The Femicide Census has found that 16 femicides (women killed by men)[i] were committed by men who were either in or who had retired from the police. 13 women were killed by a current or former partner, one woman was killed by a social acquaintance, one woman, Sarah Everard, was killed by a stranger, Wayne Couzens, and one woman was killed by her own son.
When Couzens pleaded guilty to the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, Cressida Dick, Metropolitan police commissioner, said ‘sadly, on occasion, I have a bad ’un,’. But the problem of men’s abuse of women by the police goes way deeper than 16 dead women in 13 years. Serious crimes against women and children committed by serving police officers do not stop at femicide, they also include domestic violence and abuse, rape, voyeurism with hidden cameras, and the accessing and making of ‘child pornography’. In the course of their profession we have seen police working as spy cops’ – undercover officers duping women activists into fake relationships, taking and circulating offensive photos of female murder victims, disbelieving attitudes that enable rapists rather than support rape victims, arresting and charging women for hate crime simply for standing up for women and children’s rights, and a culture of impunity in the ‘locker room culture’ for their colleagues when women do report abuse,. This is not the problem of a few ‘bad ‘uns’ but systemic and institutional sexism.
Femicide is rarely a gateway crime. It was reported that Couzen’ ex-colleagues dubbed him ‘the rapist’ years before he killed Sarah Everard, that he drove around naked and made female co-workers uncomfortable. Fatal intimate partner violence usually follows years of abuse and control. Where were the 13 women killed by their current or former partner, a serving or retired police officer, supposed to go? Statistically, we know that there will be women today living in fear of their police officer partner. Where are they supposed to go? Some of them will end up dead.
Men who kill women come from all walks of life, but this is not simply about comparing the rate of men’s fatal violence against women committed by police officers against that of the general population of men, or men from other professions. It is about what the widespread and serious violence and abuse of women and children says about the police and their ability to do what they are supposed to do. The police rightly hold themselves to a higher standard of behaviour, they set themselves apart. They know and agree to this when they sign up. This is rarely the case with other professions. The job of the police is to uphold the law and prevent crime and bring justice to victims and perpetrators of crime. They’re supposed to protect, help and reassure the community; and on top of that to do and be seen to do this with integrity. They cannot do this if they’re abusing, denigrating, raping and killing women and children.
Even the language that the police routinely use to describe murders of women is minimising and insulting. They describe ‘isolated incidents’ when, as we have shown, for the last 13 years, a woman has been killed by a man on average every 3 days, and by a partner or ex-partner, every 4 days. Police responses to dead women frequently state that there is no threat to the wider community but we can see clearly that no woman is safe from men’s violence, not even from fatal violence. Regardless of what ‘isolated incident’ and ‘no threat to the wider community’ are supposed to mean, these glib throwaway phrases contribute to a culture where men’s violence against women, is seen as normal and inevitable.
Good policing will not end men’s violence against women, but it should see that men who abuse women are held to account. We should be able to expect the police to do their job. We should expect them to uphold the law – at the very least not harm women and children in their private lives. It is not possible for a man who abuses women at home or outside work to leave the sort of attitudes that enable and excuse men’s violence against women behind when he dons his police uniform. And men like that should not be in the police force. They should not be responding to raped and abused women or the men who violate them.
An independent review of sexism and misogyny in the police force and the impact that this has on men’s violence against women and upon justice for the women who report it is long overdue.
[i] Claire Howarth, 32, (2009); Josephine Lamb, 58, (2009); Samantha Day, 38, (2011); Heather Cooper, 33, (2011); Janet Methven, 80, (2012); Nataie Esak, 33, (2012); Victoria Rose, 58, )(2013); Emma Siswick, 37, (2014); Jill Goldsmith, 49, (2015); Leanne McKie, 39, (2017); Avis Addison, (88), (2017); Bernadette Green, 88 (2018);Alice Farquharson, 56, (2019); Luz Margory Isava Villegas, 50, (2019),Claire Parry, 41, (2020); Sarah Everard, 33, (2021).