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

Do No Harm – Seminar 11 Sept 6-8pm

For a video of the event, photos and written speeches see: supportnotseparation.blog

Join us tomorrow for this important seminar 6-8pm at the House of Commoms committee room 14 which will gather evidence of the harm caused by separating mothers from their children and forced adoption. WAR is on the speakers panel.

The Law & Politics of Marital Rape in England 1945-1994, Adrian Williamson (2016) Women’s History Review

This article, by a Cambridge University law tutor called Adrian Williamson, documents the history of how the law was changed to recognise rape in marriage as a crime following Women Against Rape’s 15-year campaign.

Here is the article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09612025.2015.1133536

Evidence to Home Affairs Committee on Domestic Violence from Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape, 5 July 2018

Summary: This evidence covers five key policy areas that result in increased vulnerability to domestic violence and lack of resources to escape violent men:

  1. Family courts and domestic violence
  2. Austerity cuts and domestic violence
  3. Destitution – a recipe for domestic violence
  4. The hostile environment for victims of domestic violence in immigration and asylum procedures
  5. Improving the police and CPS response to domestic violence, and victims’ experience of the Criminal Justice System

 1. Family courts and domestic violence (DV)

1.1 We are part of the Support Not Separation Coalition – a national network of mothers, grandmothers and other kinship carers, campaigners, psychologists, social workers, academics and other professionals. Reporting DV has become a major reason children are removed from their mothers often with the excuse that they are ‘at risk of future emotional harm’.  It is contrary to the welfare of the child and the mother, who is usually the child’s protector, for the child to be removed from her care.

1.2 Mothers’ experience of family courts is that domestic violence is often not believed, they are not given the protection they need, and are in every way disadvantaged – from legal aid to cross-examination by their attacker. Their trauma as a victim of a controlling relationship is not taken into account by judges who are often sexist and expect unrealistic standards of evidence while often excluding evidence such as reports from support organisations like ourselves or refuge workers.

1.3 In our experience the relevant Practice Directions (3AA and 12J) to assist vulnerable witnesses in the family court are often not implemented, and it is too soon to know whether recent changes to 12J (2018) are helping.

1.4 Family courts cannot fundamentally improve the treatment of vulnerable witnesses until they address the shocking disbelief commonly expressed by judges and other professionals when mothers or their children report that they have been victims of rape or other violence, including coercive and controlling behaviour by the father.  This bias against mothers and children has been well-documented: see Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers by Legal Action for Women 2017, and Domestic Abuse, Family Courts and Routine Failure to Protect Children by Mothers Unite UK 2017, Courts (Abuse of process) Bill 2018 presented by Liz Saville Roberts MP, Women’s Aid research (May 2018).  These all show that mothers still face routine disbelief and even questioning by their abuser in family courts.

1.5 In general, our experience is also that children’s wishes are often disregarded and mothers’ warnings about safety are disbelieved or ignored.

1.6 The family court (eg in Practice Direction 12J) recognizes that children suffer harm from witnessing DV to their mother, but in deciding to remove the child from the mother, they take no account of the harm that they will cause with that separation. In New York, the separation from the mother has been recognized in a 2002 precedent case as more traumatic to the child than witnessing DV, and courts are no longer allowed to take children from their mothers on that basis. The same principle needs to be applied in the UK.

1.7 Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act instructs local authorities to use their resources to support families so that children can stay within the family instead of being removed.  But it is rarely used, especially to support mothers who are DV survivors. It’s implementation must be prioritized.

1.8 Instead of support and protection, women victims of DV and children are punished.  We have been involved in a number of cases where children were taken from the mother when she reported DV or when it was discovered that she was a victim, traumatizing the child who was then placed with strangers.

1.9 Women are damned if they report DV and damned if they don’t. Either way, the father’s violence is blamed on the mother who is accused of failing to protect the child. Why isn’t the State instead acting against violent men?

1.10 Mothers who are particularly vulnerable to injustice in family courts include those who are victims of repeated rape and DV, BME mothers, migrant and immigrant mothers, those who are mentally disabled, single mothers especially those who are working class and/or on benefits, and all those who are denied legal aid.

1.11 It is outrageous that a family court judge has the power to rule in a Finding of Fact hearing whether or not a woman was raped or suffered violence.  These judges are sometimes more sexist than the rape-ticketed judges in the criminal courts.  Family courts have not kept pace with changes in other courts.  This is largely because criminal courts are public while family courts are not, what goes on there is little known and family court judges are not publicly accountable.  Some of them don’t know the law on rape or DV, and others have belittled rape as insignificant and repeated DV as unlikely to have happened.  The secrecy of family legal proceedings also cuts off the mother’s opportunities to seek support, keeping her isolated and increasinging her vulnerability.

1.12 Many social workers are also biased against mothers – blaming the woman is easier than confronting a violent and bullish man.  Budget cuts to local authorities have certainly contributed to harsher uncompassionate decision-making but merely increasing funding will not address the institutional bias in the system.  Sexism, racism and class bias needs to be addressed so that mothers and kinship carers are not treated as disposable or irrelevant in their child’s life, to be replaced by a foster carer, a children’s home or adopted by a better off family.

1.13 We are opposed to the privatisation of children’s homes and adoption services, which introduce a profit motive.  There is clearly a conflict of interest if agencies which are reporting to the court on what is best for the child are making money from children being taken into care.  The motivation should instead be the child’s welfare, and putting resources into helping women and children escaping domestic violence, not separating them.

