What progress has been made on women’s safety since Sarah Everard’s murder - and what more can be done?

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Campaigners say no progress has been made in improving safety for women since Sarah Everard was murdered by Wayne Couzens

Calls have been made to tackle the “root causes” of harassment and violence against women as the Prime Minister pledged to do “everything possible” to prevent such crimes.

Sarah Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens in March brought to the fore the all-too-real terror felt by many women around the country when walking alone on the streets.

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Couzens, who was handed a whole life order at the Old Bailey, had used a fake arrest to detain Ms Everard, accusing her of breaking lockdown rules.

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Dame Cressida Dick, is now facing calls to resign.

But what more can be done to ensure women are safe to walk the streets of our towns and cities?

Sarah Everard took the precautions women are told to take to avoid being attacked as she tried to walk home (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Sarah Everard took the precautions women are told to take to avoid being attacked as she tried to walk home (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Sarah Everard took the precautions women are told to take to avoid being attacked as she tried to walk home (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

‘I can’t say progress has been made’

The court heard that after Ms Everard’s murder the case became summarised by the hashtag “she was just walking home”.

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In the months since the appalling crime, Reclaim These Streets has campaigned for safer streets.

Jamie Klingler, who co-founded Reclaim These Streets, spoke outside the Old Bailey as Couzens was sentenced.

She said: “No life sentence would have been enough. Her family’s tragedy does not end today.”

She said Couzens’ crime was “fundamentally preventable”, referring to allegations about prior incidents of indecent exposure being probed by the police watchdog.

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“Being in a police department, being nicknamed ‘the rapist’ and no-one stopping him?

“Indecent exposure and no-one is stopping him? It’s unfathomable.

“And it’s unfathomable that Cressida Dick stays in her position,” she said

Feminist group Sisters Uncut, who had protested outside the Old Bailey on Wednesday, spoke of how a cultural change was needed.

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A spokesperson for the group told NationalWorld: “I think the situation is a bigger cultural one than one single instance or one event of Sarah Everard’s murder and rape.

Pointing towards the indecent exposure allegations faced by Couzens and him being nicknamed “the rapist“, the spokesperson said: “For us what this points towards is a much bigger culture both in the police and society at large, and the murder of Sarah Everard is an extremely unfortunate extreme example of that culture.

“It’s a much bigger issue, and in terms of whether we have made progress - I don’t think we have.

“Cressida Dick has not acknowledged this huge culture of sexism, racism and misogyny in the Metropolitan Police.

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“In terms of women’s safety - cases like this are not new. We had Claire Parry who was killed by a police officer in 2020, we had Sabina Nessa who was murdered on the streets of London.

“We have two women a week who are killed by a partner or ex partner in the UK, so I don’t think those in power are asking the difficult questions that have challenging answers, such as there being a culture of sexism in the police.

“If we are not able and willing to ask those questions then I can’t say progress has been made.”

Sisters Uncut protesting outside the Old Bailey as Wayne Couzens is sentenced to a full-life tariff for Sarah Everard’s murder. Credit: Sisters UncutSisters Uncut protesting outside the Old Bailey as Wayne Couzens is sentenced to a full-life tariff for Sarah Everard’s murder. Credit: Sisters Uncut
Sisters Uncut protesting outside the Old Bailey as Wayne Couzens is sentenced to a full-life tariff for Sarah Everard’s murder. Credit: Sisters Uncut | Credit: Sisters Uncut

‘Legislation is a start, but I don’t think it’s the end’

Earlier this year the Government launched a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. Among the measures to be implemented was a new national policing lead on violence against women and girls, as well as a £5 million ‘Safety of Women at Night’ Fund.

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As part of the strategy public street harassment in England and Wales could also be criminalised.

However, Sisters Uncut said legislation could only do so much.

The spokesperson said: “I think we have to be realistic about the limits of legislation, it is good until a point.

“Unfortunately if you are not tackling the cultural or structural reasons harassment takes place, and similarly with domestic abuse or street violence such as knife crime, if you are not asking the questions about the root causes of these things you can put a plaster on it -and sometimes that’s what legislation does.

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“But if we are not tackling the root causes, you will see these crimes continue and perpetuate.

“Legislation is important, it is a start but I don’t think it’s the end. Those in power need to be brave enough to ask the really difficult questions about structures, institutions, society and culture that enable these issues to take place and perpetuate.”

Wayne Couzens will die in jailWayne Couzens will die in jail
Wayne Couzens will die in jail

‘No woman should have to fear harassment or violence’

After Couzens was sentenced Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “sickened” by the details that emerged during the hearing.

He said: “There are no words that adequately express the horror of Sarah’s murder. Like the rest of the country I have been sickened by what we have heard over the course of this sentencing and the pain and suffering endured by her family and friends is truly unimaginable.

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“Our police are there to protect us – and I know that officers will share in our shock and devastation at the total betrayal of this duty. People must be able to walk on our streets without fear of harm and with full confidence that the police are there to keep them safe.

“No woman should have to fear harassment or violence. We will do everything possible to prevent these abhorrent crimes and keep our communities safe.”

Meanwhile, Dame Cressida Dick has faced calls to resign amid demands for urgent action to restore the confidence of women in the police.

Earlier this month her contract was extended by two years, which means she will continue to lead the Met until 2024.

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Veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman wrote to the Home Secretary and the Met calling for the commissioner to resign.

She said: “Sarah Everard was simply walking home. Women must be able to trust the police not fear them. Women’s confidence in police will have been shattered.”

‘Serious questions that need to be answered’

Speaking at the Home Office, Priti Patel said: “There are questions, serious questions that need to be answered by the Metropolitan Police… from the very day that Sarah went missing, I have been, clearly, in contact with the Metropolitan Police and putting forward some questions around the conduct of the potential suspect at the time and all the requirements and checks that should have been put in place.”

When asked if Dame Cressida should resign, she said: “I will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and the commissioner to hold them to account as everybody would expect me to do, and I will continue to do that.”

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Dame Cressida said she recognised “the precious bond of trust has been damaged” and that Wayne Couzens had “brought shame on the Met”.

However, her continued presence in her job will do little to convince women that the issue of their safety is being taken seriously by those in power.

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