Sarah Everard’s death has sparked a furious debate over women’s safety on our streets – and in our homes.
Thousands are marching to demand better protection as backlash grows over the police response to the case.
Protesters are also calling attention to wider failures of justice as they demand action.
Centre for Women’s Justice head Harriet Wistrich said weak sentences often undermine women’s trust in the justice system to help them.
But she warned change must come for victims who can’t even get crimes investigated in the first place.
Scenes of women being manhandled by police at a vigil in London for Ms Everard sparked widespread condemnation and sparked more protests this week.
A serving Met Police officer, Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared in court today charged with the 33-year-old marketing executive’s kidnap and murder.
The tragedy has become a powder-keg for wider frustrations.
Advocates say years of campaigning to protect women from harassment and violence on the streets and in their homes have been too often ignored.
As thousands around the UK call attention to failures of justice, the Mirror has taken a look at just some of the recent cases of how women’s complaints of being choked, molested, and stalked were recently handled.
- A man who attacked a woman walking home alone at night was spared jail – because he could lose his job.
Takeaway worker Javed Miah, 23, ambushed his terrified victim in the street in Oldham, Greater Manchester, then molested her before she escaped his clutches.
He followed her for about a minute as she walked home from work, then lunged and groped her buttock.
Despite her telling him to stop, he pulled her on to the ground on top of him and tried to reach towards her crotch and chest, a court heard.
Miah fled down an alleyway after the woman managed to use the SOS function on her mobile phone to call 999 which let out a loud beeping noise.
The victim told police she feared leaving the house and had been unable to work since the sexual assault.
The woman said: ”I do not know if he knows my route to work. I am scared to walk anywhere. I will have to rely on my friends or family to drive me to work out of fear.”
The married father-of-one faced jailtime after admitting the December 2018 sexual assault.
But was instead sent to do a sex offender rehabilitation programme after his lawyer told a court the attack was “opportunistic” and Miah was the “sole earner'” in his family.
In Tameside Magistrates’ Court last week, Miah was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years.
He was ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work, to pay £213 in costs and sign the Sex Offender Register for seven years.
Sentencing JP David Quarnby said: “This was a cowardly and sustained attack on a young woman late at night.’
- The ‘old-fashioned’ husband who choked wife but was spared jail.
Abusive husband Graham Walker, 64, of Stockport, walked free after a court heard his views about marriage were ‘outdated.’
The court heard he made his wife’s life a misery with his ‘paranoid’ and ‘jealous’ behaviour.
On the couple’s wedding anniversary, he grabbed her by the throat in a hotel room in 2018 which led to her ending the relationship.
Manchester Crown Court heard she described Walker as being ‘old fashioned’, with stereotypical views about gender roles.
The couple wed the year before the hotel incident- to make him feel more secure, the court was told.
He made her get his name tattooed on herself, and isolated her from her friends and family, prosecutors said.
Walker was critical about his wife’s appearance, her weight and even the way she held the steering wheel.
Walker would shout at his wife, throw things and spit at her, monitor her mobile phone, and ban her from working late or overtime, the court heard.
The court was told their relationship was off and on, but the throat-grabbing incident traumatised her and triggered her decision to leave him.
The judge, Recorder Mary Loram QC, said being by the throat ‘must have been a terrifying experience’ and noted he had not contacted his wife since 2018.
She told him he made his wife’s life a ‘misery’ and became angry if she showed any sign of independence.
The judge added: “The relationship was not, however, one typified by violence other than the assault that you have pleaded guilty to.
“I don’t sentence you for having outdated views, but you might want to work on that.”
The court was told probation had assessed him as having a low risk of reoffending.
Walker pleaded guilty to controlling and coercive behaviour and common assault.
He was sentenced to an 18-month community order, and to complete 10 rehabilitation activity requirement days and a building better relationships course.
The judge added: “This, Mr Walker, is a real chance for you to change. It’s not too late.”
This month, throttling a partner will became an offence in the UK for the first time after campaign groups successfully pushed for change.
Men who throttle their partners will face up to five years in prison in an amendment to incoming new domestic abuse laws, after campaigners successfully lobbied the government to close the loophole.
The offence of “non-fatal strangulation” will stop abusers avoiding justice for the attacks, including suffocation.
Campaigners warned choking is often chosen by controlling abusers as it may not leave marks. It can cause brain damage, strokes and other trauma.
- Man who preyed on schoolgirl spared jail after judge was convinced he would lead a ‘law-abiding life.’
Michael Thornton, of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, preyed on a 13-year-old girl after telling her he was 16 – when he was actually 22.
He told the girl she was ‘beautiful’ and ‘manipulated’ her by at one point saying he was suicidal, a court heard.
The girl persuaded him not to harm himself and met up with him.
He had what was described in the court as ‘sex’ with the 13-year-old girl twice.
The victim reflected on the experience some years later, and upon searching for him, learnt his true age.
Feeling ‘disgusted’ – she reported him, Minshull Crown Court was told.
Thornton, by then a married father-of-three with a job, was spared jail after the court was told he was “extremely immature” during the offending.
He had originally appeared in court in 2011 and spent some time on remand before the case returned to the courtroom last year.
Judge Mark Savill said he felt the case represented an ‘exceptional set of circumstances’ as he sentenced Thornton to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. and ordered him to complete a sex offender programme.
The judge added: “Rarely can I say this, I am fully satisfied that you will continue to live a decent, law abiding life.”
- The jealous husband who planted a GPS tracker on his estranged wife’s car.
Lee Barker, 50, fitted a tracking device to his wife’s car and stalked her for over a year after she started a relationship with another man.
He secretly hid the GPS tracker on his estranged wife’s car so he could keep tabs on her after she ended their 20-year marriage.
