Bakers Union launches sexual harassment campaign supported by our sisters at WAR

Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union announces launch of Sexual Harassment campaign supported by our sisters from Women Against Rape

Has the #MeToo movement helped workers in the fast food and hospitality industry to speak out about sexual violence at work and win protection?

Read WAR’s blogpost on the BFAWU website.

London women tell UN poverty envoy about impact of welfare cuts

Residents of deprived Newham describe domestic abuse and hunger to Philip Alston

Women in London have told the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty they are bearing the brunt of government welfare cuts, and described how austerity has left infants homeless and exacerbated problems including overcrowded housing and domestic violence.

More than a dozen women addressed Philip Alston at a highly charged meeting in Newham, east London, and urged him to tackle British ministers over the disproportionate effects on women of eight years of spending cuts.

A group including many immigrants told the human rights lawyer that as a result of austerity measures, some had been driven to sell sex, some had faced increased domestic abuse and others had been denied the ability to bring up their children properly.

One woman with a baby strapped to her back spoke through tears about how she fled domestic violence only to be made to wait for 20 hours at a social security office where she became so hungry she had to drink her child’s milk.

Alston arrived in one of the poorest boroughs in the capital on the eighth day of his tour of the UK, in which he has been examining extreme poverty, austerity, welfare changes and the impact of Brexit.

Reducing poverty was one of the specific legacy goals of the 2012 Olympic Games, which Newham helped host. Between 2010 and 2015, the borough rose out of the 20 most deprived neighbourhoods in England, but local activists say this improvement was not spread evenly across the borough, with areas directly around the sporting venues enjoying increased prosperity while others suffered.

Last year, child poverty in the borough was the third worst in the UK behind Tower Hamlets and Manchester. After housing costs, 43% of children were living below the poverty line, according to analysis of official figures by the charity End Child Poverty.

Among those who addressed Alston was Jane Williams of the Magpie Project. Her organisation has helped 215 of the estimated 2,000 homeless families with children under five who live in the borough. Williams said children had nowhere to play or be potty-trained, mothers could not sleep as several children shared a room, and some were spending one-third of their incomes on milk formula.

She read out testimony from one of the projects’ clients: “They have taken everything from me but my body. What do they want me to do? Do they want me to sell my body?”

Trinity*, a mother of a nine-year-old, told Alston: “A lot of women are forced into poverty and into prostitution. I have been destitute and homeless from one place to another.” She said she survived an attempted rape and had boiling water poured on her when she resisted.

Paula Peters, from Disabled People Against Cuts, described the difficulty of a a 54-year-old carer in accessing universal credit, including seven attempts to fill out online forms, as well as needing to borrow money to eat and at one point not eating for a week.

Another woman’s benefits were sanctioned, Peters said, “because she didn’t look happy” at a meeting with the welfare officer.

Another woman unfurled a banner in front of Alston with the names and photos of dozens of people said to have died as a result of benefit sanctions and austerity.

Alston told the group: “It will be interesting to me to ascertain the extent to which the authorities are really aware of the sort of issues you presented, the extent to which they have tracked those impacts of those policies.”

Alston will spend the rest of this week in London having meetings with Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, and John Glen, the economic secretary to the Treasury, as well as officials at departments including the Department for Exiting the European Union.

He will then draft a report to be delivered at a press conference on Friday. It will examine how the UK government, councils and devolved assemblies have been handling extreme poverty, the impacts of austerity policies and the roll-out of universal credit.

Alston is also expected to address Brexit and whether it might deepen poverty in some areas of the country, and will look at how the increasing reliance on computers to deliver welfare and even make judgments about benefit decisions using algorithms will affect people.

Several women described how universal credit could “facilitate economic abuse” between men and women, because it is normally paid in a single payment. Requesting split payments in violent households could escalate abuse, one woman said.

A mother of two who gave her name as Doris said she had lived in 40 places in the past decade as a result of welfare insecurity. “I have said to my sons: if you could come back as a woman, would you? They said no way, not the way you’ve been been treated,” she said.

*Trinity was one of the women from our centre at the hearing, she is a member of the All African Women’s Group.

Sammy Woodhouse: Rotherham ‘rapist offered role in child’s life’

A victim of child sexual exploitation has called for a change in the law amid claims a man who raped her was offered a role in her son’s life.

