Violent Misogyny in Policing Violent Misogyny in Society
It’s not a bad apple, it’s a rotting orchard, writes Sian Norris – as a Met police officer admits to being a serial rapist
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In 2014, the woman known as the black cab rapist John Worboys’ first victim spoke to Channel 4 News about the way she was treated by the Metropolitan Police, after the force dismissed her allegations.
She described how, when the case was reopened years after her police report, she attended an identity parade of Worboys along with “20 or 30 other women. And I just sat in the corner thinking ‘you’re all here because of me. You’re here because I wasn’t believable’”.
The fault was not her lack of believable testimony. She told the truth about what was done to her. It was that the police refused to believe it. She talks about carrying the guilt, but the guilt does not lie with her. The issue is not that she was not believable. The issue is that she was not believed.
I was reminded of her words today, when Met PC David Carrick pleaded guilty to carrying out more than 49 offences over many years, including 24 counts of rape. The counts against him mean that Carrick, a police officer, is one of the most serious sexual offenders of recent times. The details of his offences make for unbearable reading.
Just as with Worboys, the police failed to act when women spoke up. While Carrick worked in the Met and three other police forces, winning promotions that led to him becoming an armed officer in the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, the police received 14 complaints about him. These included allegations of rape, domestic violence and harassment.
Complaints were made before he joined the Met and during his probation period on the force. The Met has now admitted “we missed opportunities to remove him from the organisation”.
Those missed opportunities allowed Carrick to abuse his position to harm more women. The victim who reported being raped by Carrick to the police, leading to his arrest and ultimately to today’s guilty plea, explained how he flashed his police warrant card to reassure her and boasted of his proximity to the powerful before attacking her.
Carrick used his power and status as a police officer to harm women and terrorise them into keeping quiet – telling them that there was no point reporting his actions to the police as no one would believe their word against his. He used his badge and uniform to gain women’s trust and then used it to bully them into silence.
An Orchard of Bad Apples
Following the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021 by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, then Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told the press “on occasion, I have a bad’un”.
The phrase felt like the most callous minimising of the most horrific crimes – reducing terrifying violence and grief to a “bad ‘un”.
There are aspects of Carrick that seem to echo Couzens. They both used their status as police officers to abuse. They both served in the same unit. They both had nicknames suggesting colleagues knew they were causing harm (“Bas***d Dave” for Carrick; “the rapist” for Couzens). And they both had allegations of sexual violence against them that led nowhere, leaving them free to harm again (the Met has said Carrick’s nickname did not relate to his treatment of women, but to his being ‘mean’).
But the other problem with Dick’s phrase is that Couzens was not ‘a one’. As Carrick and dozens more prove, he was ‘a many’.
In the Met alone, there have been 1,000 claims of sexual violence and domestic abuse against staff, all of which are now being reviewed. That’s one in 45 staff members in an organisation that is meant to arrest perpetrators of such crimes.
From Carrick to Couzens, to the PC charged with rape last month, to the Charing Cross officers swapping jokes about gender-based violence, to PCs Deniz Jaffer and Jamie Lewis who sent lurid photos of the murdered sisters Nicola Smallman and Bibaa Henry, to the 12 women murdered by police officers between 2009-18, to the 750 allegations of sexual misconduct against serving police officers since 2016, to the 388 complaints of sexual offences by serving Met officers since 2010.
It’s not the barrel of apples that is rotten. It’s the orchard.
Lessons Not Learned
So what happens now?
This guilty plea will be met with apologies and promises to learn lessons – the lessons that have not been learned already; the lessons that have not been learned again.
In the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services found that a decade of warnings to police chiefs after past serious sexual assaults and abuses of power by serving officers had made little difference to dangerous men joining the police.
The vetting process for officers like Carrick was judged to be flawed, with chiefs “complacent” and failing to appreciate “the danger to the public”.
Police officers, understandably outraged by Carrick’s crimes, have taken to social media to claim ‘not all’ police are like him. But, as with all abusers, how are women supposed to know which man in uniform is going to help and which one is going to harm? Can there be trust when even the institution’s own inspectorate believes warnings on vetting have gone ignored?
Ultimately, the Carrick case exposes two urgent, frightening and painful issues.
The first is, as mentioned, that the orchard is rotten. As well as having been found to be institutionally racist and institutionally corrupt, the police is institutionally misogynistic because its structures are built on pillars of patriarchal power, violence and authority. The system has become a place which some men choose to exploit in order to access vulnerable women – and it’s a system which gives cover to those men.
The second issue is that misogyny in policing reflects misogyny in society.
There is a culture of impunity when it comes to men’s violence against women and girls. It’s a culture too many people uphold. They defend colleagues and friends and family members accused of sexual misconduct. They give them awards and promotions. They cover their crimes. They welcome them back to the stage or warn women against ruining a man’s life. That defence de facto brands women as liars.
Then there is what is commonly referred to as a ‘rape culture’ in the UK. The hard data on how many men rape and get away with it, the ongoing rape myths that seek to blame women for the violence they endure, and the endemic nature of violent pornography that eroticises abuse, show how men’s violence against women has become normalised.
And the misogynistic attitudes which shape our society also shape policing.
That’s why the men who worked in Charing Cross police station sent WhatsApp messages joking about domestic abuse. That’s why Couzens could have the nickname “the rapist” and work as a police officer.
Women are seen as unreliable narrators of their lives and that’s why Worboys’ victims weren’t believed. The crimes committed by men against women are not taken seriously, and that’s why indecent exposure is still treated as minor, instead of as a precursor to more serious, crime. That’s why the rape prosecution rate is 1.6%.
Not all men hate and harm women, but society persistently fails to punish and hold to account those who do. Until that changes, cases like this will continue.