UPDATE: HUMAN RIGHTS VIGIL, 22 November 2017

Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa Family Reunion Appeal Hearing

Thanks to all who came to support Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa’s case to be reunited with her children. The vigil outside court garnered interest and support from passersby and people entering the court building. Over 15 women then went inside to listen to court proceedings, and although there weren’t enough seats the judge gave permission for everyone to stay so women perched on the window sills.

As the hearing was about to begin a problem came up with the interpreter. The judge, acknowledging the importance of interpretation in the “interests of fairness”,  decided to reschedule the hearing, fixing it for as soon as possible in] January as “the lives of two vulnerable girls are at risk”.

Outside court Brigitte said: “I will have to give my girls this heartbreaking news that they face a further six weeks of uncertainty. . . . sadly this will not be a Xmas to celebrate. But I thank the judge for her consideration and I have a hope that I will get a fair hearing when we come back to court in the New Year.”


 

Please support Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa, one of All African Women’s Group’s longest standing members, who is fighting to be reunited with her children.  They have been separated for almost twelve years after Brigitte was forced to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo having been detained and raped in prison.  She spent seven years fighting for the right to stay in Britain while all of her children were lost to her.  When she found two of her daughters alive in DRC, she applied for them to come to the UK but was refused. Tomorrow this family appeals against their forced separation.
Messages of support welcome:

All African Women’s Group aawg02@gmail.com
Black Women’s Rape Action Project bwrap@rapeaction.net

You Can’t Lose if You Don’t Quit!

Ms R (62), a longstanding member of All African Women’s Group, finally won her right to stay in the UK after a 13 year struggle.  Ms R left Jamaica in 1990 to escape domestic violence from her partner.  Ms R’s father, who was a British citizen, had encouraged her to leave and come to live with him in Britain and eventually bring her son.  Sadly her father died in 1991 and she was forced to return to Jamaica and her abusive partner.  Unknown to Ms R this man started raping their son who, in 1997, left the island to escape this abuse.  Ms R was tormented by guilt when she found out what her partner had done.  She left for Britain again in 2000 and was able to remain for several years as a student while trying to regularise her status.  Private lawyers (charging a fortune) put together a number of applications for her to stay in the UK but they were so bad they were refused by the Home Office.

Ms R was close to ending her life when she came to BWRAP in January 2013.  She had never been able to speak before about the horrific abuse her son had suffered and her anguish at not being able to protect him.

She had been living hand to mouth and would have been homeless without a kindly landlord allowing Ms R to stay for free in one of his properties. (This would be illegal under the Immigration Act 2014).  The stress of being destitute and living for years under the threat of deportation had taken a terrible toll on her mental and physical health. On one occasion when she was asked how she was managing without any income, she said:

“I don’t know, sometimes I can do a little sewing in exchange for food, I never know if I am going to eat that day, I only get clothes if I find something in the jumble here (at the women’s centre), I have nothing for myself.”

In order to get legal aid for a lawyer to represent her Ms R had to apply for “Exceptional Case Funding” as she was not automatically entitled. This application was callously refused by the Legal Aid Agency despite compelling expert evidence from Notre Dame and ourselves confirming that Ms R is a traumatised and vulnerable woman. In tandem with this, BWRAP supported Ms R in making a formal complaint against one of the negligent private lawyers.

In the autumn of 2015 Ms R was at another very low point, coping with anxiety and panic attacks caused by the fear of being sent back. After much effort, BWRAP found her a solicitor at Camden Law Centre and a psychiatrist who wrote a report confirming that Ms R was traumatised.    At her appeal hearing Judge Rodger acknowledged that Ms R was a “vulnerable witness” in accordance with the Joint Presidential Guidance Note 2 of 2010*.  The Judge took into account the wealth of medical and other evidence including BWRAP’s written and practical support and Ms R’s “real” fear that she could be targeted by her community for what happened to her son.  She was finally granted Leave to Remain under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act on the grounds that it would be a disproportionate breach of her right to private life if she was returned to Jamaica. After thirteen years, Ms R has been given two and a half years status – a welcome, though insufficient, victory considering all that Ms R has suffered. On winning the right to stay Ms R commented:

If only I had found this sympathetic support group earlier – they have changed everything and made it possible for me to smile again. A great weight is off my mind – my life can definitely begin again!”

