Sarah Everard’s parents are absolutely right: if Wayne Couzens hadn’t been a police officer, she would almost certainly be alive today.
If this serial sex offender – a man who, it is now clear, had allegedly committed a very serious sexual assault against a girl, described as only a teenager, before his 20-year police career began – had not been able to hide behind With the trust and authority of his badge, she would never have let him stop her, much less allow him to handcuff her and put her in the back of his rental car.
Sara wasn’t stupid. But she was, like many of us, a law-abiding citizen, someone who respected authority and trusted the institutions that govern a civilized society. Couzens was a police officer and firearms officer (she even worked in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, although she didn’t know it) and had the badge to prove it. What possible cause could she have had to suspect him of being a rapist and murderer?
Wayne Couzens had allegedly committed a sexual assault on a child before his 20-year police career began.
Like countless young Londoners who move to less healthy areas of the capital to earn a living, Sarah would have been well aware of the dangers. Look at the pictures of her walking home and you can see that she moves quickly and with purpose. It’s not even late: around nine at night, and she had been talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone.
We have all been there. I remember taking that same kind of trip in and around the capital as a teenager and early twenties, before the advent of Uber, when taxis were prohibitively expensive and didn’t go south of the river or north anyway. from the city.
You needed all your wits, often clutching the keys in your hand, looking over your shoulder from time to time, following the rays of light from the streetlights. If you ever ran into a couple of guys or someone who looked suspicious, you’d walk across the street, into a corner store, and into a phone booth to make a call.
But a police officer? Why would you suspect someone like that? Of all the characters Sarah would likely have encountered on the streets of South London, a police officer would have been the last to present himself as a threat in her mind. In fact, he probably would have had it drilled into her brain that a badge was something she could trust.
It’s true that she might have been a little disconcerted if she were stopped. On the other hand, we were in the middle of Covid, a time when we were all being asked to comply with a complex, sometimes strange and ever-changing set of rules.
People were stopped all the time in streets and parks, usually for violating some new directive they didn’t even know existed. I remember that a police officer immediately yelled at me for sitting on a park bench to rest my legs for ten seconds, for God’s sake. The newspapers were full of stories about people getting into trouble or being fined. Poor Sarah was probably too worried about having inadvertently done something wrong to sense the danger ahead.
When my daughter was younger and started traveling to school and going out alone, I remember telling her, ‘If you’re ever scared or in trouble, find a busy place, look for someone with authority: a security guard, any. in uniform – a policeman.” And there she is, Sarah, talking to a police officer on a busy road, captured on CCTV shortly before this monster took her to Dover, where he raped her, strangled her and set her body on fire.
I keep thinking about what Sarah’s mother said in her victim impact statement, about seeing the camera footage of a passing bus and silently screaming inside: ‘Don’t get in the car, Sarah!’ and my heart breaks for her. But most of all, she makes my blood boil.
Sarah Everard was walking home when Couzens kidnapped, raped and murdered her while he was off duty.
Crowds gather for a vigil to remember Sarah outside New Scotland Yard on March 14, 2021.
Sarah was not a “vulnerable” young woman; She was not drunk or intoxicated, she had not put herself in any danger. She wasn’t lost or staggering home through some dark alley. She was on a main street in view of passersby at a perfectly reasonable time of night. She wore practical and sensible clothes.
There was literally nothing more this young woman could have done to protect herself, and yet just hours later she was dead in the most horrific circumstances.
That is the main reason why her murder sparked so much grief and anger among women of all ages: if it could happen to Sarah, it could happen to any of us, any of our daughters.
All violent deaths are an affront to humanity, but there is something especially twisted about the circumstances of Sarah’s. Couzens was destined to be one of the good guys, a hero, a protector. He turned out to be a monster.
Worse yet, they could have stopped him… again, the same people whose job it is to keep us safe from demons like him: his colleagues on the police force. If they had done his job correctly, if they had paid attention to even a small number of the many (and there were many) accusations leveled at him by a variety of women over the years, he would not have been in such a position of authority. .
He would have been just another scoundrel on the street of the kind that women, even at my age, are very used to dealing with on a regular basis and know to stay away from. But thanks to them it was not like that. He was a police officer and that literally gave him a license to kill.
Sarah’s brutal murder is the ultimate betrayal of a society that still protects male predators from the consequences of their actions; of a culture that turns a blind eye to certain male behaviors and instead of seeing them for what they are (abusive, intrusive, potentially very dangerous) dismisses them as mere misunderstandings or exaggerated reactions on the part of the victim.
Time and again Couzens’ behavior was pointed out; time and time again he was ignored. Because? Because he was one of the boys? Because he was good at his job? Why are all women hysterical? Why can’t we take a joke? Because, honestly, don’t get your hopes up, love. All of us know the drill. We’ve heard it a million times before.
I have always believed that, as women, we should not fall into that trap of thinking that all men are a potential danger to women. Clearly they are not, and it is stupid and reductionist to argue otherwise.
I have also always believed that as women we must take responsibility for our own safety and try, whenever possible, not to put ourselves in unnecessary danger.
But Sarah’s case has made me question all that. Her murder was not only a terrible crime and an unspeakable tragedy for her family; She has also shattered the fundamental principles that girls and women are taught: take care of yourself, be responsible, trust the authorities and you will be safe.
It will be a long time before any of us believe that lie again.