It is understood Arshid Hussain, who was jailed for 35 years in 2016, was contacted by Rotherham Council about care proceedings heard last year.

His victim Sammy Woodhouse told the BBC she was “shocked” when she was informed of the council’s approach.

The authority said it had “no intention” of putting a child at risk.

Urgent efforts would be taken to “address the failings in this case”, The MoJ said.

Ms Woodhouse described Hussain as “a danger to myself and to other children”.

In a video posted on Twitter she urged the government “to change the law to ensure rapists can’t gain access to children conceived through rape”.

‘What about my rights?’

Hussain, known around Rotherham as Mad Ash, was one of three brothers behind the grooming and sexual abuse of more than 50 girls, including Ms Woodhouse.

She was just 14 when she met him.

Read more and see video, where Sammy says that mothers are forced to face their rapists all over the country in family courts, at

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-46368991

Rape convictions: juries are not to blame, biased investigations and prosecutions are

MP Anne Coffey got a lot of publicity last week when she said in Parliament that juries in rape trials should be abolished, arguing that this is the solution to the low conviction rate. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-46288114

We strongly disagree. Juries are not to blame for the falling conviction rate. Negligent and biased investigations and prosecutions are. These are compounded by economic policies which have downgraded the whole justice process and made women in particular more vulnerable.

Abolishing juries for such a serious crime would be a dangerous precedent.

We have heard the argument against juries before from people who refuse to acknowledge or address the systemic prejudices built into investigations and prosecutions that result in so few convictions. We have said for years that the conviction rate reflects the criminal justice system’s refusal to prosecute rape and, when it does, to prosecute thoroughly. Juries are a convenient scapegoat to point the finger at.

The following changes are urgently needed:

– Thorough, unbiased investigations by police, ensuring all the available evidence is gathered and assessed. In our experience, this is often lacking. The John Worboys scandal is one glaring example: the investigation into the serial attacker was so negligent that his victims won damages from the Met under the Human Rights Act. (See more at Supreme Court today and ‘Why do the police deal with rape cases so badly?’)

– The prosecution case put to the court must also be thorough and unbiased, and any evidence of domestic violence must be included. In many cases, especially of domestic rape, evidence and charges are narrowed down, making cases less truthful and compelling. Charges of common assault used in DV cases cannot be brought after six months but investigations often take much longer – this limitation must be dropped as it weakens the overall case.

– Judge and prosecutor must protect the victim from unfair and irrelevant questioning in court, particularly about sexual history.

– The law must be changed to ban ‘evidence’ of a victim’s sexual history with men other than the accused. This is key as women’s credibility continues to be trashed by defence barristers cross examining on totally irrelevant sexual history. This sexist practice has been reinforced and extended this year as the authorities have insisted that police must trawl through victims’ phone and social media history. This is a disastrous step backwards, and we hope a legal challenge to it will help to protect the rights of victims.

Instead of addressing these very basic problems, and making rape a genuine priority for the criminal justice authorities, juries are being blamed. They are not the problem, the professionals who gather and present the evidence and direct the case are: police, prosecutors and judges were shown to be institutionally sexist for decades – they have not shifted as much as they are given credit for. They continue to downgrade investigations and prosecutions, and to find ways to excuse rape and domestic violence.

The proof that abolishing juries is not the solution is the family court. There are no jurors in family courts and judges there are some of the worst offenders when it comes to disbelieving women victims of rape and domestic violence. Reporting DV and/or rape more than once is routinely used to assume victims are lying; yet evidence shows that DV and domestic rape are serial crimes and that women who have been identified as vulnerable are more likely to be targeted again and again by the same man as well as by others.

Adding insult to injury, austerity cuts which have overwhelmingly targeted women and children are making us even more vulnerable to violence and cutting off our escape routes, including our access to protection and justice through the courts. Universal Credit which is paid to the head of the household was designed to ‘strengthen the family unit’ i.e. men’s power and control over women and children. These cuts must be reversed and women’s entitlement to justice reinstated.

Evidence to UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, 2018

We joined other groups in submitting evidence to the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ahead of his visit to the UK in November 2018.

