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One Year After The Infamous Vigil For Sarah Everard, Women Still Struggle To Trust Police

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One Year After The Infamous Vigil For Sarah Everard, Women Still Struggle To Trust Police

It's been one year since the controversial Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard, where police restrained women trying to voice their concerns over the safety of women on the streets of London. Sarah was killed by a serving police officer, and after the force failed Sarah, they then became the face of the opposition at a peaceful vigil.

Patsy Stevenson, the red-haired campaigner whose photo was spread far and wide after she was pictured being held to the ground by an officer at the vigil, is among those who still doesn't trust police 'at all' 12 months after the incident.

Speaking to UNILAD, Patsy said she had 'no real opinion' of the police prior to the event as she had 'never had any issues with them', but after experiencing what she did, and 'speaking to people who have had similar experiences', she now becomes 'anxious' if approached by police.

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Patsy Stevenson at Sarah Everard vigil (Alamy)
Patsy Stevenson at Sarah Everard vigil (Alamy)

Amy, another woman who was in attendance, described officers 'completely disrespecting the situation of young women speaking about injustice on the bandstand', and remembered how they 'took these women and pinned them to the ground in a completely violent and unnecessary reaction; young women being held back by middle-aged policemen'.

The vigil was an unofficial gathering that took place after organisation Reclaim These Streets was forced to cancel its initial, planned event due to lockdown restrictions. This week, High Court judges ruled the Met had breached the organisers of their right to freedom of speech and assembly.

The ruling caps a disastrous year for the Met, during which whistleblowers laid bare a catalogue of failings within the force including bullying, misogyny and racism. In the wake of the numerous allegations, Commissioner Cressida Dick announced that she would step down from her role.

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Theodora Middleton, solicitor for the Reclaim These Streets founders, described the ruling as a 'victory for women', saying: 'Last March, women's voices were silenced. Today's judgment conclusively shows that the police were wrong to silence us.'

The Met claims to make London's streets a safe place for lone women, but since the kidnap and murder of Sarah, The Independent reported that at least 125 women have been killed in the UK. One of the dozens of women to have lost their lives is Sabina Nessa, who was found dead in London in September, six months after Sarah's death and after calls began for the Met to take further action on violence against women.

Though Amy was not herself subject to arrest or restraint at Sarah's vigil, one year on she told UNILAD she still doesn't 'trust anyone in police uniform' and would 'never even consider going to them to ask for help on the street'.

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Whenever allegations of misconduct come out about the force, she's 'never shocked, just appalled'.

It should go without saying that there are countless officers who do have the community's best interests at heart, but it only takes one negative experience to make someone lose faith, and to prevent them from coming forward and seeking help in the future.

One such case is that of Sophie*, a 22-year-old student from London who turned to the Met for support after being assaulted by a taxi driver. Sophie was encouraged by her friend to go to the police despite her fears from being 'threatened' by the man, but her initial hesitation meant that she had not filled in a rape kit; something she was 'constantly reminded' of after reporting her experience.

Met Police car (Alamy)
Met Police car (Alamy)
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With police saying the possibility of prosecution was slim, Sophie was instead encouraged to seek therapeutic help, with police not being 'forthcoming with disciplinary action'. Her fears about the man's threats meant she was scared to give his name or occupation, but in spite of the fact she was assaulted, she said she only had 'one singular follow-up after this traumatic event and nothing else'.

'It upset me as I believed I wasn't being heard,' Sophie said.

When it comes to police behaviour at Sarah's vigil and allegations of misconduct that have emerged about the Met since, Sophie noted that while some people may say these are 'isolated incidents', it does not mean 'women shouldn't be wary'. She stressed misconducts such as these 'should never happen as we are meant to put our faith in the police', adding: 'Who knows whether it could be you one day?'

Sophie is not alone in this belief. The reaction of the police at the vigil proved a shock for many, and the combination of heavy-handed behaviour together with the revelation of Couzens' behaviour before he murdered Sarah all contributed to the feeling that the police were not a force that could be relied upon in times of need.

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Police gathered at Sarah Everard's vigil in Clapham Common (Alamy)
Police gathered at Sarah Everard's vigil in Clapham Common (Alamy)

When contacted by UNILAD, the Met pointed to a statement about 'Rebuilding trust' and a letter sent from the Commissioner to the Mayor last month, which acknowledged the need for 'further cultural change' and stressed the need for a Met that is entirely 'actively against sexism, racism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination or abuse of trust'.

Though there are good intentions behind the words, it's clear that until serious change takes place, many women across Britain will continue to think twice about turning to police.

In a bid to encourage more women to have faith in the justice system, Simon Franc created the Kulpa app, which allows victims of violence to record their evidence in a secure manner and have it automatically put into statements compliant with the requirements of both the civil and criminal courts.

The evidence can be sent to the police, who will then have everything needed to immediately interview the suspect and hopefully charge them.

Sophie said that while such an app would 'definitely change women's faith in the justice system', women's rights 'with regards to domestic violence and abuse in the courthouse will not be upheld to the extent they should be' without 'brilliant radical change'.

Police at Clapham Common vigil (Alamy)
Police at Clapham Common vigil (Alamy)

As long as there continues to be a 'constant stream of news about police officers who have abused their power to perpetrate violence against women', Patsy believes the inability of some women to trust the police is completely justified. She believes the force needs to 'hold their hands up and change', as well as 'speak to activists' to enact 'radical change and reform'.

Sophie agreed, saying that police 'definitely' need to take action in restoring faith and suggesting that a 'considerate and informed apology' might be a good place to start.

As for whether they can actually be successful in reaching a place where every woman feels comfortable in turning to the police, Sophie knows where the responsibility lies.

'[That is] is a wholly different question that I don’t think I can answer'.

*Some names in this article have been changed

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Features, Life, Sarah Everard, Domestic Abuse, UK News

Emily Brown
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