Today (14th February 2023), Wayne Couzens pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent exposure, one of which he committed four days before he murdered Sarah Everard.
Responding to this, Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“We’ve long known that the police aren’t taking so-called ‘lower level’ sexual violence offences like indecent exposure seriously enough. Very few reported cases are investigated and have criminal charges brought against any suspect. The worry is that these types of offences are usually minimised and can even be tolerated as a normal part of life for women and girls, rather than being recognised as part of a dangerous pattern of risky sexual offending behaviour.
If Couzens had been properly investigated and held accountable for his prior offending against women, he would not have been able to abuse his position as a police officer in his crimes against Sarah Everard.
These were not just ‘missed opportunities’ to stop a serial sex offender – they were decisions made by police forces to take no action against him and in doing so, to allow him to continue to target women. If action isn’t taken, it simply reinforces a sex offender’s sense that they can get away with it, and that can lead to a tragic escalation in the seriousness of their offending.
In addition, flashing and street harassment is inherently harmful to women and girls, and not solely an indicator of further threat. These incidents are almost universally experienced by women across their lifetimes, and they are often trivialised, dismissed, or laughed about. But when the criminal justice system is failing to prosecute rapists, it doesn’t seem likely that indecent exposure will be taken more seriously. So is it any surprise that women and girls don’t report these incidents?
We know that perpetrators don’t go out and kill without any prior indication that they are a danger to women and girls. It is simply inexcusable that we don’t invest time and resource into prevention work, including managing perpetrators and preventing offending from happening in the first place, but also rooting out and challenging the harmful sexist attitudes that underpin violence against women and girls.
A slew of reviews and investigations have found institutional misogyny and racism in our police forces which not only impacts the service they provide to victims, but puts women’s lives at risk.
It’s abundantly clear the current system is failing women and girls. We need a radical overhaul of the police and other criminal justice agencies’ response to violence against women, towards one that takes victims’ accounts seriously, investigates the actions of perpetrators rather than the character and behaviour of victims, and supports all survivors to access justice.”
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, email@example.com 07960 744 502