Zoe Beaty

Wayne Couzens was this week sentenced for three counts of indecent exposure – the last of which was committed just four days before he kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard. The case has brought renewed attention to the crime of indecent exposure and how the police investigate it.

Zoe Beaty was a victim of indecent exposure in 2017. She called the Met Police on 101 after being approached by a man exposing himself outside Lewisham station, in south London.

“I felt that calling 999 [was] perhaps being a nuisance, melodramatic, attention-seeking, you know – that I should have just been able to deal with an incident like this,” she tells BBC News.

Zoe, who waived her anonymity to speak about the incident, was visited by a police officer the following day. However, says the officer did not take her report seriously.

“I was really shocked by his attitude. He immediately said: ‘You know, it’s not that bad, is it, in the grand scheme of things? It could have been worse’. And I sort of thought, ‘yeah, I think that’s the point’.”

“I think he probably saw the look on my face, and tried to justify his response by saying, ‘well, you know, you look like the sort of woman who would knock someone out if they tried anything anyway’.”

“It was a really odd comment to make,” she says. “And everything seemed to be a little bit of a joke.”

Zoe says the officer appeared reluctant to do any further checks, telling her “there’s absolutely no way of us finding this man”.

“He said: ‘Do you really want us to trawl through all the CCTV? Do you really want us to pursue this?’ The messaging there is, your safety is a waste of my time. It felt like there was very little care.”

But a day after giving her statement, Zoe was visited by a detective at work. The force had indeed identified the man who exposed himself to her as Aaron Black – and they wanted to take a formal statement from her.

“I found out that the man who approached me was on bail,” she says, “I was the eighth woman he had attacked.”

“I was just shocked. The police told me that his behaviour had been escalating in severity. That’s when I became aware of how dangerous he was.”

Graphic showing the number of male offenders who went to prison in 2021 for indecent exposure, broken down by sentence length. It shows that most offenders were jailed for less than six months. 75 offenders got less than six months, 33 six to nine months, 3 nine to 12 months, six 12 to 18 months, and three 18 months to two years.

Zoe says knowing she wasn’t the only victim justified her decision to the police – and she praised the later investigation by the detective.

Aaron Black was found guilty of committing eight counts of outraging public decency, six counts of exposure and one count of sexual assault in May 2017. He was jailed for two and a half years.

In court, Zoe was shown CCTV evidence of him following her before she became aware of him. “It was quite harrowing,” she says now.

This week, Wayne Couzens was sentenced to 19 months in prison for three counts of indecent exposure. Another three charges will lie on his file. He is already serving a whole life sentence for the rape and murder of Ms Everard.

Two of his crimes were committed at a McDonald’s drive-thru. One victim told Couzens in court: “I did not feel that, when I reported your crime, it was taken as seriously as I felt that it should have been.”

The Met this week apologised to the Everard family, telling the BBC: “It’s fair to say we could have done more and should have done more.”

According to Home office figures for the year to March 2021, 10,163 reports of indecent exposure were made to police – but the 2020 ONS crime survey suggests many more women experience it and choose not to make a police report at all.

The police have urged anyone who has experienced this behaviour to report it. The Met told BBC News its officers were “continuing to improve how we deal with exposure reports” and all such crimes will should now be dealt with by specialist detectives.

The force added: “We’ve put in more capacity to identify linked offences… This is an important issue and we are focused on tackling violence against women and girls.”

But Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), told BBC News that the police aren’t taking “so-called lower level sexual violence offences like indecent exposure seriously enough”.

“If Couzens had been properly investigated and held accountable for his prior offending against women, he would not have been able to abuse his position as a police officer in his crimes against Sarah Everard,” she added

Zoe says the incident left her humiliated.

“I think that’s the point. They want us to be humiliated,” she says. “They want us to feel smaller and more powerless. He was getting more confident. And actually, were the repercussions that severe? Not really.”

Source: BBC

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