1.14 In some cases the children are given to the father and the mother is banned from seeing them if she continues to raise that he is a danger to them.  The bias in favour of fathers even when they have a record for violence is extraordinary.  Even men with previous convictions or non-molestation orders can be concealed during the family case.

1.15 We can only conclude that the courts want men – even the most violent – to have access to their children and to their former partners, whatever they may say and whatever the consequences for safety.

1.16 The hostile fathers’ lobby, led by Families Need Fathers, has the support of the NSPCC and CAFCASS, and their recent campaign to get the authorities to recognize that they are victims of parental alienation is a worrying step towards misogyny.

1.17 It is well-known among mothers’ networks throughout the UK that men use the family court as a vehicle through which to continue to coerce and control a female partner who has left them.

1.18 Men are using the family court to get investigations of rape and DV dropped.  We know of cases where the police stopped investigating after a judge decided he didn’t believe the mother.  We also know of a number of cases where abusive men dared their victims to call the police as social services would come and take their children into care.  The mothers were petrified and didn’t report the violence as a result. Violent men are very confident – after all, they generally have the power of higher wages over women, and also the backing of the authorities which are more likely to believe them than women.

1.19 Mothers whose immigration status is dependent on staying with a violent partner are at particular risk.  Women in these situations have also experienced bullying and intimidation including terrifying threats to report them as “illegal overstayers” to the Home Office if they dare report the violence.  Family courts are far more likely to believe men and deport women causing untold harm to mothers and their children.

1.20 The State has to stop assuming that a man who is violent to his child or to his female partner is a good father.  Children are being forced into unwanted contact with violent uncaring fathers against their will.  Some children’s reports are dismissed as the result of manipulation or coaching by their mother.  On the other hand, we have seen cases where a child said their mum has once slap them and the child was removed from that mother, a totally disproportionate response.

1.21 None of this is in the interests of the child – a key principle that family professionals are supposed to uphold.

1.22 The government is proposing to train a wide range of professionals to spot domestic abuse.  But what are they supposed to do about that abuse?  Every state agency has become more intrusive and punitive while offering very little help as a result of wide-ranging funding cuts.  Does spotting abuse result in more children of DV victims being taken into care?  Does a mother lose her housing after DV?  If she lost her job, what welfare benefits are left to support her?

1.23 Action points – We strongly recommend that the family courts should:

  • End the secrecy of family court proceedings. They must be open to public scrutiny in a way that protects the child’s identity (eg call the parents A and B).
  • Stop forcing children into unwanted contact with violent uncaring fathers.
  • Stop men using the family courts as a vehicle through which to continue to control a female partner who has left them.
  • Use Section 17 to provide resources to families who are poor, rather than take their kids away.
  • Reverse the privatisation of children’s homes and adoption services.
  • Stop taking children from mothers who report or are victims of domestic violence. They need protection not separation.

 2. Austerity cuts and Domestic Violence

2.1 DV has to be viewed in the context of the life conditions of women and children and the policies that help or hinder their conditions.  The government has cut women’s escape routes out of DV by massively cutting benefits, social housing, legal aid, advice lines, and funding to refuges.  Of the austerity cuts 86% have fallen on women.[1]  Many already cannot get appropriate mental health treatments on the depleted NHS.  Merely training officials to spot violence is not going to address any of this; it will instead increase state powers against women and children.  In the absence of resources and help, state agents such as social workers tend to prioritise policing mothers and punitively removing their children.

2.2 Research shows that low income Black and Asian women are the poorest and pay the highest price for austerity. Camden where we are based is ranked the 15th most deprived borough in London and has one of the highest rates of child poverty – 60% of children live in low income families. Mothers risk their children being taken into care when their poverty is equated with “neglect”. In 2011, 56% of Camden’s residents described being of Black minority ethnic origin or non-white. The overwhelming majority of rape and DV victims who come to us for help are working class and disproportionately affected by poverty, racism and other discrimination compared to the general population.

2.3 We refer you to recent evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee by WinVisible – Women with visible and invisible disabilities, to which we contributed. Universal Credit paid to the man in the household is a recipe for DV, as is the benefit cap:

https://winvisibleblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/winvisible-submission-on-assessments-with-quotes-updated.pdf

2.4      ‘The single monthly payment when paid to violent men is as dangerous as the total benefit cap, which is condemned by Women Against Rape for trapping women and children with violent men, and for penalising single mothers fleeing violence who rely on benefits to pay the rent in their safe accommodation. When the total benefit cap was first challenged at the Supreme Court in 2015, although the overall appeal failed, Lady Hale, currently President, stated: “The prejudicial effect of the cap is obvious and stark… This prejudicial effect has a disproportionate impact upon lone parents, the great majority of whom are women, and is also said to have such an impact upon victims of domestic violence, most of whom are also women”’(para 180, see http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2015/16.html

2.5 Action points

  • We support WinVisible’s demands to Stop and scrap Universal Credit, to reinstate disability benefits (including for women with mental ill-health caused by the trauma of domestic rape and other violence).
  • Reinstate welfare and housing benefits and end benefit sanctions
  • Reinstate legal aid.
  • Fund emergency and permanent housing for women fleeing violence beginning with the established network of refuges. Housing benefit is essential for refuges to survive.
  1. Destitution – a recipe for domestic violence

3.1 Destitution puts women at grave risk of domestic violence.  Women left with no money or resources are prey to every predatory, violent, exploitative man who takes advantage of the fact that she is desperate and has no routes to escape. This includes violent and abusive husbands, boyfriends and partners. For the government to deliberately make women destitute is to encourage and promote this abuse.

