Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman in South London, was murdered by a police officer. He used his authority as law enforcement to falsely arrest over a COVID breach, before coercing her into a vehicle, where he raped and murdered her. He’s since been given a life sentence.
Now, just days after Wayne Couzens, the police officer in question, used his state-enforced powers to abduct and murder Sarah, a chief police officer in the UK has come out and said that actually, women need to be more “streetwise”. That apparently, this is the way forward from such brutal attacks.
As if, somehow, Sarah Everard could have prevented this. As if, had she had a deeper understanding of COVID laws, she would be alive today. As if her murder had everything to do with her behaviour — and not her killer’s.
North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott spoke to BBC Radio York this morning, where he discussed Couzens’ murder of Sarah Everard.
“So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that,” he said.
“Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process”.
He could have spoken about the systemic issues that led to this murder. He could have discussed the toxic boys club that allowed Couzens, who was nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ by his co-workers, to become what he is, unchecked. He could have discussed the ineptitude of internal investigations that failed to address three accusations of indecent exposure against Couzens — two of which happened eerily close to when he murdered Sarah.
I’m sickened, angered & devastated too. You know what else is sickening, angering & devastating? The Met not taking it seriously when Wayne Couzens showed earlier signs of violence against women & the abhorrent way they behaved at the Sarah Everard vigil. https://t.co/UCKRysE36X https://t.co/xDvWZfqFEa
— Georgia Lewis (@georgialewis76) September 29, 2021
Allott could have spoken of the warning signs that were overlooked, he could have talked about the overhaul needed in the police system to address this kind of evil behaviour. And, wishful thinking as it is, he could have discussed what the point of the police is at all, and if they have ever really existed to serve and protect the people. (They haven’t, but that’s an article for another day).
Police commissioner Philip Allott had the opportunity to reflect inward into the policing system, to see how it is fundamentally lacking, flawed, broken, and I would argue irreparable. This was a real opportunity to create a change in discourse, to progress along a conversation that women have been screaming into the void for years, that perhaps might actually be heard for once.
But instead of reflecting inwards, and interrogating the circumstances that allowed a man like Couzens to rape and murder a woman, Allott decided to do what people in his position do best — deflect, and victim-blame. Specifically, by saying Sarah Everard should have known that COVID breaches are not indictable offences.
This isn’t about sensitivity, or hurt feelings. Women are angry because we feel that people in power still do not understand how impossible it would be for a lone woman, at night, to refuse arrest by a genuine police officer.
— Tracey Thorn (@tracey_thorn) October 1, 2021
Allott has since apologised for his comments, because they were “insensitive”. Which is so frustrating because insensitivity is actually the least of our problems here.
I wish there were words to convey how much fury this incites in me, but there just aren’t. So instead, I’ll channel my rage into explaining what exactly is so reprehensible about these statements.
Let’s talk about Wayne Couzens for a second. Couzens premeditated his attack on Sarah Everard for weeks. As the prosecution unearthed in his court hearing last week, Couzens began buying the equipment he would need to kidnap and murder a woman long before he ever set eyes on Sarah Everard, and he even rented a vehicle for the abduction.
He fully intended to hurt someone that night, and no woman could have protected themselves in this circumstance.
For Allott to say Sarah shouldn’t have “submitted” to the false arrest — as if she could have argued her way out of this, as if Couzen didn’t have both the physical and structural power to coerce her (hello, he was A COP), is seriously dangerous. Because when we tell women they need to be more careful, what we end up communicating is “make sure he rapes the other girl”.
There is always going to be a woman who is out a little later, in a street a little darker, in a world a little more isolated. There will always be a more vulnerable woman — and when we pretend that it’s women that need to be safe, we aren’t stopping men from attacking women. What we are doing is just making sure it’s a more vulnerable woman that is attacked.
It is victim-blaming at its finest, and it does nothing except protect the orchestrators of violence.
And of course, let’s talk about the fact that Sarah Everard was approached by a police officer, who showed her a warrant card, and said she was under arrest for breaching COVID restrictions. Of course she got in the car. I would have got in the fucking car. That’s how we’ve been socialised — to be obedient to police officers, out of fear for ourselves.
If she did know that this wasn’t right, what was she supposed to do? Call the police?? Apparently yes, because that is literally what London Police suggested women do in this situation.
It’s ridiculous that women are being told to call 999 to check if the person in front of them is a police officer.
Couzens WAS a police officer. Even if Sarah Everard had called 999, what would have happened differently? She would have been told that yes, Couzens is an officer.
— Rhys Morgan (@rhysmorgan) October 1, 2021
So, let me get this straight… When women attending a peaceful vigil in the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s murder were being pinned to the ground by male police officers, should they have flagged down a passing bus? Called 999? Been reassured to see more police on the streets? 🤔
— Ruth Harley (@ruth_hw) October 1, 2021
They also suggested resisting arrest and running from a police officer if you feel unsafe — which is exactly what people of colour, and especially Black people, get killed for. I wish this was joke.
The police: what we’re saying is, there will be more of us on patrol, and if you see us, run away
— Ruth Stokes 🧡 (@ruthstokes) October 1, 2021
To get back to Sarah, what if she had told Couzens: “no sir, this is incorrect”. Are we to believe Couzens would have apologised and moved on? Even if he had, then what? He just finds someone else to attack?
This conversation is uselessly cyclical. It’s a dead end. We shouldn’t be talking about ways women should protect themselves from police — we should be talking about why the fuck they need to in the first place.
We should be talking about the systemic issues that lead to gendered violence. We should be talking about the fact that Wayne Couzens was a police officer, that this gave him the sense of power he needed to murder Sarah, and that police officers hurting people is not new, or even uncommon.
We need to talk about the intersection of power that comes with being a man and being a police officer, and the danger this poses, and how the fuck these things happen.
Wayne Couzens’ fellow police officer mates provided character references and spoke in support of him during his hearings — after he admitted to raping and killing Sarah.
The response to this, by a former chief crown prosecutor, was that these men should be “disciplined”, but not fucking fired.
There is so much we can talk about regarding the monster Wayne Couzens, and the fact that really, he isn’t a monster at all — that his behaviour doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that he isn’t even unique.
That’s the scariest part of this conversation, and it’s the most important one — this case isn’t different. Women die every day at the hands of men. Sarah Everard just got more media attention than most victims of these crimes do. That this violence is actually, in a twisted way, normal. And it will remain to be, until we actually do something about it.