Inquiry must examine wider culture of policing that fails women and enables perpetrators

Yesterday (5th October 2021), the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced an inquiry into the systemic failures that enabled serving Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens to abuse his power to abduct, rape and murder Sarah Everard.

Police officers looking at Big Ben

Political attention to the violence against women and girls perpetrated, normalised and covered up within our police forces is long overdue. But by focusing on the actions of one perpetrator and not examining the underlying culture of policing that has failed women and girls and enabled perpetrators within its ranks, we are concerned this inquiry will be a missed opportunity to address wider failings across all police forces, as well as the broader societal issues underpinning male violence against women and girls.

In addition, we are not convinced that framing misogyny within the police as “corruption” will bring about the robust investigation needed, leaving no stone left unturned, as it reinforces harmful narratives that officers who perpetrate violence against women and girls are simply “bad apples” deviating from the norm. We know that sexism and misogyny is a broad societal problem which presents across our public institutions and is endemic in policing:

In addition to the inquiry, the Home Secretary announced increased police powers, new police leads on VAWG and stronger sentences for serial offenders as part of new legislation being passed. However, we object to the weaponisation of VAWG as a justification for both the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will curtail our collective freedoms and deepen inequality; and the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will criminalise women and girls crossing borders to seek safety. We join a wide cross-section of society in calling for both Bills to be scrapped.

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:

“It is absolutely critical that the government rethink the parameters of this inquiry. Couzens was emboldened and enabled to commit his appalling acts of violence by systemic cultures of sexism and misogyny in the Met. The data on police violence and countless testimonies of female officers about their treatment speaks for itself: violence against women and girls is often ignored, tolerated or perpetrated by police.

Couzens’ actions are part of a continuum of violence against women that is endemic within society – including in police forces. It makes sense that those who seek to abuse and exert control over others would be attracted to the authority and power that police officers are granted. This heightens the gravity of police abuse of power and is why we need even greater scrutiny, transparency and accountability of police forces and their inner workings.

An inquiry, statutory or not, mustn’t mean business as usual while we delay actions that could be taken immediately. There have been countless recommendations in previous reviews but meaningful change has not materialised. Transformation of the justice system’s response to crimes against women is long overdue and it must include root and branch examination of the institution of policing.”

We’re calling for the government to ensure the inquiry meets the following requirements:

  • Any inquiry must lead with an examination of the whole system response to VAWG, rather than solely on the actions of individual officers
  • The inquiry must involve in-depth consultation and engagement with specialist VAWG sector experts at every stage. The police must not be allowed to mark their own homework or be responsible for identifying misogynistic, racist and sexist practice themselves.
  • The inquiry chair must be fully independent of government and the police and have the necessary expertise, experience, mandate, access and authority to critically evaluate the whole system response to VAWG.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition is also calling for:

  • The close and critical examination of the role and functioning of the police, including reconfiguring its purpose in relation to how it responds to and prevents violence against women.
  • Research into which groups of women aren’t reporting violence and abuse and why, as well as approaches to ensure all women can access justice and support.
  • A long-overdue commitment to sustainable funding for specialist VAWG support services, including ring-fenced funding for specialist services led by and for marginalised groups including Black and minoritised and disabled women.
  • Prioritisation and investment in prevention work and wider systems change across government which addresses the structural inequalities that produce perpetrators of VAWG as well as vulnerability to gendered violence. This includes consideration of how fiscal policy such as Universal Credit cuts and immigration policy such as the No Recourse to Public Funds condition harm women and girls, and have disproportionately impacted Black, Asian and minority ethnic women and disabled women.
  • Scrapping of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will bolster police powers and have no meaningful impact on responses to violence against women, while curtailing our collective freedoms, deepening inequality and leaving Black and minoritised communities on the sharp edge of increased over-policing.
  • The rejection of proposals to change the Human Rights Act, which is the only legal tool that allows the public to hold the police to account for serious failings, as we saw in the case of John Worboys.
  • An end to the hostile environment, which has embedded immigration control across statutory and voluntary services and enables abusers to exploit migrant women’s fear of accessing services and support. This must include a firewall between police and immigration enforcement so migrant women who want to report violence against them can safely report without being at risk of immigration enforcement.

ENDS

Notes

In a speech at the Conservative party conference, the Home Secretary announced that an Inquiry will be launched to:

  • examine whether opportunities were missed regarding the police response to reports of Couzens’ previous offending
  • explore any related wider issues across policing, including vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour
  • consider findings from the IOPC investigation into other allegations and incidents throughout Couzens’ career

In addition to the Inquiry, the Home Secretary will commission an HMICFRS inspection of vetting and counter-corruption procedures in policing across England and Wales, including forces’ ability to “detect and deal with misogynistic and predatory behaviour”, and will chair a taskforce to drive cross-government action on tackling violence against women and girls.

This taskforce will consider recommendations from HMICFRS’ review of the police response to violence against women and girls (VAWG), the Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, the End-to-End Rape Review and the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Strategy, as well as examining how the police currently assess risk, threat and harm to the general public when responding to and investigating non-contact sexual offences (e.g. flashing).

Media information

Spokespeople available for comment

Contact: Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, EVAW

Tel: 07960 744 502

Email: [email protected]

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