3.2 Destitution was first deliberately deployed against women seeking asylum (and with other immigration applications) whose legal cases had failed and been closed.   Many have already suffered domestic violence before coming to the UK. Our own and other research has found that over 70% of asylum-seeking women have fled rape in their country of origin. With the introduction of Section 55 (of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002) asylum-seekers who did not make a claim immediately on arrival in the UK were denied any support. Literally hundreds of women came to the door of the women’s centre where we are based. Some were sleeping in parks, in hospital A&E units, on night buses.

3.3 The deliberate policy of destitution against asylum-seekers and other immigrants has since been rolled out against many other women, making them also more vulnerable to domestic violence. For example, benefit sanctions and the delays in paying Universal Credit, have left many women with absolutely no income, or living below the poverty line, sometimes for months on end.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s 2018 report found 1.5 million people destitute in the UK.

3.4 Destitution among women is particularly hidden, as they are less likely to be “street homeless” because of the fear of violence. In one study, 35% of destitute homeless women asylum seekers in the UK reported being raped.[2]  Instead women tend to rely on family, friends, acquaintances and strangers for a roof over their head and the basic necessities. This makes them vulnerable to sexual and domestic violence. For example, one woman in our network described fighting off attempted rape by the husband of the woman she was staying with.  She couldn’t risk telling his wife for fear she would end up in an even more dangerous situation on the street.  Nor could she tell the authorities, for fear she would be detained and removed because she had no immigration status. Another mother who was given shelter in exchange for childcare and housework became homeless when her son was physically attacked by the male head of the household.

3.5 Even when women win their legal cases, some are denied access to public funds and remain victims of or become vulnerable to domestic violence.

3.6 A government that makes women and girls deliberately destitute cannot claim to be taking action to protect women from domestic violence.

3.7 Action points:

  • Ending destitution is essential in tackling domestic violence. No-one should be left without the means to survive, least of all some of the most vulnerable women in the community – many of whom are already victims of domestic violence.
  • End the No Recourse to Public Funds policy.
  • The government should provide women who had fled from domestic violence to the UK with resources and protection in order to meet its Istanbul Convention obligations towards victims “irrespective of immigration status”.
  1. The hostile environment for victims of domestic violence in immigration and asylum procedures

4.1 Women are made destitute when their immigration applications are turned down, but in our experience cases fail unjustly because women do not get the legal and other help they need.  The hostile environment is deeply embedded in how asylum and immigration cases are considered.

4.2 To our knowledge no investigation or account has been taken of the impact on women’s vulnerability to domestic violence by how the Home Office treats asylum and immigration cases. A callous, hostile and frequently unjust system results in women being unable to report domestic violence and rape, and uses their difficulties in speaking about these horrific experiences to disbelieve them when they do. WAR’s Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaign is highlighting how the Home Office and judges routinely flout case law and their own guidelines on how women should be treated, so that no consideration is given to the traumatic impact of rape and domestic violence.

4.3 Policies are being employed that deliberately disrupt women’s ability to pursue their legal cases: the Chapter 60 policy which sets a three month “window” within which women get no further notice of removal; certification which denies the right to an in country appeal, including by holding women at fault for not reporting rape and domestic violence earlier; fast-track decisions by the enforcement team charged with meeting targets for removals rather than a fair and thorough consideration of the evidence presented. The legal aid cuts compound the injustice, leaving many victims going to appeal hearings unrepresented or in the hands of inept or even corrupt private lawyers.

4.4 Action points:

  • Restore the right to legal aid for all asylum and immigration cases
  • End the “deport now appeal later” procedures so all appeals can be heard in the UK.
  • Withdraw the Chapter 60 “windows” policy and allow people time to access lawyers and the courts to challenge removals/deportation.
  • All Home Office and Tribunal hearings must adhere to their guidance about the treatment of vulnerable victims.
  • The government must recognise that severe and prolonged domestic violence is torture and that under the Convention Against Torture victims are entitled to resources and support to recover in the UK even if this took place in another country.
  • The UK should ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention to help protect vulnerable immigrant women in the UK, who otherwise have little protection and may be deported if they try to report violent men.
  1. Improving the police & CPS response, and victims’ experience of the justice system
  •  We do not call for any more powers to the police, as they are not using them accountably but are instead abusing them to intimidate and even arrest the women reporting violence.
  • The police and CPS do not implement the existing laws against domestic violence. They must be made to do so or be sacked.

5.3 The police can’t be relied on to investigate domestic violence, including domestic rape and even murder.  Nothing in your paper seriously addresses the current problems in how existing domestic violence laws are applied and the appallingly low conviction rate of 6.5% (Women’s Aid website 2014).  Two women are still being killed every week – often after many calls to the police and police inaction.  Yet no officer has ever been prosecuted or properly held to account for the bias or negligence that resulted in such deaths.  Even when the police were found guilty of failing in their duty of care to victims, we are not aware that the officers responsible were demoted, sacked or prosecuted.  If any have been, we would like to know.

5.4 The police already have laws and resources at their disposal if they choose to use them to protect women from rape and domestic violence.  They often choose not to.  In relation to rape – they seem to make up their own version of the law.  The Met was sued successfully this year for refusing to investigate serial rapist John Warboys –upheld by the Supreme Court despite a £1m legal appeal by the Met and government support.

5.5 When will they be held similarly accountable for refusing to investigate DV?

5.6 We know from extensive experience over four decades that in response to reports of domestic violence, the police and CPS do not always record them properly; in many cases they don’t gather, don’t test, or lose forensic and witness evidence; and they do not charge appropriately.

