Police sexism is an institutional problem that just hasn’t gone away.
It has hampered investigations from the Yorkshire Ripper to John Worboys – and despite repeated attempts at reform, a toxic culture has existed among some male officials for decades, affecting both colleagues and victims.
In the 1970s, West Yorkshire police were charged with neglecting the Yorkshire Ripper case because of the initial targeting of sex workers. It was only when Peter Sutcliffe began “killing innocent girls,” as one investigator put it, that efforts to arrest him intensified. Sexism in the study was endemic.
Ultimately, 13 Sutcliffe women were killed and seven more were victims of attempted murder in five long years, between 1975 and 1980.
This week, after Wayne Couzens was arrested, it emerged that five police officers and one former officer, all on the same WhatsApp group as Sarah Everard’s killer, are under investigation for gross misconduct. They are accused of spreading discriminatory and misogynistic messages.
It is anything but an isolated incident. In January, five officers from an elite Hampshire police force were caught making sexist, racist and homophobic statements and were fired. Women were called “whores”, “sluts”, “sweet tits” or “sugar titmice”, “Dorisen”, “a damn Doris” or called “, so the prosecutors in a court hearing in the case leading to the dismissals.
At one point, the Hampshire officials, secretly taped by investigators, ponder among themselves whether a person using the public address system is “somehow getting a dick”.
Such attitudes have a long history. In 1982, Police, a BBC airborne documentary, recorded Thames Valley Police officers insensitively interrogate a woman reports that she was raped by strangers and then received 16 pence for her bus fare. One officer accuses her of being “a willing party” and of telling a “fairytale” story.
The outcry that followed the program led the Home Office to demand improved police training in dealing with rape. A few years later, in 1987, the police established the first units dedicated to combating domestic violence. By the end of the following decade, the system had spread across England and Wales.
But two specialized sex crime units in London were unable to detect and arrest two serial sex attackers for years in the 2000s. One was taxi driver rapist Worboys, whom police believe has committed 105 sexual offenses against women in six years.
Police had not seen a pattern, despite 14 women complaining that they had been attacked or had a troubling experience in a black cab. One was told by an officer to “fuck off, black taxi drivers don’t do that”.
Ultimately, two victims’ claims for damages from the Met – for a total of £ 41,250 – were upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite a challenge by the capital’s police force, the court ruled in 2018 that the police had failed to conduct a proper investigation.
At the time, Harriet Wistrich, the lawyer who represented the women, said “not a lack of resources that let these women down” but “a lack of faith” among the police that resulted in their complaints not being heard. Or as one of the victims put it: “You have set up the procedures, start your work now.”
The other case was that of Kirk Reid, who was convicted of 24 sexual assaults and two rapes in south London in 2009. But he first appeared as a suspect in 2004, and police admitted it took far too long to arrest the perpetrator. “We must do everything we can to prevent the same situations from happening again,” said then Deputy Commissioner of the Met, John Yates, of the Worboys and Reid cases.
Dozens of female officers have frustrated or left the police force. Nusrit Mehtab, who left the Met after 32 years last year, claimed racial and gender discrimination hindered her promotion. She remembered being “initiated” early in her career by male colleagues who left a vibrator in her locker.
Sustainable attitudes affect how cases are handled, former officials say. Susannah Fish, Former Nottinghamshire Police Commissioner, said earlier this year She would seriously consider reporting a crime committed against her because there is a “toxic culture of sexism” in substantial parts of the police force.
“I also know about the conviction rates and the challenges facing the criminal justice system, as a woman it is ungrateful,” she added.
Law enforcement rates for rape have fallen 70% since 2016/17 – although the number of police-reported numbers had steadily increased until the beginning of the pandemic – while the murder of Everard by a police officer on duty exacerbated the growing lack of confidence in women among police officers .
During the past two years 129 women turned to the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) on allegations of being raped, beaten and coerced by their spouses and partners of the police officers. One victim said it was impossible to take complaints seriously as it was a “boys club”. In the Met, the male officers outnumber the women by 2.5 to 1.
Despite the past and present, senior officers can still send mixed messages. As recently as June, the Met’s chief of police, Cressida Dick, argued that on the day Wayne Couzens first pleaded guilty, there were occasional “bad us” in the ranks; on Thursday she went on: “This man brought shame to the Met.”