To recap, last week Jordan McSweeney – who sexually assaulted and brutally murdered Aleena as she walked home from a night out in London in June 2021 – pleaded guilty. The court heard how the 29-year-old sexual predator, described as a "danger to any woman", kicked and stamped on Aleena before leaving her to die.
In the early hours of 26 June, Aleena was found by passers-by, partially naked and struggling to breathe. The 35-year-old was taken to hospital, but sadly died later that morning.
In addition to the horrific crimes McSweeney committed against Aleena, the court heard that he'd only recently been released from prison and had 28 previous convictions for offences, including assault. At the time of Aleena's murder, McSweeney was free on licence from a sentence for criminal damage, racially aggravated harassment and unauthorised possession of a knife in prison – although the Probation Service had begun the process of revoking this license due to missed appointments.
"When someone has 28 previous convictions for offences, that should be a massive red flag that reoffending is likely. How many chances do you give someone?" one person tweeted in response to McSweeney's previous convictions coming to light.
"Zara Aleena's murderer had 28 convictions for 69 offences before he killed her. He should have been in jail – not roaming the streets of Ilford looking for a woman to kill," someone else wrote, adding: "When will @MoJGovUK protect the public instead of protecting criminals?"
It's a question echoed by women up and down the country as well as women's charities, especially in light of other victims of male violence, including Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. The list goes on.
Much like Aleena, the deaths of many of these women have further highlighted the desperate need for police reform: Everard was kidnapped, raped and killed by serving Metropolitan officer Wayne Couzens, who 'arrested' her for 'breaching COVID-19 rules'; whilst photos of Smallman and Henry's bodies were shared by police in a Whatsapp group.
As feminist action group Sisters Uncut puts it: "Is it any surprise that an institution built on power and control attracts individuals who want to abuse their power and control behind a police badge?"
"We want answers about all the missed opportunities the police and justice agencies had to stop this man [McSweeney] from killing a woman, and we want to know what is going to be done to prevent further failings to women in our communities," Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, told Cosmopolitan UK.
"At the heart of this is often state failings; missed points at which the police could have taken action against dangerous men and for other agencies to respond earlier to those that pose a risk to women," Simon went on. "These individuals are often known to the police for other offences and the murders of women like Zara Aleena are often entirely preventable."
"No one wakes up one day and decides to murder a woman. There are almost always indications and often prior contact with the police and the criminal justice system, which begs the question of why these incidents aren’t taken seriously, and why isn’t more done to intervene and save women’s lives?"
As for what should be done to make the UK a safer place for women, Simon said: "We expect to see more effort put into preventing violence against women in the first place, including better management of perpetrators to address reoffending, but also education and campaigns to challenge the spread of harmful sexist, misogynistic and racist attitudes that underpin this violence and abuse."
In response, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told Cosmopolitan UK: "This was an appalling crime and our thoughts remain with Zara Aleena's family and loved ones. A serious further offence review is underway and we cannot comment until this is completed."
"Protecting women and girls is a top priority for this Government," they added. "Which is why we have ensured the most serious violent and sexual offenders now spend longer behind bars and have overhauled our entire response to rape to make sure many more perpetrators face justice and victims are better supported."
The spokesperson also explained that serious further offences are incredibly rare, with fewer than 0.5% of offenders supervised by the Probation Service going on to commit serious further offences. Nevertheless, each one is investigated fully so that action can be taken where necessary, and the riskiest offenders are managed by an experienced probation officer as well as being subject to robust risk assessments which inform a bespoke management plan, tailored to the individuals.
Looking forward, the Ministry of Justice said it is launching plans for a new Victims’ Law, which will ensure victims get the support they are entitled to and that examination of witnesses goes as smoothly as possible. Victim support services funding will also quadruple to £192 million a year by 2024-25, up 92% from 2020/2021. On top of that, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act means the most serious violent and sexual offenders will now spend longer behind bars.
Sadly however, it seems there's still a long way to go before women can walk home without the fear of being killed. So far this year, 85 women in the UK have been killed by men (or with a man as the principal suspect), according to the Counting Dead Women census. With no immediate recourse for the failing criminal justice system, and just over a month to go until the end of 2022, that number hang in the balance.
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