5.7 They put pressure on women to retract, and in some cases investigate the woman for committing some kind of crime, including accusing her of lying.  This has been evidenced by whistleblower PC James Patrick and other officers to the Public Administration Select Committee in November 2013, who testified that many women are bullied by police into retracting their allegations of rape.

5.8 Also, the 2014 HMIC report ‘A Matter of Fact’ said: “We are seriously concerned about the picture that is emerging – one of weak or absent management or supervision of crime recording and serious sexual offences not being recorded (14 rapes).  Some offenders have been issued with out of court disposals where their offending history could not justify it.  In some cases they should have been prosecuted.”  [HMIC REPORT]  Little has changed according to more recent reports.

5.9 The issue of rape as a serious and common form of DV, and the additional disbelief/suspicion that comes from many professionals/officials rarely receives official acknowledgement.  Every woman who ‘cries rape’ is suspected of lying, particularly if they have ever suffered violence before.  Yet it is well known that DV is a recurrent crime and that most victims suffer many attacks before they report.

5.10 The police also need to stop investigating rape and domestic violence separately when they are committed by the same perpetrator.  Rape is part of the definition of domestic violence; when they are investigated together more evidence will become available to build a case, get the CPS to charge appropriately, and more violent perpetrators can be convicted.

5.11 The CPS legal guidance on domestic violence says:

“Where a summary only offence has been committed, such as common assault, any charge(s) or information must be laid within 6 months of the date of the alleged incident.  This time limit may prevent some previous cases being joined with those involving later complainants.  However, the earlier victim(s)/complainant(s) may still be able to support the more recent case through the use of bad character evidence.”  https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/domestic-abuse-guidelines-prosecutors

5.12 This time limit of six months is a major problem in many cases and in practice results in many cases being dropped as out of time or the number of charges heavily reduced.  In court the woman victims find the history of domestic violence has been reduced to a single incident, and isolated from the pattern of other violence and threats to kill – such a representation is much less serious and convincing and less likely to result in the conviction and sentencing the crimes deserve.  Domestic violence incidents such as common assault, threats to kill, or threats to harm the children, should not be prosecuted as a summary only offence.

5.13 We strongly disagree with the government’s proposed new statutory definition of domestic violence which would make the law gender-neutral.  The current definition does not exclude men and boys.  But the proposed definition would take out gender completely thus hiding that the overwhelming majority of DV victims are women.  We have found that removing gender from violence which is very gendered further reduces women’s power to get protection and justice.  Men who are violent and controlling feel ‘entitled’ to exercise power over women and are adept at portraying themselves as ‘victims’ when they don’t get their way.  A gender neutral definition would play into their hands and should not be introduced.

5.14 We have seen many cases where men call the police on their victim in order to discredit her and cast doubt on what she has to say; tragically they are often successful.  Institutional sexism within the police and the criminal justice system as a whole results in women being disbelieved more than men, and facing harsher treatment.

5.15 Research by Prof Marianne Hester in 2009 ‘Who Does What to Whom?’ found that women are disproportionally arrested for DV compared to men.  Women are 3 times more likely to be arrested for DV – they are arrested every 3 incidents out of 10, whereas men are arrested every 1 incident out of 10.

5.16 More women victims of DV will be arrested and even charged if their violent partner can use this new definition as leverage to deflect blame away from themselves.  This already happens and will happen even more often.  More disbelief and prosecutions of women will follow, deterring even more women from reporting and seeking justice.

5.17 There is no better encouragement to women to engage with the criminal justice system than to improve the conviction rate and to robustly enforce the restrictions of movement on their attacker.

5.18 The victim should not be forced to prosecute or testify.  She is in the best position to judge whether a prosecution of her attacker will protect or endanger her, or her children.

5.19 Women must be given the power, protection, resources and support to follow through with a prosecution, rather than take it out of their hands and prosecute their attacker behind their back and without their consent.  It is punitive and heavy handed to prosecute a perpetrator of DV without giving his victim any police protection, and without changing the economic and other conditions in which she has been living so her and her children’s survival and safety are assured.

5.20 There are too many cases where women’s sexual history is still allowed in court.  Evidence found sexual history to have been used in a quarter to a third of rape trials (Vera Baird: Seeing is Believing: The Northumbria Court Observers Panel. Report on 30 rape trials 2015-16., and Application of Section 41 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999: A Survey of Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs), by Lime Culture 2017.)

5.21 We are glad to see that Vera Baird and Harriet Harman are finally pressing for what we demanded during the formulation of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill in 1999, where we made it clear that evidence of sexual history with men other than the defendant should be excluded from trials.  Worryingly, Vera Baird’s evidence of breaching the current restrictions on evidence was totally dismissed by the Attorney General recently.

Contact: Black Women’s Rape Action Project bwrap@rapeaction.net
Women Against Rape war@womenagainstrape.net
tel 0207 482 2496

[1] Women’s Budget Group

[2] Underground Lives, PAFRAS Report March 2009

Same Roof Rule is finally defeated, overturning decades of injustice

Victims of sexual violence win Appeal Court victory

A landmark Appeal Court ruling on 24 July 2018 has reversed decades of injustice, upholding for the first time a claimant’s right to compensation even though she lived under the same roof as her attacker at the time.

The Appeal Court decided that the woman, identified as JT, who suffered years of serious sexual abuse by her stepfather when she a child, was entitled to compensation. The woman had been denied the right to damages because she shared a home with him at the time. Another victim of her stepfather who didn’t live with him did previously received compensation.

