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Released On 6th Feb 2022

Sexual abuse by those we trust?

The tragic murder of Sarah Everard by former Met Police Officer, Wayne Couzens shocked the nation in March 2021.  The 33 year old woman who was falsely arrested by Couzens on the pretence of breaching Covid-19 regulations, was then driven to Dover where she was raped and murdered before being burned and disposed of in a nearby pond.  Sarah’s case sparked a national debate about the safety of women from those in positions of trust and women’s safety in the UK generally.

Sarah’s case is one of an alarming number of sexual offences and violence against women and the statistics are on the rise.  Over the past 12 months, rape figures from September 2020 to September 2021 were the highest recorded, up by 13% from the previous period. In fact rape accounted for 37% of sexual offences recorded by the police. Yet there has been another drop in the rape prosecution rate to 1.30%. In addition, stalking and harassment rose by 21% in the period from 2019 to 2021. These worrying statistics, coupled with high profile cases such as Sarah Everard, fail to instil confidence in women that they are safe in their community.

Wayne Couzens already had a history of sexual offences and in 2015 Kent Police failed to take any action against him after an allegation of indecent exposure.  However, this was not the only offence of this nature and there had been two previous similar allegations. He was also known to use prostitutes and there were other allegations of sexual assault.   Despite the warnings, Couzens continued in his role in the police force which gave him unfettered access to women in the area he worked.

Cases of sexual abuse within the police are not unheard of. In 2021, around 160 officers in the Met police had been accused of sexual misconduct in the previous 2 years. At Robsonshaw, we have represented a female who reported a minor crime to the police.  The investigating office became infatuated with the victim, bombarding her with texts and he used the pretext of the criminal investigation to visit her at her home.  In another case, a police officer investigating another minor offence befriended the victims mother and thereby gained access to her young teenage daughter. He would cruise the streets and force her to get into his car upon threat of arrest for prostitution and then sexually assault her.  In these situations, it is often extremely difficult for the victim to believed or gain a conviction against a respected police officer.  

As is evident from the above statistics, prosecution rates in rape are extremely low, but to bring a complaint of a sexual offence against a police officer is obviously very difficult.  When a radio presenter came forward to say that she had attempted to report Wayne Couzens for flashing at her in an alley in 2008, the police laughed at her.

Whilst the Everard case has had a hugely damaging effect on women’s faith in the police, there are many other roles in public office where the relationship between women and men in positions of power has suffered.  Numerous teachers have been convicted of sexually abusing young women, notably Simon Parsons in Bristol; music teacher Ben Breakwell; Portsmouth teacher Sean Aldridge; and Glyn Jones, PE teacher from Norfolk.   Whilst these types of offences have involved sexual abuse and are clearly different to Sarah’s case, they nonetheless involve a huge breach of trust and demonstrate an individual using their position of power to groom, manipulate and sexually abuse young women.  There are often other parallels in that the offenders have demonstrated concerning behaviours that have been overlooked or ignored.

The same scenario can be described in notorious cases such as Dr Myles Bradbury, another `public servant’ who used his role as a consultant haematologist working with children to gain access to families, grooming the parents to gain their trust, and then abusing their children under the guise of legitimate medical examinations. 

Lessons to be learned?

One common thread which prevails through all these offences is the extent to which vital warning signs about the offenders behaviour were missed or simply ignored. Certainly, in the Everard case, with the benefit of hindsight, Couzen's was demonstrating worrying behaviour well before the tragic events of 3 March 2021. From our work representing survivors of sexual abuse over the past 20+ years, more often than not the perpetrators involved have demonstrated behaviour that has raised concerns, but those signs have been overlooked, or others have turned a blind eye, not wanting to think ill of that individual or act on the signs. In many of these cases, a Serious Case Review, or investigation has been conducted after the allegations have come to light and the perpetrator convicted. However, for there to be any real headway in tackling sexual offences in the UK, we need a much better system of prevention. Individuals who demonstrate concerning behaviour patterns must be addressed prior to their being able to commit an offence.   Radical reforms in vetting and training are required at every level in the public sector and not just the police if the numbers of sexual offences and violence in the UK are reduced. With the ability to cross reference concerns through the advances in IT, it is hoped individuals displaying warning signs will be detected before they commit any sexual offences.

Samantha Robson is a specialist solicitor representing survivors of historic and current sexual abuse over the past 20 + years.  She has won 6 figure awards of compensation for both males and females who have suffered sexual abuse.  Whilst no amount of compensation can right the wrongs caused by these offences, damages do help individuals gain access to specialist counselling and financial compensation can help them gain closure on a painful period of their life.  Please contact us at any time on enquiries@robsonshaw.uk, or call us for a free, confidential, no obligation discussion on 01392 345333.