Yarl’s Wood: Women on Hunger Strike “Our rights in here are being violated every day – we’ve had enough”

Over 100 women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre began a hunger strike on Wednesday 21 February.  The women from Avocet and Dove units along with a few men on the family wing are refusing food and are planning further protests. They have issued a statement with demands which include:

1. Shorter bail request period. Legally bail applications should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.

2. Amnesty to give legal status to those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.

3. End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.
4. End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications, which leaves no time to make arrangements with family members.

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

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

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

9. 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.

10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.

11. 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.

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

13. Give us proper, nutritious food.

14. Release people with outstanding applications.

15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt, MP for the constituency.

The 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.”

Ms L who spoke from Yarl’s Wood to Ms Titah from the All African Women’s Group[i] commented:

“Some of us are victims of rape and other torture including human trafficking.  Even when we have scars and other physical injuries and suffer trauma we’re told by staff who have no qualifications that there is nothing wrong – all to justify keeping us locked up. 

Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape reported that over 70% of women in Yarl’s Wood are rape survivors and documented that women have endured “a regime of predatory sexual abuse” from guards over years. The government’s refusal to investigate and hold those to account has led MPs to describe it as “state sanctioned abuse.”

Ms L continues:

“A lot of medical conditions are going untreated here.  We can’t get appointments to see doctors . . . women fall ill with low or high blood pressure but all we’re given is paracetomal – it is very dangerous.  Last month one woman was ill for days and ignored until she collapsed.  They rushed her to Bedford hospital at 3am and she needed a blood transfusion. 

“Detention is mental torture. . . .  Some have been there a year. . . .  We try for bail but even when we have all the documentation we are turned down and left in limbo.  One judge routinely refuses everyone’s applications no matter what.  Some of us have paid thousands of pounds to private lawyers – it’s a money making racket”.

Women say they are not going to give up and are planning further action on Monday.

For interviews with women please call: 07456525227

 

[i] A group of women asylum seekers based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

Supreme Court today: rape victims vs Theresa May and police

Featured

UPDATE: The Supreme Court upheld the women’s claim – a significant victory for all rape survivors!

Today 21 February, the Supreme Court will give the verdict on a police appeal to overturn a high court decision which protects rape victims.  This shameful appeal was backed by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Biased and negligent police investigations are a major reason the conviction rate for reported rape remains a disgraceful 6%.  For decades victims of rape have fought for their right to thorough investigations and for the gathering of evidence that could result in the prosecution of their attackers.  In the John Warboys case (prosecuted in 2009), police hostility to his victims enabled him to sexually assault over 100 women with impunity.  One victim spoke publicly about how the police laughed in her face at her reporting a taxi driver.

In a pathbreaking case in 2014, two of Warboys’ victims used Article 3 of the Human Rights Act to uphold their right to state protection from serious violence (police investigation of crime), and won damages for inhuman and degrading treatment.

Other victims had previously taken similar legal actions. In 2012 Ms X won compensation from the Met after suing the police for breach of policy on the investigation of rape.  Ms X worked with WAR for seven years to uncover what went wrong.  After an in-depth IPCC investigation which spelled out the most horrendous police incompetence and negligence, she took the case through the civil court using this same Article 3 (and Article 8) and was awarded £15,000. The victim’s mother, who worked tirelessly for justice against the systemic police problems on child rape exposed by her daughter’s case said, “When you walk into a police station to report rape you expect the police to investigate thoroughly. I was devastated when they didn’t, because I’d encouraged my daughter to report against her wishes and felt I had let her down.”

May’s support for this legal appeal gives the lie to her pledges to improve laws protecting women from violence.  She also wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, one of the only routes rape survivors have been able to use to hold the police to account, breaking with years of impunity.

May’s blatant hypocrisy is also exposed by her economic policy, slashing women’s escape routes from violence.