JT’s stepfather repeatedly abused her between the ages of four and 17. He was convicted in 2012 of eight offences, including rape and sexual assault, and imprisoned for 14 years.

Until now the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), which pays damages to victims of violent crime, has refused victims like her any payout because of the unfair same roof rule which denied compensation to victims who lived in the same home as their attacker before 1979 Hundreds of victims – mostly raped by fathers and husbands – will now be able to get redress.

The judges said the so-called “same-roof” rule, is “incompatible” with human rights laws.
Lord Justice Leggatt, who heard the appeal with Sir Terence Etherton and Lady Justice Sharp, said the rule was “arbitrary and unfair”. He said:

“A scheme under which compensation is awarded to [the other victim] but denied to JT is obviously unfair.
“It is all the more unfair when the reason for the difference in treatment – that JT was living as a member of the same family as her abuser, whereas [the other victim] was not – is something over which JT had no control and is a feature of her situation which most people would surely regard as making her predicament and suffering even worse.”

The reason given for the rule at the time was that abusers should not benefit from compensation paid to the victims they lived with, particularly in domestic violence. After years of criticism and campaigns, including by Women Against Rape, the law was altered in 1979 so that any future victims of such domestic crimes could claim compensation; but the change was not applied retrospectively.

Other reforms were made in 2012 following the government’s stated intention to save £50million from the Scheme. The same-roof rule was maintained because scrapping could increase the number of claims.

Alissa Moore, who waived her anonymity, was refused compensation while her sister, whose abuse continued after 1979, made a successful claim, and has campaigned together with WAR said today:

“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. We already were made to feel worthless our whole lives.”

Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape hailed this case as:

“A breakthrough for all those who have suffered horrific sexual abuse before 1979 and had been denied official acknowledgement and damages to help them recover. Most of them are victims of rape by fathers or older brothers who were unable to escape or report it until years later. Even though many had taken the enormous step to get their attacker investigated and convicted, the government continues to deny them compensation. We are really pleased the campaigning has paid off.”

WAR, backed by over 40 organisations, lawyers and other professionals, calls on the government to now tackle all the other injustices by CICA suffered by people who have been raped or abused, whether as children or as adults. (see http://againstrape.net/open-letter-for-compensation-to-secretary-of-justice)

JT’s case was brought in England and Wales. There are other challenges to the rule in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse recommended in its interim report in April that the rule be scrapped.

Press Release: Criminal injuries compensation awards – rules designed to exclude rape victims

PRESS RELEASE . . . PRESS RELEASE . . . PRESS RELEASE . . . PRESS

Women Against Rape says hundreds of vulnerable victims of rape and other sexual offences are denied statutory help as a result of rules designed to exclude as many victims as possible from compensation.

The new figures we release today come from an analysis of victims we helped to apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) or to appeal a refusal in the past five years (2012-2017). We found that victims often cannot apply without help through complex and rigid rules, and that many are so traumatised by the CICA refusal that they don’t appeal.

OUR FIGURES

Of 75 applicants, 20% were refused any award. In most cases the refusals were made despite the attacker having been jailed for the rape. In other cases, women were unable to get their attacker jailed and this was used to refuse them compensation, despite CICA needing a lower standard of proof (on the balance of probabilities) than that required for a criminal conviction (beyond reasonable doubt).

In half these cases, the rules had been set by Parliament, leaving CICA officials no discretionary power, whatever the circumstances. These rules are:

1. “Same Roof Rule”: Victims raped before 1 October 1979 by someone living in their household are not entitled to compensation[1]. Five (6.6%) of the women we worked with were refused under the Same Roof rule. Nationally, 174 such claimants have been refused since 2012. (FOI question, 2017.) These are truly distressing refusals; mostly of people who were raped as children by their own father. Most of them recently got their attacker jailed, after years of suffering, but despite this are still denied compensation.

Alissa Moore, who waived her anonymity, was denied an award because she moved out of the family home before October 1979, thus ending her father’s abuse. She said that when she was refused an award in 2015, “I was so crushed and shocked, it took me a couple of years to recover.”

Another woman’s Same Roof case is listed for the Court of Appeal on 13-14 June.

2. Victims with criminal convictions are often refused compensation – 11% of applicants we helped had been refused or suffered a substantial reduction of compensation under this rule. Nationally, figures obtained by Harriet Agerholm of The Independent show at least 398 victims of sex abuse have been refused payments since January 2015 because they had been convicted of a crime.

Kim Mitchell waived her anonymity when she was refused an award some months ago, for sexual assault when she was eight by her teacher. This refusal was based on an unspent conviction – she was given a community sentence for threatening her employer who had withheld a substantial amount of wages due. She said, “I didn’t commit a crime aged eight. The disbelief and injustice I faced has been just as traumatizing as the assault itself.”

Among other cuts to the Scheme in 2012, Parliament made rules even more punitive. Now, applicants can’t get compensation if they have any unspent criminal conviction, even for minor offences such as not paying a TV license, underage drinking, or a minor altercation – offences not serious enough to send one to prison. This is punishing very vulnerable victims who were raped or sexually assaulted as children, like Kim Mitchell. It is unjust to deny compensation for the violent crime of rape for such minor misdeeds. Rape victims are punished twice: first by criminal proceedings against us, and then by the compensation scheme. Imagine if everyone with a minor conviction was suddenly refused NHS treatment, housing or schooling!

An interim report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse released in April recommended that the Same Roof Rule be abolished and that criminal convictions resulting from abuse should not be used to deny compensation.

