Sarah Everard’s murder: a national reckoning?

Wayne Couzen’s guilty plea doesn’t ‘tidy away the reality of sexual violence’

A couple look at tributes left to Sarah Everard
Floral tributes in Sarah Everard’s memory at Clapham Common bandstand
(Image credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

“Everyone in policing feels betrayed,” said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick last week, after the police officer Wayne Couzens had pleaded guilty to the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March this year.

“I’m sure they do,” said Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph, but the police also owe us some explanations. Why, in the case of Couzens, a member of the Met’s elite Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Squad, did they ignore so many “red flags”? It seems he had been reported for indecent exposure twice in a McDonald’s car park, just three days before the murder. If anyone had bothered to check his number plate, they would have seen it was a police car. He also faced an indecent exposure allegation six years earlier.

Yet he was allowed to stay in his job, with appalling consequences: it seems Couzens may have used his police warrant card to persuade Everard into his car as she walked home. Men who commit so-called “minor sexual offences” like flashing or stalking often escalate their behaviour to rape, sexual assault and murder. Yet these offences are trivialised by our criminal justice system.

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It’s a relief that Couzens pleaded guilty, sparing Everard’s family a long trial, said Rachel Cunliffe in the New Statesman. But it doesn’t “tidy away the reality of sexual violence” that her murder “forced us to confront”. So often women are told bad things happen because they did something wrong, such as wearing a short skirt or being too drunk. That narrative helps excuse “abusive men”, but it also gives women the comforting “illusion” that they can avoid danger. But Everard did “everything right”, and still ended up dead in a wood in Kent. Couzens’s job signalled “he was someone to be trusted”. That’s why this case struck such a nerve: it shattered women’s last “semblance of security”.

Such crimes are often dismissed as “isolated” cases, said Lucy Bannerman in The Times. Yet since Everard went missing, more than 50 women have been murdered in the UK, with a man as the main suspect. Everard’s case was so appalling that everyone sat up. “She hadn’t made the error of being murdered indoors. Or of knowing her killer. Or trying to break off a relationship with a violent man.” But we also ought to accept the “subtle sexism” that condemns the other dead women to obscurity. The public outrage following Everard’s murder has “forced a national conversation about femicide”. It’s a tragedy that it had to happen in these circumstances. But “it’s a start”.

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