In the aftermath of the brutal murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, the UK government is facing difficult questions about police reforms and the issues regarding women’s safety on UK streets. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the police’s failure to take sexual violence against women seriously ‘infuriating’, according to The Guardian. He particularly emphasized the long delays in the criminal justice system which cause women to have to wait for years before their case is even heard. This comes in the wake of campaigners across the country demanding change in the way the police handle cases of violence against women. As the country responds to one brutal femicide after another, Shout Out UK reports on the debate that has emerged about the institutional misogyny that prevails across the UK’s police force.
As reported by the BBC, on March 3rd, 2021, police officer Wayne Couzens, abused his power to lure Sarah Everard into his car and then kidnapped, raped, and murdered her. When she was kidnapped, Evered believed she was being lawfully detained for violating COVID-19 restrictions. Although her murder was particularly brutal, it is not an isolated event. The Centre for Women Justice has reported that in the past two years, they were approached by 129 women with claims of being raped, beaten, and coerced by police officers. One victim said it was impossible for complaints to be taken seriously because the police were “a boys’ club.” According to the Independent, despite repeated attempts at reforms, “police sexism remains an institutional problem in which a toxic culture among some male officers has persisted for decades, affecting colleagues and victims.”
When questioned about potential police reforms, Boris admitted that “there is an issue about how the police handle sexual violence, domestic violence, the sensitivity, the diligence, the time, the delay. That’s the thing we need to fix.” Similarly, UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said that “there definitely needs to be reform to rebuild that confidence in the police.” Yet, some argue that this reform is long overdue. According to Edinburgh News, Lady Helena Kennedy, who chairs the working group on misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland, said lessons could have been learned a long time ago. Kennedy urged that “the police have to be taking women’s complaints more seriously than they have done. This has been going on for many, many years and I’m tired of hearing police forces saying they will learn lessons from some tragedy. The lessons don’t seem to be learned. Women up and down the country are saying that. And you have to listen, and police forces are not doing that.”
It seems clear that any reform would require more resourcing, more police, and more money to be put into policing and the court system, as well as better training for police officers and those in the justice system. However, not everyone has accepted this as the best approach. The Guardian reported on October 1st that Philip Allott, who is the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, has been heavily criticized and is facing calls to resign for saying women “need to be more streetwise” about powers of arrest in the aftermath of the Everard murder. The police commissioner was also accused of victim-blaming for saying that women should “just learn a bit about that legal process.” Such comments are unfortunately not uncommon. Yet, this approach clearly will not enable real reform or help us move away from victim-blaming. Shout Out UK highlights that reform requires a wider systematic approach: from educating young people about sexual consent, debunking myths about rape and assault, examining the limitations of the legal system in supporting victims, holding police officers accountable for their behaviour, and addressing the country’s failure to listen to the voices of victims who remain unheard.