In the other half of our cases, victims fell foul of CICA’S harsh discretionary and biased decision-making. Echoing Theresa May’s hostile environment for immigrants, decisions at CICA have similarly become less compassionate, under the 2012 drive to cut costs. So much for government claims to support victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Rules that give CICA wide discretion are often used in a discriminatory way against victims of sexual crime, such as:

• being deemed to have consented to sex with an adult man despite being well below the age of consent (a 2017 campaign forced them to stop this);
• not applying within the two-year limit;
• pulling out before trial (called “not co-operating with a prosecution”);
• being disbelieved, sometimes on the basis of hostile police evidence following a careless or biased investigation.

Last year Dr Olivia Smith, of Anglia Ruskin University, published research having interviewed 25 independent sexual violence advisers (ISVAs) who had helped thousands of rape victims. Like us, Smith found that eligibility rules “impact more on vulnerable survivors.”

Immoral conduct like soliciting should not be used to reject claims, but some of the ISVAs Smith spoke to said this regularly occurs. Sex workers are among those who face social stigma, including at CICA. This echoes our experience that prejudiced CICA officers can unfairly deny victims of violence an award. While some victims are considered blameless, others are held partly responsible for being attacked, labelled “bad conduct” by CICA. This is just victim-blaming, with judgements dividing women into “good” and “bad” victims. Nobody should be blamed for sexual violence against them.[2]
WAR’s campaign for change represents hundreds of victims across the UK, and their supporters. Spokesperson Lisa Longstaff said,

“There is ample evidence of a pattern of discrimination against victims of sex crimes. We can’t allow this institutional injustice to continue. In campaigning together, survivors learn about each other’s cases, make connections and find they are not alone in having been refused. We spoke out when Parliament harshened the rules in 2012. Now it must revoke them.”

We win 95% of claims on first application or on appeal, but many women have nobody to help them. WAR wrote to the government in July raising five punitive rules under which victims of rape are unjustly refused compensation. The MOJ replied that it has no plan to address these issues. However, last year they backed down following a public outcry after five national charities publicised that CICA had denied compensation to over 700 people raped when they were under 16, claiming they had consented, despite being under the legal age of consent.

In the age of #MeToo and #Time’s Up social media campaigns, government claims to care about sexual and domestic violence are not credible. We have sent an Open Letter signed by over 20 organisations and over 40 lawyers, academics and other individuals calling on government to ensure compensation is no longer denied to victims of rape and other violence.

NOTE to Editors: Since 1964, CICA has administered State payments to victims of crime, providing cash help according to their injuries. Given that the conviction rate for reported rape is just 6%, compensation may be the only official acknowledgement available to most victims. Official acknowledgement is vital for healing and future wellbeing. The money can help with costs resulting from injury, for example, specialist health treatments. CICA’s total spending has dropped significantly – from £440m in 2012 to £143m last year. [Source: The One Show, BBC TV, 20 March 2018]

Footnotes:
1. The Rule was overturned but was not made retrospective for crimes that occurred before 1 October 1979.
2. The introduction to the online guidance for the 2012 Scheme says it is to compensate “blameless victims of violent crime”.

Recent cases in which WAR assisted victims to appeal and to speak out

Kim Mitchell was refused compensation for sexual abuse by her teacher when she was eight. CICA said her minor unspent conviction made her ineligible. On review, CICA upheld its refusal.

Alissa Moore, whose father was jailed in 2015 for 24 years for multiple child rape, was refused compensation as the crimes were before 1 October 1979 when they lived in the same house (‘Same Roof’ rule). Her sister whose abuse continued after 1 October 1979 won compensation.

Ms A, now in her 50s had been raped at age 13 by her adult brother, and she bore a severely disabled child. Years later (after their mother died) she reported it, and on DNA evidence the man got a 25 year sentence. She was refused compensation as they briefly lived in the same house at the time of the rape (‘Same Roof’ rule). An appeal upheld the refusal.

In 2016 WAR gave evidence in a path-breaking judicial review that overturned a 40% reduction made to a woman who had pulled out before the trial of her rapist husband under pressure. She had been jailed for perverting the course of justice for what the CPS called a ‘false retraction’. CICA had ruled that she failed to cooperate with the prosecution by retracting her truthful complaint of rape. The Guardian reported, ‘“We hope the CICA will accept the significant trauma this crime has caused,” said David Malone, the barrister, who acted pro bono, along with Adrian Waterman QC and solicitor Mike Hayward at Woodfines.’ He said the case clarified the law for CICA and ‘…Never again should the CICA put victims in the same position.’ However, the judge was unable to reinstate a further 30% reduction for two minor driving convictions in the traumatic months after her release from prison.

In 2015 WAR represented Ms B at a judicial review to challenge judgements by the police and the CICA appeal panel dismissing rape as ‘rough sex’. She had suffered injuries from the rape. The judge upheld her right to compensation, and sent it back to CICA for another hearing, but she was too traumatised to continue and withdrew.

A girl with mental health problems aged 13 was raped by an adult man who plied her with vodka. She had been deemed by the CICA to have consented, although she was below the legal age of consent and he had been convicted of giving alcohol to a minor. At her appeal the police gave evidence against her, and she was cross examined aggressively by the CICA lawyer. She was suicidal. We made a formal complaint. With the help of Duncan Lewis solicitors this refusal was overturned at judicial review, and she finally won an award.

A young woman raped by a cab driver was denied 30% of her compensation award as she had been later prosecuted for driving while marginally over the drink-drive limit. With our help on appeal the reduction was lowered to 20%.

