A truly horrific case has rightfully caught the attention of the media in the UK, the murder of Sarah Everard. She was abducted by a police officer who raped and murdered her.
Yesterday, Sarah Everard’s killer – serving police officer Wayne Couzens – was sentenced to a whole life order. In kidnapping her, Couzens, who was a firearms officer at the time, showed Everard his warrant card and placed her in handcuffs, having ‘arrested’ her under Covid-19 powers. The 48-year-old then drove Everard 80 miles, before raping and murdering her.
It’s not just the personal horror of what happened to Everard, but the betrayal of a public trust, as we’ve witnessed over and over again here in the US. George Floyd was in terror of getting into a police car, and can you blame him? Imagine being a woman, expecting the police to protect you, but then they put handcuffs on you and lock you in the back of a police car, helpless.
That trust wasn’t violated by just one wretched awful person who deserves a long prison sentence, though — it’s the whole damn police culture.
But, this morning, it has emerged that five of Couzens’ colleagues are facing criminal investigation after sharing racist, misogynistic and homophobic material with him over WhatsApp. This follows earlier reports that Couzens had been nicknamed “the rapist” by former colleagues for making women feel uncomfortable. Numerous incidents of indecent exposure, including two at a McDonald’s, which should have been linked to his vehicle just 72 hours before the kidnap, rape and murder of Everard weren’t properly investigated. Couzens’ criminality was facilitated by the incompetence and blasé attitude to misogyny embedded within the institution that he worked for.
But wait. This is being reported in the UK media. You know what else the media over there is obsessed with, even more than the US news? You may have guessed it. Certain people are already, somehow, turning this from a “cops are bad” story into “let’s blame the transes”, which is rather remarkable given that neither the murderer nor his victim are trans. Would you believe that Catherine Bennett is using this crime as an excuse to deny trans women safety? Of course you would.
David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, was among the prominent men tweeting their abhorrence: “Enough is enough. We need to treat violence against women and girls as seriously as terrorism.”
Sometimes, you gather, it’s acceptable to discuss endemic male violence against women and girls and sometimes it’s not. Just before the Everard verdict, Lammy had angrily dismissed women exercised by this very subject as “dinosaurs”. Women who value women-only spaces – where they feel safe from male violence – he characterised as “hoarding rights”.
Lammy, along with some Labour colleagues, simultaneously denounces male violence, then, taking victim-blaming to as yet unprecedented levels, is furious with any women concerned about losing the few places that individuals he depicts as terrorists can’t access.
These single-sex spaces – from refuges to hospital wards and rest rooms – historically protected women by excluding men where women were particularly vulnerable. #Notallmen, of course, but that’s safeguarding. “Preventative measures,” as Professor Kathleen Stock writes in Material Girls, “are usually by necessity broad-brush. They aren’t supposed to be a character reference for a group as a whole.”
She is quite wrong. Lammy called TERFs “dinosaurs”, not women who are exercised by misogynistic violence. Expecting the rights and safety of trans women to be respected is not synonymous with denying cis women any preventative measures.
Also, citing Kathleen Stock is an insta-nope from me.
I have to say I find it very disconcerting to read UK media and find such a wildly different focus with one conservative obsession that is somewhat different over here. Mainstream US news doesn’t usually turn every bad news story into an excuse to rail against trans women quite like a media culture saturated with transphobic mumsnet culture. There’s a difference there in our social media that’s probably worth serious study sometime down the road.
But not now. Now is the time to deal with the more pressing issue of police violence and corruption, and how some weird media figures try to place the blame on the blameless as a distraction, or how they play “blame the victim”.