Deeds not words are needed to combat institutional sexism in the police
Here we are again. Yet another serving police officer has been exposed as a violent sexual predator.
Another litany of missed opportunities by police to confront an abuser in their ranks has been laid bare. Self-confessed rapist David Carrick’s pattern of offending wasn’t picked up and acted on by his closest crime-fighting colleagues. But we can and must identify the clear pattern that is presenting itself in United Kingdom policing: institutionalised sexism.
The Carrick case is one of many consequences of systemic failures within the police to confront male violence
What does that mean? It means that the Carrick case is one of many consequences of systemic failures within the police to confront male violence against women and the sexist cultures that foster it. It means that in this male-dominated profession, lax or non-existent vetting and misconduct processes function to enable abusive and sexist men when they could be weeding them out. And it means the fact that sexual predators such as David Carrick and Wayne Couzens have been left free to enjoy long-term careers in the police is not completely unrelated to the fact that the type of offences they committed receive such a poor response in general from the police.
An inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee highlighted that in the year to September 2021, just 1.3 per cent of rape cases recorded by police led to a suspect being charged or summoned. Culture, attitudes, bias, complicity. All these things can play a role in what response particular crimes – and particular abusers – receive, alongside the more prosaic, practical challenges of investigating any allegation of criminal behaviour.
What institutional sexism in the police does not mean is that there are no male – or female – officers committed to stamping out sexism. It does not mean there are no officers who have bravely challenged their colleagues over misconduct. And it does not mean that there are no women in positions of seniority. But the decent, principled officers who do not tolerate sexism and violence against women are being failed by the institutional processes, and by too many individuals, that should be backing them up.
It’s no great mystery what needs to be done to drive change in the police. The Home Affairs Committee and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary have both conducted detailed inquiries and proposed practical reforms to vetting and misconduct processes. There are also two ongoing inquiries into policing and issues relating to violence against women, by Dame Louise Casey and Dame Angiolini, adding yet more important evidence to the pile.
What we need now is action from leaders across policing, not just sympathetic statements. That includes every single chief constable and police and crime commissioner, as well as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the College of Policing and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
Crucially, change has to be driven from the very top. That means the Home Secretary. We need to see strong, sustained leadership from government to ensure that recommendations for reform cannot remain tucked away in inquiry reports, and that tough talk on police misconduct is translated into actual change.
Right now, the Home Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into the future of policing – and we will hold the Home Secretary and police leaders to account on how they respond to the scandal of sexism and violence against women. I urge anyone with evidence to share with our inquiry to come forward.
By bravely speaking out, women abused by Carrick have rung a national alarm bell that cannot be ignored. It must continue to ring throughout the offices of the Home Secretary and every chief constable until we have a police force free from sexism.
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