Philip Hammond’s budget announcement last year of £30m support for women hides the outrageous financial attacks on women by successive governments, which have increased women and children’s vulnerability to rape and domestic violence, and cut our protection and escape routes:

·       86% of austerity cuts have fallen on women, cutting helplines, refuges, legal aid and criminal injuries compensation;

·       17% of refuges have closed since 2010; 2 in 3 women, and 4 in 5 BME women are turned away from a refuge every day; refuges must compete for dwindling council funds against housing, roads, libraries, etc.; many will close under new proposals to cut housing benefit on which 50 % of refuges depend;

·       the children of mothers who report domestic violence and/or have been impoverished are taken from their mothers who are denied the support and protection they are entitled to; the number of children in care is the highest it’s been for 35 years; the UK has the highest adoption rate in Europe, 90% of it without the family’s consent; this amounts to punishment for mothers reporting rape;

·       victims of domestic violence are denied legal aid and forced to defend themselves against violent ex-partners in the family court; evidence of violence is dismissed and children are forced into contact or even to live with violent fathers, endangering and in some cases ending their lives;

·       women and children seeking asylum from rape and other torture have been refused entry, detained, made destitute and deported;

·       slashed benefits and punitive sanctions have forced mothers into low-waged zero hours jobs or prostitution to feed their kids;

·       sold off public housing has given free reign to profiteering landlords, forcing poor families away from their support networks.

We hope the Supreme Court, now headed by a distinguished woman, will support the rights of rape victims.

 

 

Number of complaints over police handling of sex attacks and domestic violence soars

See quote from WAR below.

Revelations prompt warnings that forces are failing the most vulnerable victims, with campaigners saying police response is ‘matter of life and death’

• Harriet Agerholm The Independent
• @HarrietAgerholm
• 17 February 2018

Domestic abuse accounts for eight per cent of all recorded crime

The number of complaints received by the police watchdog over officers’ handling of sexual assault and domestic violence cases has soared in the past five years, new figures reveal.

Officers have been accused of abusing their powers for sexual gain, falsifying evidence and committing perjury in cases that campaigners say show forces are failing the most vulnerable victims in society.

Complaints to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for officers working on domestic abuse cases rose four-fold between 2011-12 and 2016-17, according to data released to The Independent under freedom of information laws. The spike far exceeds an increase in reported crimes during the same period, with figures indicating a rise of 42 per cent.

The number of referrals also rose against officers dealing with rape, stalking and child sex abuse cases.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, which supports victims of domestic abuse, said alleged mistakes by the police could be a “matter of life and death”. According to the charity’s research 78 people were killed by a current or former partner in 2016.

Complaints to the IOPC – formerly the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) – are made by a force when it believes officers have failed to follow correct protocols.

In 2016-17 there were 342 referrals of officers dealing with domestic abuse cases, up from 83 in 2011-12.

The number of allegations against officers handling sexual assault and rape cases increased by 148 per cent to 206 referrals in 2016-17 – higher than the 130 per cent increase in reported crimes to the police.

Police chiefs last year asked the IOPC to look into 166 complaints about officer conduct in child sex abuse cases, including allegations that some were not investigated. There were 39 referrals in stalking cases in the same period. There were no complaints made to the body about the management of either of these types of crime in 2011-12.

The police handling of sexual assault cases has come under renewed attention after the Parole Board cleared serial sex attacker John Worboys’s for release from prison after he served nine years of an indefinite sentence.

The Metropolitan police has faced accusations of repeatedly failing Worboys’ victims. In 2010 the IPCC ruled that Worboys remain free because police officers made serious mistakes and failed to take victims seriously.

The overall number of referrals to the IOPC covering all types of crimes rose by 79 per cent over the same five-year period, after the watchdog criticised forces for attempting to deal with complaints internally.

Campaigners have warned that cases relating to domestic violence and sexual assault are particularly worrying because of the vulnerable nature of the victims.

They also said perpetrators of sexual attacks are likely to be repeat offenders, meaning failures in police investigations can lead to further attacks.

Concerns have also been raised about the lack of action taken against officers referred to the IOPC.

Of the hundreds of cases of alleged police misconduct in sex assault cases between 2011-12 and 2016-17, only 17 ended in sanctions for the individuals involved, freedom of information data reveals. Two of these officers were dismissed without notice, while three were given final written warnings.