This has now been published by the UN alongside other submissions: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/UKVisitSubmissions.aspx –
See submissions from Legal Action for Women and Single Mothers Self Defence & by WinVisible – both quote WAR on the effects of growing poverty on women’s vulnerability to sexual and domestic violence.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Philip Alston who is an ’eminent international human rights lawyer called for submissions from anyone in the UK to establish “the most significant human rights violations experienced by people living in poverty and extreme poverty in the UK”. He is interested in the impact of austerity, universal credit, the advent of computer algorithms making decisions on welfare matters, and Brexit.’

RESPONSE to the Home Affairs Committee Report on DOMESTIC ABUSE

Press release

from Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape

 We welcome the Committee’s recognition of many of the issues raised in the evidence we and other women’s groups submitted. But they should have gone much further, especially in the following areas:

1.      Welfare cuts & financial dependence on violent men.

We welcome the Committee’s acknowledgement that welfare cuts have made women vulnerable to Domestic Violence (DV) and made it harder for victims to flee violent partners. The Committee noted that Universal Credit is a disaster for women as it will be paid to the head of household, usually assumed to be the man, making women and children financially dependent on men. As the Committee noted, this reverses the principle established in 1945 by independent MP Eleanor Rathbone who after decades of campaigning won Family Allowance as part of the Welfare State, paid to the mother – the primary carer.

They should have supported the widespread call for Universal Credit to be scrapped along with the discriminatory and degrading two child tax credit limit (which denies money to any further children unless the mother can prove they were the product of rape) and the benefit cap. They should also have called for welfare benefits to be reinstated.

2.      Other austerity cuts that cut off women’s escape routes.

Lack of provisions such as refuge space, social housing and legal aid have left women at the mercy of violent men, especially where the couple have young children. We welcome the Committee’s call for refuge funding to be a legal obligation nationally.

They should also have recommended changes to address the social housing crisis which traps women and children in violent relationships.

3.      Family courts and DV.

DV has become a key pretext for local authorities to remove children from their mothers with the excuse that they are ‘at risk of future emotional harm’. The Committee acknowledges that family courts don’t treat DV as seriously as criminal courts, prioritising child contact for fathers even when they have criminal convictions for violence or a history of DV. Forced contact with fathers has resulted in violence, even murder, of children and their mothers. The Committee falls short of recommending that children should stay with their mother, who is usually the child’s first carer and protector, rather than be forcibly separated from her. But they do mention that happens in Edinburgh and could be a useful model.

The forthcoming Domestic Violence Bill must go much further than stopping a man cross-examining his victim in court. It must stop fathers’ ‘right’ to contact being prioritised over women and children’s right to safety and protection, and provide support for victims rather than take their children.

4.      Immigrant and BAME women face DV.

We welcome the Committee criticising the ‘hostile environment’ as making immigrant women more vulnerable to violent men, and particularly the police for reporting immigrant victims of DV to the Home Office. But they do not acknowledge that racism results in women of colour and immigrant women having lower incomes and therefore being more vulnerable to DV.

We welcome their call for care ad support for all victims of DV regardless of their immigration status. They should also call for an end to policies of detention, destitution and ‘voluntary returns’.

5.      THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

The Committee acknowledges that police and courts sometimes let violent men off the hook with catastrophic consequences for women and children – even murder.

 Key actions that need prioritising are: early arrest and conviction of violent men before they are allowed to attack again; robustly enforcing and financing the protection of victims; ending the criminalisation of women and children who report violent men.

6.      WOMEN THE MAIN VICTIMS.

 We welcome the Committee’s call for DV to be treated as affecting mainly women. We have seen too many examples of men making counter accusations against women who report DV in order to avoid arrest and prosecution, and to gain access to the children and/or to keep exerting control over the mother.

 Dealing with DV must be integral to all economic and social policies.

See our evidence to the Committee here[1]

Black Women’s Rape Action Project         bwrap@rapeaction.net

Women Against Rape        war@womenagainstrape.net

Tel: 020 7482 2496

 

[1] http://againstrape.net/evidence-to-home-affairs-committee-on-domestic-violence-from-black-womens-rape-action-project-and-women-against-rape-5-july-2018

 

Government announces review of CICA rules

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES REVIEW OF COMPENSATION RULES ON SEXUAL OFFENCES – a VICTORY for grassroots campaigners!

Nobody should be made to feel worthless as you do when you get a compensation refusal letter.”

