Saturday 13 March 2021

Her Name Was Sarah Everard

Her name was Sarah Everard, a woman who was just going about her business. She wore bright clothing on the night of her disappearance and stuck to well-lit streets. She had taken the well-meaning advice issued to women who find themselves outdoors after dark, and this wasn't enough. Someone - a man - decided to make this irrelevant. He decided to abduct Sarah and end take her life. If anything good is to come from this disgusting crime, let it be a change in the politics of women's safety. And it can start with changing the terms of reference: the politics of male violence. It's not like women fear going out alone at night because a force of nature will assault them. It's time a spotlight was shone on the behaviour of men, because what happened to Sarah was no isolated incident. Violence against women lies on a continuum ranging from commonplace harassment, comments on the street, unwanted and unasked for attention online, physical and mental domestic abuse all the way up to rape and murder. This is not a case of one or two bad men. This spectrum of gendered violence is sustained by the actions and complicity of millions of men. Perhaps even by some reading these words.

Entitlement, predatory behaviour, indifference to women's safety and women's voices, it's interesting and telling how social media reaction, including by some women who should know better, have responded by pretending there isn't a problem. That violence toward women by men is not a structural characteristic of gendered relationships and a lived reality of all women. When encountering this resistance to looking at how so many men subject women to intimidation and violence, you're forced to ask why. Why are many men resistant to taking this seriously, or keen to conscript this to Britain's dreary culture wars? Have they something to hide? Scared of confronting their own culpability and responsibility for making women feel unsafe? Unwilling to accept they benefit from the privileges, however meagre, being a man affords them? Is it a fear of being shown up to be a pathetically fragile human being?

There are another set of questions too. While the chief suspect, who's now been charged, is a serving officer in the Met, we know there is an outstanding indecent exposure case against him. Without pronouncing on his innocence or guilt, he's entitled to a fair trial after all, we need to also talk about the institutionalised sexism of the police. Last year we had the appalling case of coppers taking selfies with the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, two murdered women of colour. The pitiful level of rape convictions, which shoud be a source of national shame, fell to an all-time low since tracking began in 2009. Domestic abuse incidents were up nine per cent in 2019-20 on the previous year, while arrests were made in just 34% of cases and referrals from the police to the CPS for charging fell almost by a fifth. And of coppers found to have committed gross misconduct on the job, only 8.4% were dismissed from post. A case of there not being enough female officers? Or a matter of gender imbalances reflecting a male-centred sexist institution?

The culture of the police not only reflects the character of wider society with its abuse and disregard for women, black, asian, and other ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ people, it concentrates it. The police might attract those who want to "help people", or are sucked in by the usual thin blue line nonsense, but it also takes recruits from the last people you'd want in a uniform. Because it is the most visible and highest profile arm of the state as a violent institution, we find it selects the violently-minded, the bigoted, and those not just happy with the inequalities and crap this society throws up but are prepared to put themselves at risk to defend it. Sure, there are nice coppers. I know quite a few who've done time in the force. But they do not disprove the sexist, racist character of the institution they worked in any more than a friendly Tory councillor challenges the idea their party looks after the minority class interest.

Naturally, those on the inside do not see things this way. For serving police, they view their job is a never-ending slog against the dregs of society, or the "evil poor" as the celebrated copper-turned (ex-)blogger NightJack once put it. This is a grim, dirty business but someone has to do it. Therefore, if a suspect gets roughed up a little too much, or a collegue spouts racist, sexist bullshit, or uses their position to harrass or accidentally-on-purpose assault women, it's no harm done. A perk even when faced with the worst of what humanity can throw. Such a culture inculcates a sense of impunity and entitlement, and given the degree of solidarity and occupational identification among coppers so much of it is brushed under the carpet. But it cannot be repressed forever. It struggles to the surface and we see it in the lack of interest in sexual offences cases, domestic violence incidents and, naturally, the dismissive attitude towards complaints against their own.

I feel so sorry for Sarah Everard, but we know she's not going to be the last. Until we deal with men's violence and the social relationships allowing for and encouraging it, and the police are confronted not just over their systematic failings but its core institutionalised sexism and routinised misogyny, no woman is safe.


Phil said...