*The Practice and Guidance Notes which give guidance on the approach to be adopted by First Tier Tribunal judges when considering all the personal circumstances of an “incapacitated or vulnerable person when assessing their evidence”.

Protest against CAFCASS and NSPCC participation in Families Need Fathers (FNF) conference, Sat 14 October

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vg9qABVVtOY

FNF replied saying that they are a “reputable charity” but did not address domestic violence or any of the other issues raised.  A FNF man confronted the picket saying that ‘more children are killed by their mothers than by their fathers’.

To date we have received no reply to our Open Letter from either CAFCASS or NSPCC.

OPEN LETTER to CAFCASS and NSPCC re your PARTICIPATION in a conference run by FAMILIES NEED FATHERS (FNF) Sat 14 October

We understand that you are speaking at this FNF conference on parental alienation. You must be aware that FNF have consistently attacked women.

Must we refresh your memory? As long ago as 1994, during a debate on the Child Support Agency, MP Glenda Jackson reported in Parliament that FNF advised fathers who were not allowed access to their children to ‘kidnap them. If that failed and nothing else could succeed, it advocated the murder of the mother.’ Recently we helped a father re-introduce contact with his child. He had previously gone to FNF and was horrified when their facilitators described the whole system as stacked against men, and

They kept referring to ‘feminist Nazis’. He said they promote and perpetuate misogyny and refused to go back.

FNF deny domestic violence, dismissing it as false allegations. They claim that ‘False and unfounded allegations poison proceedings when a non-resident parent is seeking parenting time with his children. Judges need to make findings of fact as soon as possible and to take false allegations into account when determining the best interests of the child.’ FNF claim that ‘there is widespread abuse of men and boys in the context of the family courts’ and accuse women of ‘making allegations’ as ‘a motorway to obtaining legal aid’.

Such claims are totally outrageous. Surely you know that:

  • One in five women aged 16-59 have suffered sexual violence in England and Wales;[1] two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner; one in four women have been subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime; 81% of victims of domestic violence are women; domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime; 62% of children in households where domestic violence is happening are also directly harmed;[2] 50% of rapes are domestic. The level of false allegations of rape is less than 1% and less than 0.5% for domestic violence, both are much lower than false allegations for other crimes.[3]
  • Family courts have allowed violent fathers (even when they have a criminal record for violence) to terrify, threaten and intimidate those they had victimised and who managed to escape them. These legal standards would never be tolerated in an open court. Judges have insisted on contact and even residence, dismissing what women and children were telling them. Nineteen children and two mothers were killed between 2005 and 2015 following court orders to allow fathers unsupervised contact. (Women’s Aid)
  • FNF have the view that fathers who are estranged from their children have the same rights as mothers who do the daily work of caring and protecting them. That is the traditional patriarchal view by which children and their mothers are men’s property for them to do what they want with. No organisation or charity which gets public funds, especially ones that claim to speak for children, should give credence to such views.

We hope you will reconsider your participation in this conference.

Legal Action for Women and Women Against Rape

law@allwomencount.net       war@womenagainstrape.net

Women speak about destitution

Women Speak About Destitution: Read testimonies of the real impact of cruel government policy

The British government’s deliberate policy of destitution forces asylum-seeking women into extremely precarious and often dangerous living situations; exposing them to exploitation and violence. Here, women speak about their experiences of destitution in the UK.

Melissa
I’ve been destitute, when I was in Cardiff, in 2010. Life is like a darkness in you. When my case was refused the Home Office took me out from there and took me to live in Swansea. I didn’t know anybody. It’s like the wall is falling in on you. But you’ve still got your strength. I went to sleep in one church in Swansea in 2010. And then from there I made some contacts on the internet. The Refugee Council said the Notre Dame Refugee Centre in London had a lot of places, and they do sanitary products – I didn’t have anything. I had nothing.