In domestic abuse cases, 25 people faced sanctions over the same period, including 10 who were given written warnings. None of the officers accused of misconduct in domestic abuse cases were fired, the figures provided by the IOPC showed.

Lisa Longstaff, from Women Against Rape, said in her 30 years working with sexual assault victims, she had been “disgusted” by the low numbers of misconduct complaints that were upheld.

In cases where police officers abused their positions for sexual gain, this was particularly problematic, she said. “They don’t end up with a criminal record, they’re not convicted of rape, they don’t go on the sex offender’s register. And that has implications for future possibilities of abuse – getting jobs easily, working with other vulnerable people and possibly doing it again.

“Very occasionally they end up in court and get convicted, but mostly they get dealt with as a disciplinary matter. And that’s not acceptable. It effectively means they are above the law and that’s a very dangerous situation.”

Chief Constable Craig Guildford, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for complaints and misconduct, said the police were dealing with an increasing number of complex sexual offence cases.

“It is vital that we get our response to these right. We positively encourage people to report such offences and welcome the increased level of reporting which we recognise some people find incredibly difficult,” he said.

“We do everything possible to ensure that cases are investigated thoroughly, however, if somebody feels that this has not been the case, regardless of when it happened, it is absolutely right they seek an explanation and redress.

“Where a complaint is upheld we ensure that appropriate action is taken to address and learn from these failures.”

An IOPC spokesperson said: “Our independent investigations are both robust and thorough and where we find evidence of misconduct by officers we will refer our findings to the appropriate authority, or in the most serious cases the CPS.

“In just the last few weeks we have seen two officers charged by the CPS following an investigation in Essex and in Lancashire, a police officer was jailed for targeting vulnerable women. There are also many examples where we have directed forces to hold misconduct proceedings.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/police-officer-complaints-domestic-abuse-sexual-assault-cases-rise-watchdog-figures-a8214201.html

All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, & Women Against Rape 14/15 Feb @ LUSH Human Rights Summit

Performance: We are Here – because You are There
Our interactive play has been on tour to Coventry, Sheffield & the DSEI Stop to Arms Fair. Performed by asylum seekers from the All African Women’s Group, it depicts the real life injustices faced by rape survivors and others throughout the asylum process. Wed 14 Feb 1-2pm
Human Rights Room

Exhibition: For Those Who Died Trying
The dangers and issues faced by environmental rights
defenders in Thailand told through those who survived assassination attempts.
Filmed, photographed & edited by Luke Duggleby

Workshop/exhibition/films:
Support not Separation
Mothers speak of their struggle to keep and protect their children against unwarranted removal by social services and forced adoption. Plus art exhibition and protest films by Women Against Rape.
Wed 14 Feb 3-4pm
 

 

 

 

 

On the decision to release notorious serial sex offender John Warboys

MEDIA STATEMENT, by Women Against Rape 5 Jan 2017

There has been an outcry at the parole of Warboys after serving 10 years for 19 offences against 12 women. Yet the police say that other women had reported him, perhaps up to 100, but he is about to be released without being tried for these crimes.  Why didn’t the CPS take him back to court?  Will they do so now, or continue to let him get away with it?  If he asks for protection such as a new identity will the authorities continue to protect him?

The scandalous way this case has been handled is typical of how the criminal justice system protects violent men while dissing their victims – like the police officer who laughed in a woman’s face when she tried to report Warboys, the pattern of attacks that police did not connect for ages, his release on bail (when he committed 14 offences). One lawyer said her client’s evidence was so poorly gathered that the CPS could not take it to court. In a case like this the police seem to be committed to defending the rapist.

Safety and justice for the women he attacked and other potential victims has rarely been the priority.