Cahal Smyth ("Chas Smash") made a telling comment in an NME interview with Madness, way back. Something along the lines of, "The sad fact is, there are some people in every walk of life who are just nasty, vicious headbangers. Except in the police, of course!"

I think we as a society - perhaps more the Tory-voting 40% "we" than the "we" reading this blog - have a weird and unhealthy relationship with the police; there's an assumption that they will use excessive force from time to time and that that's OK, even a certain vicarious relish in it. This feeds through into the effective immunity from prosecution that police officers have (no point bringing them to trial if juries won't convict), and helps give the uniform an appeal to people who just want to put the boot in with impunity.

And arguably everything I've just said about a bias in favour of police violence (and against its victims) is also true, in a more diffuse way, about male violence.

Anonymous said...

So how do you square this with the historic failure of the police to investigate grooming gangs? Isn't that an example of them paying attention? Or shall we move on?

Damned if they do, damned if they don't. One wonders if there could ever be any police service that could achieve acceptable standards of behaviour for Rick. Sorry, Phil.

Until you are able to recruit readers of this blog and other suitably sensitive persons to the police instead of softer, more lucrative or intellectually satisfying jobs, then I'm afraid their inherent petit-bourgeois prejudices and mindset will remain dominant.

The failure to charge rapists of course comes down as much to the CPS as police. You're all over the place on this.

ActonMan said...

Your theory about the police was well illustrated later this evening when large numbers of police were ordered to violently clear women away from the Clapham Common vigil, not far from the location and time of day when Sarah Everard herself was possibly manhandled away by a policeman to her death. Not a good look guys.

David Lindsay said...

Priti Patel, Sadiq Khan and Cressida Dick should all resign tomorrow morning. None of them will. But all of them should. Middle-class white people in the South, welcome to everyone else's world. At least now that you are in it, then it may begin to change a bit.

Boffy said...

Labour and some sections of the Left were at the forefront in demanding that civil liberties were withdrawn by the Tories. They have repeatedly criticised the Tories for not being authoritarian enough, of not being efficient enough in stamping on infringements of those restrictions of civil liberties introduced as part of the lockouts and bans on social gatherings.

Of course, its not the rich and the ruling classes that need the right to assemble and so on, to protest, and all of which are vital to be able to effectively organise even something like a strike, to defend workers' rights, which is why such large battles were undertaken by workers centuries ago to demand such rights. The rich and the ruling class do not require that because they already have political control; they benefit from the inability of workers to effectively organise to protect their interests, to engage in protest or to engage in political discussion and the formulation of political responses and policy.

Yet again sections of the Left, as well as Labour have been hung by their own petard of opportunism and short-term political point scoring, in relation to cheap attacks on the Tories, at the expense of formulating a longer-term independent working-class response based upon workers control and self government.

The policing of Clapham Common was the inevitable response of the authoritarian measures and restrictions on civil liberties that the Tories have introduced, and that labour and sections of the left demanded, even demanded in larger measure. They have to own the consequences of what they willed.

JN said...


Right, because it's not as if the police had ever acted with a completely innapropriate and unecessary degree of force in the 100+ years previous to Covid19, is it? They needed permission from "sections of the left", because they really care about what "sections of the left" think!

Boffy said...


Of course, the police have frequently acted with completely inappropriate force. But, then I'm not the one supporting the police. I want to abolish the police, and implement working-class self-government and self-policing, including the establishment of democratically controlled workers' militia.

And, if you truly believe that COVID is an existential threat to society, which is what Labour and sections of the Left have been saying for the last year, demanding society is closed down to protest it from such threat then that begs the question of why a) you would think that protests even if legal are justifiable, when they pose such a threat, and b) why you would not want in the absence of that those protests to be closed down?

I've never believed any such existential threat exists. A serious threat exists only for 20% of the population, the elderly, and that is born out by the fact that more than 90% of deaths are of the elderly, and the single biggest source of deaths is in NHS hospitals and care homes. The governments own scientific advisors state that the safest place is where there is good ventilation, and you can't get better ventilation than in the open air, so there was no logical justification for such bans in the first place.

Its those that have argued that there is an existential threat that requires everything to be closed down who have to answer the contradictions in their positions.

DFTM said...