The announcement 9-10 September (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45462128) from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) that there will be a review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme as it applies to people who were sexually abused when they were children, is an important victory and augers well for future applicants.  Victims, women and men, have bravely publicized their case as part of the struggle with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) which had turned them down.  Such campaigning at the grassroots must be credited for winning this review.

The MOJ will now consult and then consider, in claims for abuse suffered as children, extending the time limit, and revoking the punitive refusals to those who have criminal convictions.  But there are further rules and practices that disproportionately deny compensation to rape survivors, such as: delays in reporting to the police, pulling out before a prosecution is concluded, and brutally cross-examining vulnerable applicants at hearings.

Over the past 18 months WAR has brought together a network of survivors across the UK.  We hold regular online meetings to discuss tactics based on a variety of experiences.  Accountable lawyers assist with claims and challenge the rules.  Survivors have described the impacts of being denied compensation.  We have put our collective demands in writing to the government, and secured publicity on social media and in the print and broadcast media, to build pressure for change.  Survivors use a model letter to enlist help from their MPs.

A year ago we were informed by the MOJ that there was no plan to review these rules, other than the one raised by large charities and MPs, that the CICA refusals must end which assume that underage victims consented to sex, rather than having been coerced and groomed by adult abusers.  This was rape and was not to be dismissed as consent!

We continued to campaign.  After winning several important appeals, on 24 July we had news of a landmark judgment.  The Appeal Court upheld a claimant’s right to compensation, who had been previously refused.  Under the Same Roof Rule, if you were abused before October 1979 and lived with your attacker at the time, you were not entitled to compensation.

The claimant was identified as JT, who suffered serious sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather many years ago. He repeatedly abused her between the ages of four and 17, and was convicted in 2012 of eight offences including rape and sexual assault and was imprisoned for 14 years.  This was the first time a court upheld a claimant’s right to compensation despite this Rule, which will now be deleted. Those who were attacked before 1979 will now be entitled to compensation.

This was won because survivors had been determined to fight.  The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) recommended in its interim report in April that the Same Roof Rule should be scrapped – after dozens of survivors and victims’ organisations gave evidence. Other official bodies followed suit.

Alissa Moore, who waived her anonymity, was refused compensation for rape by her father, while her sister, whose abuse continued after 1979, won an award.  Alissa Moore has campaigned together with WAR, she said in July:

“I’m overwhelmed by this case. But it’s not just this rule – many people are turned down under other rules, like those with unspent convictions. The whole rule book needs rewriting. Nobody should be made to feel worthless as you do when you get a CICA refusal letter.”

Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape said of the MOJ’s announced review:

“We are thrilled that our collective efforts are paying off.  We encourage everyone to fight for all the other applicants who have not won yet, and press the MOJ to abolish all the unjust rules.  This includes women like Kim Mitchell who waived anonymity after she was denied compensation because of a minor criminal conviction last year.  Now 36, she was denied compensation for sexual assault by a teacher when she was eight, which has had a significant impact on her mental health.  Compensation, which is an expression of the community’s support for her against her abuser, would help her recover.  She was already punished for her minor crime by the criminal justice system, why did CICA have to punish her again?  This undervalues the public service she did in getting her abuser locked up – she had to report it three times before he was prosecuted, and she won a longer sentence on appeal.” [Read her story here] She is still fighting for compensation.]

Cuts in the compensation scheme were last made in 2012, after the government decided to save £50 million by tightening the rules.  A hostile environment for rape survivors.

WAR, endorsed by over 40 organisations, lawyers and other professionals calls on the government (www.againstrape.net/compensation/openletter) to tackle all the discriminatory rules suffered by victims of sexual crimes, whether as children or adults.

We invite all survivors, organisations and agencies to urgently lobby their MP and the MOJ, so that all survivors get justice.  Contact us if you’d like to be in touch and help.

Women Against Rape, 17 September 2018

Kim Mitchell’s struggle for compensation – interview in The Independent.

Great Independent article from July, on the struggle of Kim Mitchell to get the compensation she is entitled to. She was refused because she had a minor conviction. This article also quotes WAR, and is a key demand we have put to the government, demanding they change this among other discrimination in the CICA rules.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/victim-cica-rape-compensation-child-abuse-kim-mitchell-a8465231.html