Where do women turn if they can’t trust the police?

Where do women turn if they can’t trust the police?
Photo: Crossroads AV Collective

The UK’s Women Against Rape collective are protesting outside the court hearing of former Metropolitan police officer David Carrick, who is being sentenced for the rape and torture of multiple women this week. Carrick, from the quaint city of Salisbury in England, worked in London’s Metropolitan Police force for 20 years, going on to join the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection branch responsible for providing police protection to government ministers. 

The group is calling for reform within the police force and greater accountability for the corruption that has allowed officers like Carrick to assault women with impunity over many years. 

For almost two decades Carrick kidnapped, abused and raped multiple women, using his job as an armed police officer to gain their trust, before abusing them in the most horrifying ways possible by deploying degradation tactics, control, physical violence and in some cases drugging women before raping them. 

There are three astonishing facts about Carrick’s career. The first is the gruesome nature of his attacks. He has pleaded guilty to 49 charges which include – and are not limited to – kidnapping, beating and urinating on women, and imprisonment. 

At his hearing at Southwark Crown Court, the court heard how he locked a woman naked in a cupboard under the stairs in his home, and watched her on camera while he was at work. Another woman has reported the terrifying ordeal of being raped at gunpoint.

The second fact is that it was so easy for Carrick to use his status and power as a police officer to brutally and systematically attack women between 2003 and 2020, even after the Met was repeatedly warned of his behaviour. 

He was first reported for abuse in 2000, when the police were called to investigate a woman’s allegations of malicious communications and burglary. There was no further action, and he joined the police force the following year. 

Over the next two decades there was a series of complaints of domestic violence and abuse that the police ignored. Instead Carrick was promoted to the “elite” role of parliamentary protection. Other women did not report their assaults for fear of not being believed. 

Unfortunately their judgement was correct. The police recorded nine incidents in total, including rape and violent assault, but there was no disciplinary action and Carrick was able to continue his pattern of violence, earning himself the nickname “bastard Dave” among his colleagues. “He was no doubt aware that [the women] would conclude they would be unlikely to be believed if they were to come forward on their own and claim that a Metropolitan Police officer had raped them,” prosecutor Tom Little KC told the court this week. 

So far no action has been taken against the officers who kept Carrick in his job, or did not raise concerns. 

A final, terrifying fact about this case: Carrick’s actions, while similar to those of a psychopath, are not isolated incidents within the UK’s police force. 

In 2021 he was arrested twice following rape allegations. It was only after the second complaint, when in October 2021 a woman reported that he had date raped her a year earlier, that Carrick was finally charged. She had decided to come forward in response to the murder of Sarah Everard by another Met officer, Wayne Couzens, who also happened to work in the Diplomatic Protection Unit. 

The extent of the problem was finally admitted to the public earlier this year, with the Met announcing that 1,071 officers or staff are currently being investigated for sexual assault or domestic violence. According to their own figures, between 10 to 20% of officers are not fully deployed because they cannot be trusted with the public. 

And Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, appointed to the role in September 2022, has admitted that there could be as many as two to three criminal cases against officers going to court every week for serious offences in the coming months. Rowley said the cases are a “mix of dishonesty, violence against women and girls [and] domestic abuse and sexual offences.”

In fact, former police Chief Constable Sue Fish said some of her colleagues expected sex with vulnerable victims of crime, and considered it “a perk of the job”. 

The response so far from both the Met police and the UK government has been shameful, to say the least. Former Met commissioner Cressida Dick denied the extent of police crimes and initially refused to resign. When she eventually left she was rewarded with a payoff of £166,000, which at least was reduced from the £500,000 she initially fought for. 

Meanwhile the government has been steadily increasing police powers. 

In an open letter to commissioner Rowley, Women Against Rape said, “Let’s not forget that if by chance a passing car had not filmed Couzens, Everard’s murderer may never have been caught and would likely be out in uniform targeting other women. We don’t even know how many others might have been his victims.

“Police are being put in charge of deciding which protests should be allowed and which they would have a right to shut down and criminalise before they even take place. This will impact women in particular who have been at the forefront of protests and strikes not only against rape and murder but racism, deportations, government refusal to act on climate change, and low wages and poor working conditions. We’ve already seen the Met ban, violently attack and attempt to criminalise participants in the vigil for Sarah Everard and (illegally) ban climate protests.  

“For the Home Office to hand even more draconian powers to an institutionally violent, biased, corrupt police will scupper any attempt to clean up the force, encouraging power hungry bullies to join while silencing officers who want to uphold higher standards.” 

The letter adds, “If the stated commitment that the police will clean up their act means anything, forces must refuse the political powers over the public which the government is offering them. Recruitment, promotion, supervision, leadership must focus on stopping the violence that affects women every day and the racism and other hate crimes against our communities.” 

Whatever the outcome of his sentencing today, we must consider not only the abuse Carrick, Couzens and their fellow officers have inflicted on their victims, but also the long lasting psychological damage among women and girls in Britain who now fear the people who have been placed in positions of power that are supposed to protect them. As Hodo Ahmed of campaign group Women of Colour said, “We have to weigh up whether to report violence to the police, the same police who rape us and persecute our children and loved ones, or report us to the immigration authorities.” Where do women turn to when the rapists are the police? 

Leila Hawkins


READ MORE: How UK police are failing to protect women

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