On February 12, the ex-paramedic of the English ambulance service Andrew Weeler, 46, was sentenced to 21 years in prison for several rapes committed in nine years.
Three weeks later, marketing manager Sarah Everard, 33, was returning home to London when she disappeared. His body was found a few days later in a wood in the south-east of the country.
Both cases come at the very end of what activists are calling a ‘rape punishment blackout’ that has taken thousands to the streets in protest across the UK this month.
Weeler’s story is an exception. Not because of the content of the assault – 55,259 rapes have been reported to police in England and Wales over the past year, and researchers say at least ten times as many rapes occur without recording.
The paramedic is a rare example because it includes the 2.7% of rape complaints that end in a conviction – there were 1,439 of them in 2020. The blackout, however, is already documented in the previous step. : in the same period, only 2,102 (3.8%) of complaints to the police station turned into cases.
In other words, the police failed to find the culprit or the prosecution failed to follow up on the complaint 96.2% of the time. “These charges indicate a failed system in which offenders escape unpunished and are free to attack other women,” says Andrea Simon, director of the Evaw Coalition (acronym for “End Violence Against Women” ).
At the root of the problem, she says, is the general tendency to blame the victims instead of focusing on the behavior of the attackers, a myth debunked by Everard’s murder. The night she was kidnapped and killed, she had complied with all the recommended “conduct manual” for women to avoid assault.
She was sparingly dressed, had not been drinking, was walking around bright and busy places at 9:30 p.m. and, before leaving the friends house, called her boyfriend to tell him she was coming home, the professor lists. crime researcher Nicole Westmarland. against Durham University, who agrees with Simon’s assessment.
“We always talk about how to follow a ‘safety plan’ – walking with the keys in hand, avoiding empty cars – but we rarely hear about what makes abusers move and how to prevent this behavior,” explains the manager. from Evaw.
The UK government’s response does not go to the root either. On the 15th, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced “historic legislation to toughen sentences and put more police on the streets”.
The proposal includes doubling funding for street lighting and video cameras and increasing policing in parks, alleys and bar areas. There are plans to place plainclothes police in nightclubs and bars to “identify predatory and suspect criminals”.
All this plus the aspect put forward by the Prime Minister – tougher laws, longer sentences – does not upset the organizations in the sector. “We need a radical reform of the way the justice system deals with violence against women, not longer sentences for the smaller number of convicted offenders,” says Simon.
A survey by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists showed that the percentage of convicted persons decreases by 40% when the suspects are police officers. The news agency also claims police victims tend not to press charges – in interviews, several said they had been threatened and feared reprisals.
Evaw and other women’s organizations have even gone to court to hold the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) accountable for the “shocking and unprecedented collapse” in the volume and percentage of successful rape complaints. to trials.
The trial suffered a first defeat on the 15th, perceived as “worrying” by the associations, in particular because it occurred following the murder of Sarah Everard. “It is clear that the criminal justice system is failing to protect women and address the epidemic of male violence,” they say.
The fact that a police officer, Wayne Couzens, 48, was named as the prime suspect in the death of Sarah Everard and the police crackdown in tribute to the deceased executive also sparked the ‘Kill the Bill’ movement ( Kill Bill, in English), which opposes an increase in the power of the police to suppress protests, seen as a threat to the right of expression.
For the Evaw coalition, the government still fails to train its staff. No public service heard in an investigation by the entity has invested in specific initiatives to combat violence against women. “If this focus on prevention remains so weak, the government cannot expect a reduction in the statistics of violence against women or the enormous costs associated with it,” the report said.