Almost seven months on from the disappearance of Sarah Everard, details emerged today of the circumstances under which Wayne Couzens kidnapped, raped and murdered the 33-year-old marketing executive.
Couzens, a serving police officer at the time of the killing, used a false arrest to get Everard into his car, his sentencing hearing was told. The 48-year-old used his handcuffs to restrain her, showed her his warrant card and used his knowledge of Covid rules to get her to comply.
However, this morning, ahead of his court appearance, coverage in The Telegraph told of a very different Wayne Couzens. ‘Wayne Couzens: the former Met officer who hid dark secrets behind family-man facade,’ read their headline. In the article, we hear from people that knew Couzens - from colleagues to neighbours - who speak of their shock at the crime and tell the paper he was a ‘really nice chap’, ‘a wonderful family man’ and ‘an extremely warm person’.
‘There was absolutely no sign he could be like that when I knew him,’ said the receptionist from a garage where Couzens had worked before becoming a police officer, who was baffled at what could have happened to ‘change’ him.
These kinds of soundbites are a common trope in reporting on violence against women. In most cases, these acts are perpetrated by people known to the victim and are often presented with humanising backstories of crimes of passion committed by men who weren’t thought capable of hurting anyone.
Coverage that focuses on the shock factor of men acting ‘out of character’ does women a disservice. Peddling the narrative that men like Wayne Couzens are depraved predators who have fallen through the cracks in our system neglects the fact that they are a product of it.
The reality is that normal ‘family men’ rape and kill women. Focusing on what a nice guy Wayne Couzens appeared to be is a smokescreen for the fact that violence against women is woven into the fabric of our society.
Yesterday, new figures from Femicide Census revealed that at least 15 serving or former police officers have killed women since 2009. Othering Couzens as a ‘former police officer’ (he was a serving officer at the time of the murder and had, in fact, clocked off from a shift that same morning) and focusing on how he was previously perceived by those who know him is a dangerous denial of how normalised violence against women is - and how power is abused by those we are told ‘keep us safe’.
If Couzens had friends and family members who thought he was a ‘nice chap’ then, chances are, many of us have a friend who is capable of catcalling, harassing or assaulting a woman. We need to stop characterising men like this as bad apples and start looking inwards if we want to tackle violence against women.