Who Watches the Watchmen?

As a society we expect high standards of those in a position of responsibility. Flick through job adverts for positions in the police, prison service, and so on, and there will be phrases like “applicants must be able to show integrity” and “high personal and professional standards.”  An enhanced DBS check will be carried out, and training offered on expectations.

This rigorous procedure is a necessary element of safeguarding where one person is invested with real power over others. The power to deprive someone else of their liberty is one which should only be afforded to the most trustworthy, for obvious reasons. Responsibility for children is another.

And yet even with an enhanced DBS check, even with the checks and interviews and training and supervision, abusers and predators can slip through the net.

The use of his police powers by Wayne Couzens to kidnap and murder Sarah Everard is graphic and horrifying. But he is not the only police officer involved in abuse of women: at least 15 former or serving police officers have killed women since 2009. Just over this summer, Kevin Bentley (who boasted to victims that his position as a police officer made him “teflon”) was sentenced for 24 sexual assaults and Earling Leask was sentenced for grooming vulnerable women.

Nor are the police the only institution affected. Take for example the case of David Whitfield, a prison officer recently sentenced for demanding sexual favours from female prisoners in exchange for privileges – and in the same month, August 2021, Joshua Whitehead was sentenced for sexual assault while Jordan Jackman was jailed after he used his system access to obtain the personal details of a visitor he thought attractive. These incidents are not vanishingly rare. Clerics, teachers, caretakers and more – no matter how rigorous the checks, a predator who has not (yet) been arrested or convicted can work in these positions of power.

An unrealistic solution perhaps, in light of how many more women would need to be recruited – but if there are no safeguarding checks capable of dealing with an epidemic of violence against women, is it time to amend legislation so that only female police officers have permission to arrest and detain women, and only female prison officers may work in a women’s prison? 

2 thoughts on “Who Watches the Watchmen?”

  1. On the surface, I would say “yes” to the last question. Women are no angels, but the chances of them sexually assaulting another woman or being a predator are vastly, vastly less. If there’s one thing we should have learned by now it’s that there are always a worrying number of men who will take advantage of any opportunity to get at women and girls.

  2. I absolutely do not think this would provide a solution. Single sex cultures are not a step forward for women. How would you ensure that female officers were available? Send them out to all the DV and sexual assault calls? Turn them back into the social and mental health workers so Police men could go back to being men and sticking to the fight on traditional crime? There are many reasons to challenge Police culture and challenging traditional masculinity is one of the most important aspects. Male sexual culture needs to change and supporting single sex roles or operations as a solution reinforces the worst aspects by creating a structure in which men, all men, are treated as the problem. Not the masculine culture. It is also giving up at a point where the iceberg is becoming visible, the point at which there should be the most hope for change, albeit along with awareness of how difficult that change is to achieve. Substantially increasing the numbers of women officers, especially in prisons, is really important but if workplace cultures don’t support good practice, this may just exchange serious bullying for sexual abuse.

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