I came to London and went to the Notre Dame Refugee Centre and they helped me. A woman said ‘have you eaten?’ No I’ve not eaten. I’ve not even showered. I was a bit scared where I was sleeping that someone might do something to me. In the night I need to close my eyes but I can’t sleep. Where am I? But then someone gives me food and they say, ‘eat. Don’t be scared, eat.’

You know, I look at myself and say this is life in the UK. I met a woman from the Congo. She’s helping asylum seekers because she’s passed through the whole process. I slept in that woman’s home for four days. I never had any money from the government until 2015. I was walking from one charity to another so that I didn’t have to pay for the bus. I walked. It is hard. It was a difficult life.

Clara
When I was destitute I lived with a family that provided accommodation for me. They were not giving me any food. And I had to rely on the help of people who gave it to me. I would also go and get food parcels from the Red Cross which would help. That was useful but just for 2-3 days and then I would run out of food. Then also when I came here to the women’s centre I’d have lunch. You live with people who are helping you but you cannot express your mind and they would say whatever they wanted to you. You could not say anything because you’re worried about what the repercussions might be if you express your mind. So this is what refugees, and people who are having benefit sanctions, have to go through.

Simone
I was released from Yarl’s Wood about two months ago. In my letter they said I can’t work, I can’t do anything. At the moment it’s not easy for me. I sign every two weeks. I have to pay my own travel when I go. They told me if you can’t cope then go back to Nigeria. I stay in accommodation with my friends. It’s accommodation with my seventeen-year-old son and I have to take care of him and it’s not easy for me.

Patricia
When you put a number of applications in at the Home Office and they refuse and refuse and refuse and you’re not allowed to work anymore you become destitute. You might have a roof over your head but you have no food being provided for you and you can’t open your mouth to say anything because you’re grateful that people are giving you a lodging. There are a lot of overstayers in this country. They are not asylum seekers and many of them are destitute. Some of them have been here eighteen years, sixteen years, some four years, could be twenty years. And a few of them are my friends and when I think about it it brings tears to my eyes because we are all destitute. There are so many of us out there and we have no help from any organisation. We go, and people say we only help asylum seekers. We have nowhere to stay and we’re out there. We’re not allowed to get help and nobody’s remembering us. And I pray that one day the government will remember us – all of us, including asylum seekers.

Christina
When they talk of destitution sometimes some people think it is living on the streets. No, sometimes it is living with friends for benefits or with benefits. Those ones who need something from you. You stay with them, they offer lodging but expect something out of it. This goes for people with children – you have to take their children to school, you have to take care of them free of charge, clean their house, do all the work, and you don’t fall ill, you don’t think of your family back home, you don’t make calls in the house because you can’t make noise in the house.

So all of this is distressing and it’s torture and sometimes it leads to mental illness. I’m relating this to my experience. In 2015 I was living with a friend. I was helping, doing all the work, and I’m a very good cook. And when she lost her mother I cooked for everybody who came to the house. Then I had a breakdown, psychologically and mentally and physically. Then she gave birth to twins so I had to do all the work for them. All this stress made me miss the date of my hearing. It was too much and I ended up in a mental health hospital for five days. It’s so distressing. So don’t expect to be in someone’s house and think you are not at risk. You are still at risk.

Elodie
When your case is refused, you’re not allowed to work and you cannot provide for yourself. You don’t qualify for legal aid. To make an application you need to pay at least £1000 for the Home Office fee. The last application that I made cost £1500. Now the same application costs more than £2000 from what I’ve heard. So where on earth are we supposed to get this money? And that’s just the Home Office fee. On top of that we need to pay at least £1000 to the solicitors. So the government denies us the right to work but at the same time forces us to work somewhere illegally just to be able to afford to regularise our status. I was in a situation where I was working for somebody. The person knew my situation and I went to work just to make the money to make my application. On top of everything else that person didn’t pay me. And I relied on that man.