Ms C who delayed applying to CICA until the trial process was over had been denied compensation because it took her over CICA’s two year limit. It is common for rape trials to take over two years to conclude. Police generally advise women to wait, as defence lawyers often raise compensation as a motive to lie. WAR helped her appeal, and she won.

Ms D whose domestic rape had not been investigated properly complained to the police. Unusually, the complaint was upheld. She was refused compensation on grounds that the CPS had ruled there was insufficient evidence to take it to trial. On appeal, she argued that the CICA is supposed to apply a lower standard of proof than the CPS and courts. She won on appeal.

We helped Ms E to fill in the application form, as she was too traumatised to do it. She won an award. Her foster father ran a children’s home, and had raped her over many years as a young child. She said, “Why do I have to prove myself to CICA, when my rapist was convicted?”

Ms F was raped by her date. She did not report it at the time as she assumed she would not be believed. She came forward when he was convicted of violence against two other women. But the investigating police officer made sexual advances to her, and she was too traumatised to continue, so she withdrew from the investigation. When she applied to CICA they refused her any award because she had failed to co-operate with the prosecution. We helped her appeal, but our written submission in her support did not succeed. She got nothing.

Please contact WAR to arrange interviews at war@womenagainstrape.net
www.againstrape.net Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX Tel: 020 7482 2496 Fax: 020 7267 7297

Family courts failing to uphold human rights for victims of domestic abuse, according to Queen Mary report

Family Courts are failing to recognise and protect survivors’ human rights by not giving victims of domestic abuse a safe and fair hearing which is putting their children’s safety at risk, according to a joint report by Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London.

30 May 2018

Survivors of domestic abuse face a lack of protections within family courts according to a new report from Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London.

The report, “What about my right not to be abused?” Domestic abuse, human rights and the family courts, found that nearly a quarter of suvivors (24 per cent) reported that they had been cross-examined by their abusive ex-partner during court hearings, which breaches survivors’ human right to be free from degrading treatment.

The report also uncovered systematic gender discrimination and a culture in the family courts that silences women by failing to uphold the human rights of survivors.

[From what the report reveals about the bias towards men in family courts, more needs to change than simply stopping abusers cross examining their victims in court, which the government has accepted but delayed enforcing for many months now – see more about the report’s findings here https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/2018/hss/family-courts-failing-to-uphold-human-rights-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse-according-to-queen-mary-report.html.]

SOSA demand proportionate payment for those abused at Shirley Oaks home

Image

BY TOBY PORTER

toby@slpmedia.co.uk

Historic child abuse victims are contemplating employing a top human rights lawyer after it emerged some of them will get the same compensation as people who were in care homes the same length of time but did not suffer abuse.

More than 400 victims of an organised paedophile ring within Lambeth’s children’s homes, going back as far as the 1950s, have now applied for payments under the town hall’s redress scheme.

But it has emerged in recent weeks that everyone who was placed in the homes for six months or more will get £10,000, whether or not they were victims of the ring.

Those who were just placed there for the same six-month period, but were not racially or sexually abused, will get the same £10,000 compensation.

Some people, who had previously been assessed as being entitled to, for example, £6,000 or £8,000 compensation for sexual or racial abuse they suffered, are not getting that extra compensation if they have already had their £10,000 payment for being in “harm’s way” – which anyone who was in the homes for more than six months is entitled to.

Some people assessed as entitled to £20,000, because of the abuse they suffered, are now getting another £10,000 on top of their £10,000 “Harm’s Way Payment” (HWP). But they are unhappy that they will not receive the £20,000 on top of the HWP.

… see more at 

Submission to Home Affairs Committee Immigration Detention Inquiry

Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) was founded in 1991. Women Against Rape (WAR) was founded in 1976. Together the two organisations have worked closely with women in detention, particularly in Yarl’s Wood IRC, over many years documenting the traumatic impact of rape and other violence on women’s asylum and immigration cases and helping women win justice and safety. BWRAP and WAR have been the primary support and vehicle by which women detainees have been able to publicise their complaints about the treatment and conditions inside detention.

In 2005 BWRAP and WAR contributed to “A Bleak House in Our Times: An Investigation into Women’s Rights Violations in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre”, which found that over 70% of women inside were victims of rape or other sexual violence prior to being detained. In 2015 the two organisations published “Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, documenting incidents of abuse of women detainees by guards over a decade.

CONDITIONS IN DETENTION AND TREATMENT BY GUARDS

•      Conditions in detention are harsh. Survivors or rape and other violence who are traumatised, suffer particularly from the isolation and abuse of detention. We have seen some groups say that detention serves no purpose. We disagree. Based on what women describe to us we have no doubt that a primary aim of detention is to inflict harm onto people with the purpose of instilling fear in them and others; that is a form of domestic terrorism.

•      Women’s complaints include the torment and injustice of indefinite detention, being separated from children and other family and friends, violence from guards, being denied much-needed health care,  inadequate, inedible food and having their asylum claims sabotaged by guards. In some cases, a self-help guide by Legal Action for Women, which we send to every woman that contacts us, has been confiscated and was only returned after protests.

•      Violence during enforced deportations continues. We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, and one of their members was recently deported. She was strapped across her chest into the seat and had two guards, one on each side holding her down. She suffers from extremely high blood pressure and she was trying to call out and signal that she was in terrible distress. Eventually, an air steward intervened. She arrived in her country of origin weak and traumatised and later described to us by phone that nearly died.  The 24 March audio recording of a man in distress during a deportation confirms that violence from guards is common.

HUNGER STRIKE

•      In February 2018, women and men detainees in Yarl’s Wood went on hunger strike raising demands which we list below. We urge the Home Affairs Committee to act on these demands.

