indecent assaults -- although he was believed to have attacked up to thirty women over a five year period. At the time, "questions were being asked about Northumbria police's recruitment policies after it emerged [Stephen Mitchell] had been charged with a serious sexual assault while serving in the army in the 1980s."
Following his imprisonment, the Independent Police Complains Commission published a report in which they called for better vetting of police officers before they are hired and more supervision to ensure any bad behaviour is caught before it escalates. And yet here we are, a decade later and signs are still being missed, "bad 'uns" are still being hired, and police forces are still pretending there is no systematic problem. Or, in the most blatant display I’ve ever seen of the No True Scotsman fallacy, denying that he was really a police officer after all.
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Hashtag No True Policeman[/caption]
If only Sarah Everard could have known that, irrespective of his warrant card, he wasn't really a policeman.
It’s not that I don’t understand the impulse: of course police officers want to distance themselves from Couzens's monstrous acts. But it's misguided and counterproductive, especially given the overwhelming evidence that the Met is institutionally misogynistic, and that it was this culture that allowed Couzens to thrive, and ultimately, to kill.
If the Met really want to show that they repudiate Couzens, they need to acknowledge they have a systematic problem when it comes to policing their own, and then they have to put in place robust procedures and processes to fix that system.
But that is not what's happening. Rather, the Met has spent its time telling women to:
flag down buses (here's a handy twitter thread illustrating why it's a brilliant idea to entrust bus drivers with policing the police). Here's another example. And another. But I'm sure this will work out fine)
shout to a passerby (by the way it is an offence under Section 89 of the Police Act 1996 to intervene or wilfully obstruct an officer from carrying out their duty in the arrest of someone else. But I'm sure people will definitely do it anyway because everyone can tell when a serving police officer is and isn't really a police officer)
call 999 to verify the man who says he's a cop is in fact a cop (which would have helped Sarah Everard how exactly?
They have also promised us they will flood the streets with...more plain clothes officers.
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I mean, I feel better already[/caption]
To sum up, the Met is doing anything, ANYTHING, except for looking at the organisational culture that allowed a man like Couzens to flourish. Instead, they are placing the onus on women to fix the problem of male violence: ie they are changing nothing. (Special shout-out here to Phillip Allot, North Yorkshire’s police commissioner, who argued that Sarah Everard should have been more “streetwise” and not “submitted” to what any fool should have realised was not a legitimate arrest. Just in case you’re in the market for more colourful ways to blame the victim. Maybe he should join the Met.)
If the abduction, rape and murder of a young woman by a serving police officer who had previously been accused of flashing multiple times (and god knows what else he did undetected, to women who no one noticed had gone) is not enough to shake the police into addressing the toxic culture that allows predatory men in their ranks to offend with impunity, I honestly don't know what will.
Almost certainly not Boris Johnson, who on Sunday refused a public inquiry into the Sarah Everard case, claiming that the majority of officers were “overwhelmingly trustworthy” and urging women to have confidence in them. Meanwhile…
So yeah. How about no, Mr Prime Minister. And we’ll have that public inquiry, thanks.
See you next week, GFPs. Stay angry ✊