Tragically this is not the only man who got off lightly for heavy and violent crime.  Serial rapists, child abusers, domestic murderers are routinely being let off to attack again – from the child abuse scandals in Rotherham and many other cities, to the murder of partners. Consider Theodore Johnson, who killed three partners, and Robert Trigg, who killed two partners and almost got away with claiming they were both accidental, except for an 8-year campaign by in-laws. Two women a week are killed by partners and former partners but stopping that terrorism which makes many more victims is never prioritised.

Some of Warboys’ victims sued the police for the refusal to properly investigate and won damages, but the police have appealed.  The judgement has not been released yet.  Can we expect them to get away again with this horrendous failing in their duty of care?

The government which is backing the police in their appeal against Warboys’ victims has also cut escape routes for women and children – from refuges to public housing to benefits.

Once again rapists will get the message: if you committed one of the 6.5 % of rapes that ended in conviction, you may feel unlucky, but need not feel guilty.

Model letter to MPs re compensation – please use

Please adjust accordingly and send this letter to your local MP (find your MP’s name and contact details here)

[your address or email]

Dear [insert full name of MP]

As your constituent I urge you to take action to update the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme for victims of crime, in particular for victims of rape and other sexual violence.

I am part of a grassroots campaign of survivors who are being treated extremely unfairly by the Scheme. We are working with Women Against Rape to spell out the main ways in which the Scheme discriminates against us as women and children victims of crime.

My experience of claiming compensation was…[insert one/two paragraphs – OPTIONAL].

Winning justice and compensation is official recognition and a crucial step to recovery. We appeal to you to support our campaign to change the following rules and practices:

  1. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) denies compensation to victims who delayed reporting to the police – Paragraph 23.
    As you may know, rape can be so traumatic to the victim that they may be unable to speak about it for some years. Many of us also experience shame, and pressure from others to stay silent.
  2. Living under thesame roof with your attacker before October 1979 disqualifies you from receiving compensation – Paragraph 19.
    Before 1979 the rule was that if your attacker lived in the same household as you, you were not entitled to compensation. It denies compensation to victims even those whose rapist was convicted. The excuse was that your attacker might benefit from your award. In 1979 that rule was abolished, but it was not made retrospective. Therefore, if you were raped before 1979, the discredited rule continues to apply to you. Between 2008-2013, for example, 502 victims of rape were denied an award under this discredited rule.

Since the Savile scandal more victims raped as children were encouraged to come forward, but are then denied compensation. A significant proportion of all rapes are committed by family members, and these crimes are among the most abusive and injurious. Retrospective payments must be awarded to those denied.

  1. Victims of rape who have criminal convictions are denied compensation – Paragraphs 25-27.
    Since 2015, at least 385 victims of sexual violence had been refused because of a conviction.[1] Convictions for non-violent and minor offences, including theft, drink-driving or an unpaid TV licence are routinely used to deny victims an award. The CICA claims that the state having once prosecuted us nullifies any claim we have for compensation as it was a drain on public resources. Instead, they should value the public service we performed of bringing a rapist to justice, protecting everyone’s safety. In any case, they punish us twice – first for the crime that we committed, and secondly for the crime against us. This affects some of the most vulnerable victims, penalising those who may have been criminalised as a result of the rape trauma they have endured. Victims often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to soothe their pain, and then get convicted. Sex workers face moralistic judgements on their ‘character and conduct’, even those without criminal convictions. We don’t want divisive moral judgements by the CICA as either good or bad victims.
  2. Time limit – Paragraphs 87-89.
    There is a two year time limit after the crime to make a claim to the CICA, or if it occurred when the victim was a child, two years from our 18th birthday. This rule disregards the common delays and pressures we face in rape investigations and trials. Sexual crimes take a notoriously long time to investigate and get to and through court. Also, the police advise victims not to claim until the end of a trial as defence barristers often argue that compensation is a motive for a false allegation. Such delays may put your claim out of time through no fault of your own. Secondly, the trauma of rape and the prosecution process (often called ‘the second rape’) prevents many victims from applying within two years. The time limit must be extended to at least five years, longer for those raped as children.
  3. Victims have to co-operate with the prosecution as far as reasonably possible – Paragraph 23.
    WAR has worked with victims who were denied compensation despite being sexually propositioned by their investigating officer, and with others who got dismissive sexist or racist treatment from the police. Yet these flagrant abuses of power were not considered by the CICA as legitimate reasons for victims to withdraw from the prosecution. Also, if the police are hostile and give evidence against us getting an award, the CICA invariably values their word over the victim’s.
  4. There is no legal aid and unrepresented survivors can face extremely hostile and upsetting questioning by CICA lawyers.
    It can be even worse than in criminal courts – with questions like, what we wore and why we didn’t scream. CICA appeals which are held in private, evading public scrutiny, have fallen behind updated protection for vulnerable witnesses in criminal and other courts. The CICA internal guidance for questioning vulnerable witnesses is neither public nor transparent and evades legal challenge.
  5. Victims below 16, the legal age of consent, are denied compensation.
    So far over 700 girls since 2012 were refused compensation as the CICA decided they had ‘consented to sex’, even where their attacker had been prosecuted in criminal court. So the rape of children as defined in law is not necessarily illegal for the CICA. How can the CICA be allowed to contradict the criminal law in this way? Embarrassing publicity recently forced the government to think again about definitions of rape of children. But they only told the CICA to take ‘grooming’ into account. Not all girls who were raped by older men were first groomed and therefore the CICA can still say they consented.