•      Bail applications to be speeded up:  Legally they should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.

•      Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.

•      End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.

•      End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications and no time to make arrangements with family members.

•      No more re-detention. No-one should be re-detained if you are complying with the law.

•      Stop separating families. Some women inside are married or have British partners and children outside.

•      No detention of people who came to the UK as children. They should not be punished for their parents’ immigration histories.

•      The beds need to be changed. Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed and they are the most uncomfortable beds.

•      LGBT+ people’s sexuality to be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.

•      Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre. Only some rooms have them, and people have got very ill in places where they can’t call for help.

•      Access to proper healthcare. Women with serious conditions have been left for days without treatment.

•      Nutritious food.

•      Release people with outstanding asylum and immigration applications.

The hunger striker’s statement describes conditions inside as “torture”:

At any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal have their privacy taken away because officers come in without warning. You don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later.”

•      None of the serious issues which hunger strikers are raising over and over again have been addressed or investigated with any sense of urgency.

RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE.

•      BWRAP and WAR’s 2015 Dossier Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre documented serious abuse by guards that Serco, the company that continues to run Yarl’s Wood, had either ignored or actively covered up. The situation we documented has not changed. Yarl’s Wood remains open and Serco remains in charge. Shamefully in 2014 the government renewed its contract to run Yarl’s Wood.

•      Our Dossier contained complaints from current and former detainees, collected from hundreds received between 2005 and 2015 including:

•      A rape survivor from Uganda reported a male guard entering her room when she was semi-naked, causing her to be re-traumatised.

•      Several women reported that strip searching and suicide watch made them feel humiliated: “Male guards are present when women are strip searched.” “If you are put on suicide watch the guards watch you when you go to the toilet, they come into your room when you are sleeping. I woke up and a guard was standing over me shining a light in my face. I was very scared.”

•      A pregnant woman reported a guard repeatedly propositioning her for sex and witnessed the same happening to other women: “He flirted with me. I was scared, fragile and pregnant. The guards double date the women. Some women believe that a guard has their best interests at heart but they are easily taken in because they have no other option to get help. Guards give the impression that they have the power to get women released.”

•      Some women reported that guards preyed on their vulnerability and desperation to abuse them. “If you have to open your legs you will. You think that is the only way that you are able to speak to your family. You have to give in.”

FALSE CLAIMS THAT CONDITIONS IN DETENTION HAVE IMPROVED

•      In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee (20 March 2018) Serco claimed that conditions inside Yarl’s Wood had improved. The Serco representatives cited evidence given before them from the organisation Women for Refugee Women that women inside Yarl’s Wood were no longer complaining about the conditions but only about the process:

We have got better over the last two to three years and the debate among the NGOs is now less about Serco running a place that is cruel and inhumane to saying that conditions are “good” in the Centre and that the main complaints about are the process that people are in.”

•      We strongly disagree with these claims. The hunger strike and list of demands from women inside cited above confirm that women are still suffering serious injustices and abuse.

“ADULTS AT RISK” POLICY

•      The new “Adults at Risk” policy issued in September 2016 was meant to address the public outcry about victims or rape and other torture suffering further trauma as a result of detention in the UK.  But the policy was almost unanimously criticised as a step backwards.

•      Women for Refugee Women (WFRW) were the only organisation to publicly welcome the policy on the grounds that it appeared to concede to some of their proposals on detention. Other prestigious organisations providing legal and other assistance to people in detention called for “an urgent review before the policy was implemented” on the grounds that the new policy put vulnerable people at more risk of detention. It defined “torture” in a more limited way (excluding victims of domestic violence and violence by “non state agents”).

•      This change was clearly sexist in that women are more likely to have suffered domestic violence and/or have the torture and other violence they suffered assessed as “non political”. It also gave the Home Office the power to prioritise ‘any immigration control factors’ over a person’s vulnerability. We immediately saw a change in that more rape and domestic violence victims were detained or found it harder to get released.

•      One women who contacted Women Against Rape from Yarl’s Wood was refused bail even though she reported to medical staff that she was suffering nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD because Yarl’s Wood reminded her of being held in detention in Uganda (where she suffered multiple gang rape by soldiers).  Women Against Rape’s independent expert evidence about her experiences was dismissed and instead assertions made by medical staff that detention wasn’t having a negative impact were relied on to keep her in detention.

•      As the Committee will know the “Adults at Risk” policy was in October 2017 ruled unlawful.  We are calling for it to be scrapped altogether.

DEPORTATION IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO DETENTION

•      We note that there is a push in some quarters for the alternative to detention to be an increase in so-called voluntary returns. The Home Office is spending over £30 million, including on funding voluntary organisations and charities, to manipulate and force asylum seekers and refugees to ‘volunteer’ to be deported. There is widespread and growing opposition to this.  Whatever recommendations the Committee makes it cannot be acceptable for detention to be reduced by fast tracking people out of the UK regardless of the risks they may face on return.

DEMANDS

·         We support the demands of the hunger strikers listed above and we urge the Home Affairs Committee to press for their implementation.

·         We take our lead from women asylum seekers who are demanding an end to detention and deportation.

We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, a 100 strong group of women asylum seekers. In a recent statement they commented:

“We all have the right to be here in the UK. African and other Third World people have contributed over centuries to the wealth in the UK. We have suffered enough through imperial conquest, slave trades, proxy wars, Western backed dictatorships, rape and other torture…and through long treacherous journeys getting to the UK. We demand the right to asylum, safety and protection.”

Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape
26 April 2018