Adele
I was living at a friend’s place. Her husband expected me to do everything. Even when my son was crying I had to take care of his baby. I would be carrying his son and feeding him while my son would be there crying for food. My friend is a woman who would go to work at night. The husband wanted to sleep with me. Because I refused he told me to come and watch TV with him. I said no. They gave me a room, I would lock my door. When he comes he turns the door handle and it’s locked. One day I was feeding my baby. The man came to me and said I shouldn’t help myself to food. I said that his wife told me that everybody should make their own food and that I would make some for him if he wanted. I put the kettle on the gas. This man threw the kettle filled with the hot water at me. My baby was crying. He raised up my baby and beat him. My baby was nine months old. So in that place even to eat was a problem.

Because I wouldn’t sleep with him he beat me. So I had to call the police. I was bold enough to call the police. The police came and saw I was bleeding. They arrested the man and held him for two days. The wife locked the door of the house and I wasn’t even allowed inside the gate. I had to carry my baby from morning until night. I was wet with poo. I was wet with urine. My baby did not eat. I had to go and meet the council. When I got there they asked, ‘do you have status?’ I said ‘no, I don’t know what you mean by that. I don’t have anything.’ They said in that case they couldn’t help me. I decided to go back to London. Since I’ve come here to the All African Women’s Group I know my rights. I know what to do.

ANOTHER HANDMAID’S TALE

Video: The World Transformed, Brighton 26 September 2017

In poor communities, as many as 50% of children are reported to social services. Poverty is used to allege ‘neglect,’ treat mothers as surrogates for fostering and adoption without consent, inflicting lifelong trauma on thousands of children. Single mothers are most at risk, especially if they report rape or domestic violence, are of colour, or have a disability. A growing movement is breaking the silence and picketing secretive family courts. It is reflected in Labour’s manifesto. Mothers, women’s organisations, professionals, MPs – and you – speak out.

Report: Jail Rapists not Rape Victims, meeting in House of Commons

Women and families affected by biased rape investigations were joined by supporters in the House of Commons on Tuesday 2nd December to discuss the campaign, led by Women Against Rape (WAR) andBlack Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP), against the prosecution and imprisonment of rape survivors.

Hosted by John McDonnell MP, the event – Jail Rapists not Rape Victims – focused on the perverse and harrowing injustices women who report sexual violence are subjected to by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

An estimated 85,000 women are raped[1] in England and Wales each year; 90% of reported rape and domestic violence goes unprosecuted. Despite such an appalling record on achieving justice for victims, the legal system has managed to prosecute 109 women for false rape allegations in the past five years. The vast majority of these women are charged with ‘perverting the course of justice’, an offence that carries a maximum life sentence.

As immigration and detention practices grow increasingly severe, and shelters, legal aid, social housing, childcare and income support are restricted and shut down, women are left with few routes to escape sexual and domestic violence. To compound this with the threat of imprisonment and/or the removal of children if women are accused of lying or of being unable to protect their children, effectively leaves women trapped, and allows rapists and other abusers to continue with impunity.

BWRAP and WAR have been challenging this practice for the past seven years, and the evening threw light on the injustices they have uncovered through their campaign. They also mentioned women unable to be with us that evening due to incarceration or, as in the case of Eleanor de Freitas, suicide.

Attendees heard some of the survivors’ stories firsthand. Sandra Allen talked us through the ordeal her daughter, Layla Ibrahim, has faced since she was attacked in 2009. Layla served three years in prison after she reported having been violently attacked by two strangers while on her way home after a night out. Sandra traced how the police’s initial appearance of concern twisted into an investigation of Layla, rather than of her attackers: family members were contacted and told that the police suspected that Layla had inflicted her own injuries, suspects that fitted Layla’s description of the men were not pursued, forensic evidence that supported her story was lost or destroyed. Layla was pressured to drop the charges and told that if she did so she would ‘be dragged through the papers, but not through the courts’. She refused to “confess” to something she hadn’t done. After she served her sentence, one of her suspected attackers was found guilty of raping another woman using similar techniques he had used on Layla.

An appeal against Layla’s conviction is going to the Criminal Cases Review Commission this month. Sandra Allen called for the public to support her daughter’s application so the investigation into the original rape can be reopened and Layla’s name cleared.

