home Commentary, Crime, Europe, Feminism John Worboys, the black cab rapist: women are let down institutionally and repeatedly

John Worboys, the black cab rapist: women are let down institutionally and repeatedly

Along with red postboxes, double-decker buses and old-fashioned phone boxes, black taxis are kind of iconic when tourists think of a holiday to the UK. London, in particular, is characterised by the Hackney carriages that can be hailed from the street and that require their drivers to pass an immensely complicated test, called The Knowledge, having memorised the streets of the capital city before they are allowed to gain a licence.

Ruining their reputation as a safe way to get home, John Worboys assaulted potentially over a hundred women in his cab but failures with the police meant he was only convicted of a fraction of his alleged offences. After a scant ten years in prison, he has been judged fit to be released by the parole board.

The black cab rapist

Thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders, John Worboys picked up female passengers late at night and tricked them into drinking drugged champagne. Telling the women that he had won the lottery or had had a win at a casino, Worboys would ply his victims with alcohol laced with temazepam.

This not only sedated the women but would also frequently leave them with no clear memories of what had happened.

14 reports over six years of “worrying experiences” in a taxi were not linked by the police. It was only in 2007 and 2008 that Worboys came to the attention of the police and some cases were associated with each other. Finally investigating him, they found a “rape kit” in the boot of his car that contained date rape drugs, champagne, gloves, a torch, condoms, vibrators and gear to crush drugs. His DNA was recovered from the underwear of one woman and the wristband of another, while a third woman’s address was found in his notebook. A further woman was connected to the case via forensic evidence on a vibrator in Worboys’ car.

In all, 23 charges were brought to Worboys in court, to which he pleaded not guilty on each. In March 2009, he was found guilty of one charge of rape, five of sexual assault, one of attempted assault and 12 charges of drugging. He was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence in prison, of which he had to serve at least eight years.

Now that he has served that time, plus a little longer, Worboys is free to go. Other than being banned from driving a cab again, he’s a free man.

Did the police fail Worboys’ victims?

The police are not exactly known for treating victims of sexual assault well and, in this case, it looks like there were failings that led to delays in seeking out Worboys, and fewer counts being charged than there might have been if more thorough investigations had taken place.

Campaign group Women Against Rape hoped that senior officers would face dismissal over the case, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (police officers who look into the alleged failings of other police officers) concluded that had authorities properly investigated some of the earlier claims made by victims, some of the attacks could have been prevented.

“The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said lives were ruined because police failed to take the case seriously. A detective sergeant and inspector had received written warnings and three other officers had been given “formal words of advice”.

“The Metropolitan Police has admitted that officers let down victims.”

No police officers lost their jobs, however, despite one victim having been laughed at when she reported her assault.

As time passed, more victims came forward, with 102 additional reports from women.

Sexual assault victims are repeatedly let down

From complaints of drugging and assault not being taken seriously to Worboys’ victims not being informed that the parole board was set to free him, women have been let down from the time Worboys started offending. The first woman to report broke my heart when she told Channel Four News that she felt somewhat to blame for his further offending because she hadn’t been “more believable”.

Despite the series of reports, from “strange experiences” in a cab to outright rape, John Worboys was allowed to continue driving his taxi and continue offending, thanks to the lacklustre response of the authorities and the disbelief that a black cab driver – a member of an honourable profession – could do such a thing.

Despite his litany of convictions, albeit with only one of them for rape, Worboys received a pitiful 8-year minimum sentence. We know through this that, even when a man is found guilty, he may not be adequately punished and that seems especially relevant with the black cab rapist.

As always, women are mocked and disbelieved. As always, men are forgiven or, at least, underestimated.

Photo: Martin Varsavsky/Creative Commons


Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.

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