As you may be aware, compensation is often the only official acknowledgement of rape we get, given the low conviction rate of 6%.

In addition, an award can speed recovery practically, as many women suffer catastrophic mental and physical injuries: years of suicidal thoughts, sleeplessness, substance abuse and the inability to relate to people. Those with mental health problems struggle to get treatment from the depleted NHS and dwindling therapeutic services — many face years on a waiting list and rationed appointments. In addition, we suffer life changing impacts such as losing a job, eviction, marital breakdown, being unable to cope with children, fear of public transport . . .

The basic award for rape is a mere £11,000, and this does not stretch far. Amounts should be increased, and decisions speeded up. There is a minefield of rules which put people off, as described above. Most don’t even know the Scheme exists or applies to them.

Please contact me urgently to discuss what you can do to help. We aim to gather a group of MPs to take action with us. Please support this campaign so that victims of sexual crimes are no longer blamed for an attack we suffered, and get the urgent help and acknowledgement we need in order to recover.

Please also copy your reply to Women Against Rape (war@womenagainstrape.net) with whom I am working against gross injustice.

Yours sincerely,

[put your name]

Copy to Women Against Rape

[1] Independent, 28 October 2017 Hundreds of sexual assault victims refused compensation for minor convictions; See also Rape victims denied compensation for petty convictions – Guardian and Hundreds of rape victims denied compensation in Scottish Herald

Campaign update – survivor Alissa Moore in Parliament

Alissa Moore, a rape survivor we are working with in our campaign for compensation got her MP Iain Stewart to raise the issues in Parliament on 23 Nov. WAR was quoted and thanked for our work. Alissa was raped from aged 7-15 by her father, yet she was refused compensation because they lived in the same house (known as the ‘same roof rule’). We urged the MP to make a broader case about victims turned down under other bad rules – and he did speak about victims with criminal records and children deemed to have consented – which is a victory!

Read the speech by the MP and the government reply here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-11-23/debates/C81A68B2-0DD4-43B8-8F9A-BEF49B6373FA/SameRoofRuleFamilialSexualAbuseCases

For other legal challenges and campaigning to change the Same Roof Rule, see work by lawyer Andrew Perriman at Teesside Law Clinic.

Scottish Herald: Christina McHugh, 27, raped when she was just 11, was denied compensation because of a conviction

Scottish Herald, 4 November 2017

HUNDREDS of rape victims are being denied compensation after committing ‘minor’ criminal offences, The Herald can reveal.

It is estimated that at least 500 women have seen their claims rejected by the UK Government‘s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) since 2010.

The scheme, which is funded with public money, is designed to give financial payments to victims of violent crime.

But under its rules, the CICA must turn down claims for anyone given a community sentence by the courts.