Hamish McKenna, whose partner Rhiannon Brooker is serving a three and a half year sentence after reporting rape and domestic violence in a previous relationship, told a similar story. Rhiannon’s decision to speak out was met with persistent mistrust, perverse logic and threats from the police. Her family and friends were investigated; Hamish himself was threatened with being charged for perverting the course of justice should he give evidence in support of Rhiannon. The police even contacted social services in a bid to remove Rhiannon and Hamish’s child, who was still breastfeeding at the time – fortunately social workers saw what a loving family they are.

For Gail Sherwood, a mother of three, reporting her longtime stalker and rapist was met with laughter and suspicion. Gail was placed under surveillance, accused of planning elaborate false attacks on herself, and eventually sent to prison for two years. Whilst serving her sentence, her stalker continued to contact her in prison and since her release he has attacked her again.

We also heard from Verna Joseph, a St Lucian woman trafficked to the UK by a gang who had raped her and forced her to carry drugs into the UK. Despite an expert report submitted to the British court confirming that she had been raped and beaten by the gang and the St Lucia police telling the court that they could not protect her, Verna was sentenced to nine years in prison.

After serving five, she was released and claimed asylum, only to have her claim refused and be sent to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. There, on hunger strike protesting racist and sexist abuse from guards and terrible conditions, Verna battled with a series of appeals – she eventually won her release and asylum along with 22 other women from Yarl’s Wood.

Verna has since been raped again whilst staying at a women’s hostel. The man was arrested and put on trial. But during his trial, his only witness was permitted to sit in court while others gave evidence so she could tailor her evidence to discredit Verna’s story. The man was released, and Verna denied justice once again.

A further harrowing account was given by a young woman from Rotherham, who as a teenager had been taken into care and placed with her paedophile uncle. She had never spoken in public before and everyone was moved to tears.

Looking further afield, Professor Lisa Avalos compared how different countries deal with rape. She found that police disbelief, shaming and suspicion toward rape survivors is also common in other Western countries, but that the UK is exceptional in its draconian prosecution policy. She has ‘not found any country that pursues these cases against women rape complainants in the way the UK does. The UK has an unusual approach and I think that approach violates human rights’.

Nigel Richardson, Layla’s and Rhiannon’s solicitor, commented that he had not seen the police investigate any other crime with the dogged, vindictive enthusiasm with which they pursue suspected false rape allegations: digging into women’s pasts to pin stains on their character, threatening friends and family members and concocting elaborate stories in which women violently attacked themselves.

The speakers told us their stories with palpable courage, struggling through the pain of their memories and the indignities they had been forced to suffer to have their truths heard. We were reminded that these cases perpetuate trauma for victims of sexual violence, dragging their experiences long into the future as they suffer the injustices that accompany a criminal record and the pain of not being believed or achieving justice. Amongst speakers and the audience, who often gasped in shock and fury at the details of these women’s stories, there was an atmosphere of care, solidarity and a resolution to move forward. Our host, John McDonnell MP, pledged his ongoing support to the campaign.

The discussion unfolded a commitment to stop these practices, and to connect this struggle to others: one person reminded us of institutionalised abuse of disabled people that went unaddressed; another of police and politicians’ negligence and complicity in widespread child abuse in Rotherham and elsewhere; the galling hypocrisy of police that claim to have neglected rape investigations out of fear of being called racist when they continue to harass, criminalise and sometimes kill people of colour was highlighted; sex workers complained about police turning out en masse to dispossess them in Soho under the guise of tackling sex trafficking while refusing to investigate attacks against them.

As Verna Joseph concluded for us: ‘Everywhere our stories of survival are coming out. We won’t be silenced. We’ll keep on fighting and we will have justice in the end, all of us.’

Help us win justice for rape survivors. Support the campaign to clear Layla Ibrahim’s name.

[1] 2013 Rape Crisis – http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/mythsampfacts2.php 

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre  

Our report chronicles a regime of predatory sexual abuse (including racist sexual abuse) since it opened and began accepting women and families in 2002.  It brings together the many allegations that have been reported to us, with other reports that have appeared in the media.  Many of the reports come from All African Women’s Group members some of whom have been centrally involved in protests including successive hunger strikes .