She had told him she was with someone else and asked him to stay away from her.
He also posted his ex’s number online with instructions for people to call her to ‘have a good time.’
He set up a fake Facebook account in her boyfriend’s name with a sniper image “as if he was a target”.
In late 2018, neighbours told her he had been seen watching her home and he was also spotted watching her boyfriend’s house, the court heard.
Last year Leeds Crown Court heard his stalking came to light after he slashed the car’s tyres.
CCTV footage revealed he had been near the vehicle at the time.
His behaviour caused her anxiety, she said in a victim impact statement to the court.
She said: “I feel like I’m being watched. I do not know if he will be around the corner or will follow me.”
Barker, of Leeds, West Yorkshire, pleaded guilty to stalking and was given an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
The court was told the offending happened at a time when he was struggling to cope with the death of his mother.
Judge Simon Batiste, sentencing, said: “What is clear is that you were wholly unable to allow yourself to break away from the relationship.
He was also ordered to do 70 hours of unpaid work and attend a “building better relationships” programme.
- The stalker found hiding inside bed frame at ex-wife’s house who was spared prison time.
Shohidur Rahman 42, was spared jail after police found him hiding inside a bedframe in his ex-partner’s garden as he fled officers.
He had left the country then returned to the UK three years later. Rahman began turning up at his ex’s home in the middle of the night, a court was told.
The pair had been together 15 years and had two children before they split.
Six years after their break-up a court was told he continued to turn up at her address, even once shouting through his former partner’s letterbox.
Rahman had convictions including breaches of a non-molestation order that prevented him from contacting his ex.
He also had a drug problem, Swindon Magistrate Court was told.
Rahman pleaded guilty to stalking and admitted breaching a conditional discharge. He was sentenced to a two-year community order and a six month drug rehabilitation order.
He was also ordered to pay a £95 victim surcharge and given a two-year restraining order preventing him from contacting his victim.
Chairman of the bench Anthony Brown said: “I have to tell you, Mr Rahman, it was very close to sending you into custody.”
Why women are marching
Setting the scene in a week where thousands of women have marched to demand change, a Tory crime bill is set to toughen penalties for attacks on statues by increasing sentences from three months to ten years.
Meanwhile, jail terms for rape start at five years.
The marchers have also slammed Priti Patel’s planned crackdown on protest labelled a ‘threat to democracy’.
It also came as a challenge to the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) handling of rape cases was dismissed in an appeal.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition claimed a change in policy had resulted in a “shocking and unprecedented” decline in rape prosecutions, as the CPS denied allegations it was becoming more risk-averse.
At the same time, the government faces pressure to toughen its ongoing plans to overhaul domestic abuse laws.
Boris Johnson has said women must feel their complaints about violence are “properly heard”.
But the Labour Party has unveiled its own proposals to protect women from violence, deal harsher punishment to abusers, and to boost domestic violence services hit by Tory cuts.
Its ten-point plan includes a law to stop creeps harassing women on the street – as there is currently no specific law against it.
Labour also wants men who abduct, assault and murder women to face the prospect of life jailterms.
Number 10 has announced new plans in response to the widespread calls for action this week – including £25milllion for better street lighting.
But an idea to put plainclothes police officers in nightclubs has been widely ridiculed – in a fortnight in which many women have said they do not trust police as they demanded men change their own behaviour.
What campaigners say
Centre for Women’s Justice head Harriet Wistrich said weak sentences often undermined women’s trust in the justice system to help them.
The organisation works with survivors whose cases have been dropped by police or prosecutors.
Ms Wistrich said too many women are seeking help even getting an investigation in the first place – and a drive for tougher penalties could actually put women who retaliated against their abusers at risk of longer jail terms too.
The legal expert warned higher jail terms may even make juries more wary of convicting if they think a sentence is too grave to fit the crime.
She said: “There are cases where men are being treated very leniently and are benefiting from over-sympathy to them than the consideration being given to their victims.
“It’s not a complete red herring to focus on over-lenient sentencing for certain types of crimes.
“But the main problem is still that offences are not being properly investigated or prosecuted, and they are free to offend.
She continued: “Harsher sentencing, if anything, just points out certain types of offending – often the most horrendous – and the ‘everyday’ slips through the radar.”
Another advocacy group warned victims were often left traumatised after ‘inadequate’ experiences with the criminal justice system in the first place.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust supports people to feel safer from violence and aggression, in honour of the estate agent who vanished from Fulham, west London, in 1984 after an appointment with ‘Mr Kipper’.
Suzy was never seen again and was later officially declared dead, presumed murdered.
The trust was established by her parents – who both died without seeing the cold case solved.
A spokesperson for the trust said too many stalking victims never get adequate support from the “serious and insidious crime”.
Just this week, the Office for National Statistics released new figures showing stalking and harassment offences had soared by 31% in England and Wales in the summer months after the first coronavirus lockdown lifted.
The National Police Chiefs Council said yesterday that forces around the country were working to improve handling of the offences, including introducing cyber-stalking specialists.
The trust said stalking victims are targeted by a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour that is unwanted and repetitive – such as sending gifts, social media contact, texting, third party contact and more.
A recent study found more than three-quarters of stalking victims suffered from post traumataic stress disorder.
“Victims report that their experiences of the criminal justice system are often inadequate and traumatic, the trust’s interim senior policy and campaigns Officer Violet Alvarez said.
“According to government figures, 30,931 cases of stalking were reported to the police between April 2019 and March 2020, however a mere 2,288 prosecutions were recorded in that same time period by the CPS and of these even fewer were convicted.
Stalkers must be investigated properly and convicted, Ms Alvarez urged.
“Without the correct intervention, the risk of behaviours continuing is high”.