The policy has been described as “cruel” by campaigners for rape victims while a leading lawyer described it as a cynical attempt to save money.

Christina McHugh, 27, was raped by a family friend when she was just 11 and went on to suffer many years of mental health problems as a result of the crime.

However, when she later applied for compensation, she was refused and told she was not entitled to the payment of up to £27,000 because of an unspent conviction.

“I was a kid when I was raped and the fact hundreds of women are turned down is completely disrespectful to what happened to us,” she said.

“People could have something brutal happen to them, but they do not get compensation because of a conviction that is completely unrelated. It is ridiculous.”

Prior to 2012 CICA rules said anyone claiming could have a compensation award stopped or reduced if a conviction made their character “inappropriate”.

But the powers of discretion were removed in 2012 and the numbers of victims missing out on compensation has risen since then.

At least 500 women have had their claims rejected since 2010, including several dozen in Scotland.

The organisation Women Against Rape (WAR) is appealing for those affected by CICA rules to join a campaign to have them changed.

Lisa Longstaff, spokeswoman for WAR, said “CICA don’t seem to be taking account of the pain and suffering that sexual offences cause people.

“It is very cruel to deny women who have suffered such a serious assault, on the basis of often very minor convictions.”

Ms McHugh was raped in 1997 by James McCracken, who was convicted of the crime in 2015 after the testimony of two other women who were sexually assaulted by him in similar circumstances was used in corroboration under the Moorov Doctrine.

Three years before making a claim to CICA, Ms McHugh was convicted of assault after intervening in a fracas in the street outside her home.

A man with a pole was advancing on two women, who she claims she was trying to protect. She was later convicted of assaulting the man.

However, in a letter, CICA said Ms McHugh’s conviction was unspent and so she was not entitled to the payment of up to £27,000 to which she might otherwise be entitled.

“I am therefore unable to make an award of compensation… please note I have no discretion,” an official at the agency wrote. “I am sorry to send what I know will be disappointing news.”

Ms McHugh is attempting to appeal the decision but has been told her bid is unlikely to be successful.

Ms McHugh said she felt her conviction was unfair, but had accepted it and completed an 18-month community payback order.

She is now backing a change in the CICA rules. “If these are the rules, I want them changed for other women like me,” she said.

Peter Garsden, a partner with Manchester-based Simpson Millar, and president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, said abuse can leave people vulnerable, with mental health problems and drug or alcohol additions. All of these issues can lead people into conflict with the law, he said.

“These rules deny a lot off vulnerable, worthy individuals justice from the government,” he said.

“It is frankly appalling that the CICA want to blame the victims of abuse when the convictions were obtained a number of years after the offence they suffered.

“Particularly when people were children at the time a crime was committed against them they were blameless.

“Sexual abuse can leave people with a distrust of authority, often people blot out their experiences with addiction to alcohol or drugs, while others have mental health problems brought on by the abuse.

“CICA is passing judgement on the victims of abuse which is very unfair and unjust.”

Mr Garsden added: “I have been involved in these cases for 25 years and the scheme has got progressively more mean and unfair.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said:”There are criteria to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not paid to applicants who may have caused distress, loss or injury to another person, or committed another criminal offence, and as a result incurred costs through police investigations or court proceedings.

“As part of our work to develop a strategy for victims, we will be examining the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. This work will also incorporate recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.”

 

 

Hundreds of sex assault victims refused compensation due to criminal convictions

Independent

Refusing money on basis of offence records ‘a new form of victim-blaming’, says Shadow minister

The Government’s compensation body, CICA, has been routinely rejecting survivors’ claims when it emerges they have a conviction of any severity Getty

Hundreds of alleged sexual assault victims have been refused compensation because they have a criminal record, The Independent can reveal.

The Government’s compensation body, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), has been routinely rejecting survivors’ claims when it emerges they have a conviction of any severity.

Offences can range from petty crimes to more serious ones, and critics say the practice is tantamount to “a new form of victim-blaming”.

Survivors of rape and other sexual crimes are able to claim money from the Ministry of Justice’s compensation authority to help them pay for expenses associated with their attack, including counselling, improving their security or moving away from their attacker.

