The Toxic Culture That Led To The Murder Of Sarah Everard Won’t Change Until Men Accept That This Is Our Problem Too
When Sajid Javid was interviewed this weekend on the horrific Sarah Everard affair, he delivered the classic political response to a disturbing issue that is emerging in the news.
There was a bit of emotion, vague talk of reform, promises to learn – the most belittled phrase in Westminster – but no clue to actual action. The health secretary is, let us remember, a former Minister of the Interior and brother of a high-profile cop. Yet after chatting about a strategy for women’s rights, he didn’t even say whether he thought misogyny should be a hate crime despite having ordered a review by the Law Commission on the question. “I like to be guided by the evidence,” he said.
If the government is to be guided by evidence, there is a lot to consider. Since the unfortunate young woman was kidnapped and killed in March, at least 79 other women have suffered violent deaths, including Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old teacher who was murdered on her way to a friend’s house. The number of rape cases has risen sharply, the number of prosecutions has almost halved in one year to such a dramatic level that the Commissioner for Victims speaks of the “decriminalization of rape”. Less than one percent of sexual offense cases end with a conviction. Domestic violence has increased during the pandemic. The cash-strapped courts are in crisis. Studies indicate that more than two-thirds of women have been harassed in public; even more feel in danger after dark.
This intolerable situation is even worse for women of color and women with disabilities. Boris Johnson talks about wanting to level our country; perhaps his government could start by focusing without remorse to ensure that half of the population can go about their daily business without fear of being mistreated or attacked. Everard’s death was particularly gruesome, but it was far from an isolated case of police failure on sex offenses. Think of the depressing story of black cab rapist John Worboys, who may have attacked several hundred women in the back of a vehicle they saw as a safe place. A teenager said police laughed when they detailed her case; no wonder it took several years for this man to be prosecuted.
Still, it’s too easy to think that these problems can all be blamed on the police, too simplistic to think they could be solved by mixing up the Met’s top brass. Yes, warning signs have been missed with catastrophic consequences, people should be held accountable and procedures reorganized. I wrote here before about Alice, a friend in her thirties, who wishes she hadn’t told the police about a sexual assault of a stranger, such was the intrusion into her life that left her feeling more like a suspect than a victim. More than three years after the attack, her case has still not been taken to court as officers press for access to a therapist’s notes to scrapped her sanity. The way she was treated, like too many others, is utter shame.
Reforming this failing system should be a top priority for the government. Ministers should consider moving away from the adversarial approach to sexual offenses, examining concepts of restorative justice and strengthening rehabilitation services. They are also expected to pour money into the broken justice system, while helping underfunded local authorities create safer streets. However, these issues go far beyond shattered public services. Because what does it say about male attitudes when a killer’s co-workers nicknamed him “the rapist,” knew he was using violent pornography and exchanging misogynistic material on WhatsApp?
This troubling case reveals much larger loopholes that remain pervasive in our society and lurk behind the daily harassment, bullying, sexism and violence that plague women. Every man knows all too well the jokes, the gags, the boasting that demean and objectify women. Every woman knows the comments, the jokes, the taunts, the disparagement, the innuendos, the ignorance of the points of view which demean and undermine them constantly. Many of these attitudes have been lethally inflamed by the snake pit of social media and the often violent online pornography torrents pouring unchecked onto phones and computers.
The impact is visible throughout society. Look at the sacred health service, for example, and ask yourself why so many of the worst horror stories involve female patients whose concerns are ignored for years by arrogant male consultants and managers? We’ve seen it with a dishonest breast surgeon, pelvic mesh implants, fatal maternity service failures. The answer, Baroness Julia Cumberlege reported in her landmark review of three security scandals last year, was that the serious issues were dismissed as “women’s issues” so there was “complete denial of their concerns. … Struck off by a system that was supposed to care. “
Wayne Couzens was a grotesquely twisted human being. His depravity horrifies both men and women. But is he also an extreme example of corrosive attitudes that seep into far too many places and are tolerated with damaging consequences? We know, for example, that abusers often commit less serious crimes, and then like that, they embolden themselves if they are not caught. Yet while we focus so heavily on female victims, we ignore the everyday male attitudes that lie behind these appalling cases. It is culture that begins with a joke but can culminate in violence.
We must correct the failings of the police and a criminal justice system that allows abusers to continue to commit their terrorist crimes. Yet we shouldn’t also hesitate to ask whether men like Couzens are simply the most disturbing example of a failure to tackle the most toxic elements of masculinity that so pervade society. Men need to recognize that it is not just a woman’s problem. It’s a problem that starts in the office and pub with laddish jokes, titled attitudes and female stereotypes – and ends with our wives, mothers and daughters coming home with hearts in their mouths and keys tight in. hands as a potential weapon when we pass them. in the street.