Of course this is a tragic case, but the biggest impact on civil liberties will not be related to the right to protest, this was under attack well before Covid. It will instead come from the overreaction to this thankfully rare case. This complete overreaction simply hands Boris Johnson and his Tory cohorts carte blanche to erode civil liberties in the name of protecting women. All such ruling class monstrosities come with this valiant justification.

We are protecting you against pedo’s, terrorists, we are invading Iraq because we love the Iraqi’s so much we want to get rid of the nasty man who leads them.

Wokists cannot but help to lump in racism and women's rights, as if they are the same thing. They are not.

In the USA there was a big debate a few years ago around women’s fear of black men in local parks. There are loads written on this. In the Southern States of the USA the ‘policing’ of black men was common if they so much as looked at a white woman. Usually ending in a lynching of some kind.

Are the wokists proposing some legislation of this sort?

Given these cases are thankfully extremely rare, then I presume the wokists want to reduce the number of cases to zero? I can see no other reason for their irrational hysteria.

On the face of it this seems reasonable, having zero has the goal, but when we go under the surface of this issue only the following measures will suffice to make the number zero:

Men and Women are prevented from cohabiting (statistically a woman is much more likely to be violently attacked by a partner or member of their family).

Men and women must be strictly segregated at all times.

Reproduction of the human species can only take place under conditions of strict supervision by delegated officials, with cameras present.

Any breaches of the above to be punishable by death.

Issue sorted once and for all!

The real message of all this is, please stay at home and think about not spreading a severe respiratory disease, it isn't like you haven't been informed is it!!!!

JN said...


Covid19 may not be an existential threat to humanity in general, but it was certainly an existential threat to a very large number of specific people. For example, my parents. Call me sentimental, but I'd prefer to postpone their deaths if at all possible. I mean I recognise that death is ultimately inevitable but we don't need to go out of our way to hasten it.

As far as I'm aware, most "sections of the left" were not arguing for increased powers for the police to ban protest (especially not in the long term). What they were arguing for was a better organised, state-led response to the pandemic (as opposed to showering money on the likes of Serco in return for massive failure), the right of workers to demand a safe workplace, etc.

JN said...

What we're seeing here is a quite extreme right-wing government faced with an extremely weak opposition (Hi, Keir!). So they're clamping down on protest, increasing spending on nukes, and generally being absolute pricks because there is nothing stopping them. They're doing it because they can.

Boffy said...


Quite right, COVID was not an existential threat to society only to a relatively small and well defined section of the population, i.e. the elderly - people over 60, and particularly those over 80. The average age of death of those in the COVID date is 82, which is older than the average life expectancy!

So, clearly then the logical risk assessment, and policy response would be to isolate and devote the required resources to protecting that well defined minority, such as your parents, or me, wouldn't it?

Is that what happened or what Labour and sections of the Left demanded? Not at all. Not only has 90% of deaths come from those in that age group over 60, the majority of them in the age group over 80, but those deaths have been concentrated in the very places where those elderly people should have been protected, i.e. NHS hospitals and care homes. Rather than protecting the elderly, the response has been so lax as to make you wonder whether it was designed to simply use elderly people as cannon fodder.

The NHS spent tens of millions building Nightingale hospitals that remained empty, but did not even create isolation hospitals or wings. It put people with COVID in beds alongside other elderly and vulnerable patients. No wonder more than 25% of people requiring treatment for COVID acquired the infection after going into hospital. Then the NHS knowingly sent infected elderly people back to care homes where they spread the virus like wildfire in those places too!!!

But, they got away with those kinds of activities, because Labour and sections of the Left too, were not looking there where the real problem lay, but were instead demanding that the rest of society which was at no significant risk, be closed down! But, then when those demands conflicted with immediate concern not to alienate their natural constituency when it demonstrated over BLM etc., the Left performed logical acrobatics to try to square the circle of its positions to defend people's right to protest that their arguments over the last year had undermined.

Its not just the opportunists in Labour that have opened the door for the Tories on this - and on Brexit too - but the left that has based itself on short-term, opportunist politics, rather than principle.

Boffy said...

I'd recommend this excellent new post from Irish Marxism that covers the idiocy of the Left over both Covid and Brexit.