But figures obtained by The Independent show at least 398 alleged victims of sex abuse have been refused payments since January 2015 because they were convicted of some sort of crime.

Research into the compensation process has previously found that convictions for non-violent or minor offences, including theft or failing to pay for a TV licence, are routinely used as reasons to withhold money from alleged victims.

The Independent spoke to one woman who was convicted of drink-driving a year after she was raped by a minicab driver. She said she was scared to take taxis following the attack.

The CICA reduced her payment by 30 per cent because of the driving offence. “It was another knock down,” she said. “How does that relate to what happened to me a year before?”

The Independent’s findings come amid increased scrutiny of the CICA, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. In July, charities warned the body had denied hundreds of sexually abused children compensation on the grounds they gave consent. The Ministry of Justice said it was “urgently reviewing” its guidelines following the revelations.

But the MoJ has since told The Independent it was only assessing its recommendations in grooming cases and was not considering changing the basic rules of the scheme. There were no plans to stop using criminal convictions as reasons to reject victims’ claims, the MoJ said.

Data obtained from the CICA under freedom of information laws shows criminal records were a factor in refusing at least 161 sexual assault victims’ compensation in 2015. Another 106 victims with convictions were rejected in 2016 and, in the five months to 2 June of this year alone, at least 131 cases were.

The data does not account for the number of victims who had their compensation reduced rather than completely rejected.

The CICA said it was only able to give the number of rejections based on keyword searches of their database, meaning the numbers could be higher. London-based charity Women Against Rape is calling for the MoJ to make the compensation system more transparent, claiming it is withholding funds from victims on arbitrary grounds.

READ MORE

“You can’t tell the discrimination through the figures that are available and that’s what we would like to be able to do,” said a spokeswoman for the charity, Lisa Longstaff.

“The compensation authority has lagged behind the standards of the criminal courts because it is not subject to public scrutiny in the same way.”

CICA payments were “crucial” to victims, she said, because of the psychological effects of rape and sexual assault.

“It’s not like they need aromatherapy to make them feel better. We’re talking about serious, enduring mental health problems. It’s hard to get anything now from the NHS,” she said.

Rape can have a profound effect on a person’s circumstances and compensation money was often used to made victims feel safer, she added. “You may have been made homeless. You might not be able to function and could have dropped out of a job,” she said.

“You may need to improve your security. Or you may need to move – not that it’s enough to buy a house.”

Compensation payouts for sexual assault cases range from £1,000 to £44,000, with a victim of a rape committed by one attacker allocated around £11,000.

“You may be unable to travel – a lot of people find they can’t go out after dark or they can’t take public transport,” she added. “There’s all sorts of ways your personal freedom gets limited by such an attack – and it incurs costs.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “This appears to be another example of victim-blaming. Victims of serious sexual offences should not be being punished in this way by the CICA.”

As well as condemning the practice, he called for reform where there is evidence a victim’s offence is tied to their attack. “The Government must urgently review this situation to ensure that when offences are committed as a direct result of the abuse they have suffered, women receive the compensation they are due,” he said.

A spokesperson from the MoJ said: “The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme provides taxpayer-funded awards to victims of violent crime.

“As it is a taxpayer-funded scheme, it is designed to ensure the most rigorous of decision-making processes based on the full facts of the case. This includes cases where an applicant may have caused harm to another person, or committed another criminal offence.”

They said victims’ criminal convictions were not necessarily the sole factor in rejecting their compensation claims.

Rachel Almeida, Head of Policy at the independent charity Victim Support said: “That hundreds of sexual assault survivors are denied compensation because of this rule is cause for concern and can lead to the re-victimisation of some of the most vulnerable people, including victims of child sexual abuse.

“The application of criminal injuries compensation should be more proportionate so that victims of the most serious of offences are not denied compensation for what can sometimes be the most minor of convictions, such as not paying their TV licence.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/sex-assault-victims-refused-compensation-criminal-convictions-a8012011.html