October 1, 2021 - 3:00pm

It’s hard to imagine a more abject admission of failure. Here is Scotland Yard, telling women what to do if stopped by a lone male officer who is behaving suspiciously: we should “seek assistance” by shouting to a passer-by, running into a house or waving down a bus. Waving down a bus? And the Met police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, is still in her job?

When the country’s largest police force is reduced to advising women to rely on bus drivers and dog-walkers, we really have gone through the looking-glass. The police are paid to protect the public, but now the Met is telling us to throw ourselves on the mercy of strangers because we don’t trust its officers. 

And we are right not to trust them. The sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the serving officer who abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, confirms what many of us have been saying for years. It isn’t just that the police are not doing their job — although the vanishingly small conviction rate for sexual predators shows that they aren’t. 

They don’t understand the behaviour of perpetrators, so much so that they don’t even recognise dangerous men in their own ranks. Couzens was a firearms officer in the Met, authorised to carry a weapon, despite being reported to colleagues for several incidents of indecent exposure — the most recent while he was planning the abduction that has sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

What about his colleagues? There were 594 complaints of sexual misconduct against Met employees between 2012 and 2018, of which only 119 were upheld. The Centre for Women’s Justice has launched a super complaint, highlighting failures to protect victims of domestic abuse and arguing that women are being let down when they turn to the police for help.

Not just let down: in April, a PC was dismissed from the Met after hitting a teenage girl at least 30 times with his baton. The girl, who was black and had learning difficulties, had approached him for help after running away from an escorted walk. He has not been charged with any offence. The following month, two Met officers pleaded guilty to taking selfies with the bodies of two sisters who has been savagely murdered in a park in north London.

Following Couzens’s conviction, it has emerged that five serving officers, including three from Scotland Yard, are being investigated for sharing racist and misogynistic messages with him on WhatsApp. A probationary officer in the Met, who later helped guard the area where Ms Everard’s remains were found, has been investigated over allegations that he shared a violent graphic on WhatsApp.

This is not just a case of the “occasional bad ‘un’”, in Dick’s repellent phrase. It reveals a culture where too many male officers have contemptuous, misogynistic attitudes towards women. Victims who report serious crimes, including domestic abuse and rape, are treated as though they are the criminals. They have their lives torn apart, while predators like Couzens are free to walk the streets — or check out handcuffs and a gun, in his case.

This week’s revelations have shamed the police. They have got away with failing women for decades, all the way back to those terrible episodes of victim-blaming during the Yorkshire Ripper investigation in the Seventies. The Home Secretary needs to sack Dick and announce a public inquiry into institutional misogyny within the police. Nothing else will do.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.