International Women’s Day – Strike

Friday 8 March protest 12-2pm at Royal Courts of Justice WC2A 2LL:

We invite you to join and speak out at the International Women’s Strike event this Friday.

We’ll be highlighting sexual violence including:

-Putting the family court on trial for removing children from their mother after they report rape or domestic violence;
-Our campaign with the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union demanding an end to sexual harassment, zero hour contracts, starvation wages and benefit cuts;
-Putting the government on trial for detention, destitution and deportation of rape survivors seeking asylum.

More info here https://www.facebook.com/GlobalWomensStrike/
Tel: 020 7482 2496
Please share in your networks.
Twitter #IntWomenStrike2019

All women, children and non binary people welcome.

2.30: SOAS Cloisters – Decolonising Our Minds and Payday men’s network hosting the Strikers with food, exhibits, film screenings. SOAS University of London, Bloomsbury, London WC1H 0XG. Everyone Welcome.

Government announces scrapping of ‘same roof’ rule

This government press release was published on 28 Feb 2019, a victory for all those who campaigned against the discriminatory rules of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/access-to-compensation-scheme-for-victims-who-lived-with-their-attacker

The ‘same roof’ rule had been used to deny compensation to anyone who had been sexually attacked before 1979 by someone living in the same house (for attacks after that date the rule had been set aside, but continued to be applied retrospectively to cases before 1979).

After years of legal challenges, a woman’s case in 2018 was won, establishing that this rule was unjust.

The government has been forced by this case and weight of public opinion to finally concede that this rule must be scrapped. They are now suggesting that victims reapply, or apply for the first time. They are also in the process of a wider review if the scheme, and will release the results later in the year.

Union launches campaign against sexual harassment in hospitality

Published in The Caterer

THURSDAY, JANUARY 10TH 2019, 10:07
WRITTEN BY: EMMA LAKE

The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) has launched a campaign against sexual harassment in the fast food and hospitality industries.

The union has joined forces with Women Against Rape to launch the campaign. The charity said: “Sexual violence in the hospitality industry is much more common than we all think. We don’t exactly know how common because most people don’t tell anyone. Abusers count on the victim being afraid to report it, scared that she may lose her job if she is not believed, or even if she is.”

BFAW hopes the campaign will encourage victims of sexual violence to report abuse. The two groups have said those in low-paying roles, on zero-hour contracts or with insecure immigration status may be particularly vulnerable and fear coming forward.

Woman Against Rape added: “Things are changing. Decades of campaigning by organisations like ours, individual women and other survivors who fought back, and the advent of social media have enabled global movements like #MeToo. This has encouraged workers in the hospitality industry to come forward.

“But it is hard to speak out if you don’t know your rights and you don’t know if your union is going to back you or you don’t have a union. The BFAWU has come to Women Against Rape because it wants to ensure that workers can report any abuse, win justice and stop any further violence. We are very glad about that and want to support in every way we can.”

More details of the campaign, and advice on how to report an incident, can be found here.

Men behaving badly: how to protect your staff from harassment>>

BULLIED INTO “VOLUNTARY” RETURNS

At a recent All African Women’s Group meeting, the chair asked whether any women in the group had experience of being forced to sign to return to their country of origin or knew of others that had been. What we found out that many women had been taken into back rooms, in detention or when they went to sign on, kept for hours, refused access to a lawyer and sometimes even to something to drink and bullied, harassed, threatened, lied to and abused to try to make them sign to return “voluntarily”. And we how women were determined, brave and creative in the ways they resisted.

Primrose: I was forced to sign. When I refused they kept me for so many hours. And I wasn’t well. I asked them to call my lawyer, but they said I’m not allowed. It was really depressing. After two hours of arguing the guy realised that I wasn’t well and he called his manager. They then allowed me to call my lawyer. The lawyer told them that she wanted to see the paper before I signed anything but the manager said “no it’s against the law”. They were arguing on the phone for so long. The guy was saying something different to the lawyer, and I was arguing in the background saying “that’s not what you told me, you were telling me that this is your “Voluntary” Return letter, but now you are explaining something else.” He said that I’m very rude and don’t want to cooperate, and just changed the whole story. Eventually the lawyer said “I’m putting it on record that you forced her to sign “Voluntary” Return”. The guy said “I don’t care, I’m just carrying out the rules.” I was forced to sign it. I got the lawyer through a charity organisation and the lawyer said that they shouldn’t have allowed me to go there. I feel bullied and the Home Office threatened me a lot. And then denied it.

Eliza: I applied for asylum and after four months, they sent me a letter for an interview. I went there and they said they just wanted to know if I’ve made up my mind to go. I said no! They detained me for six hours. The funniest thing was the guy who held me was an immigrant himself. He said, “so why do you want to tie yourself to a country that is not your origin”. And I’m like, “is this your country of origin as well?” Then he said “you’re very rude, you need to cooperate.”

I said “I don’t understand, I’ve got an appeal here and you’re asking me to return.” He said “but that’s what the country is saying”. And I said “well I’m telling the country I’m not going nowhere.”

I was really stressed out. When they released me, I was just walking on the main road and I was confused. I wrote to the Home Office about what they did to me, but they denied everything. They said that they were just asking me questions and I wasn’t co-operating. 

Hope: I went to sign and I was pregnant then. I went in and sat down and a lady came and was asking how long have I lived there. She told me that I have to sign this. And I said can I speak to my lawyer. And she said “no you are not allowed”. I said “wow, but I’m not going to sign anything I don’t know about. I don’t have my glasses I can’t even see, so I’m not going to sign it.” She said “okay that means I will be here today. I’m not ready to go home.” I said “Even in my condition?” She said “yes I don’t care, you are being stubborn.” So she left me. She came back with one man. The man was talking to me saying I know you are from Nigeria.” After more hours I fell on the floor, sick. I said I am pregnant and they got scared. They brought in a nurse and brought me some water. In the end they let me go.

Marie: I was locked in too. Not once, but twice. They were trying to force me to sign travel documents. You have to think what to do. They say to me “you need to sign this, you need to sign this”. I said “why would I sign travel documents when I have a passport?” They did it to me in the detention centre and they also did it to me when I went to sign on at London Bridge.

When I was in the detention centre, I said to the strict man “listen boss, I want to sign this for you, but I really can’t because I need to take it with me.” So I took it to my room and I said “I need a couple of days to think about it.”  So you’re showing them that you’re cooperating, but you’re not signing. You ain’t going anywhere.

In London Bridge, one officer was kind enough to say to me “do you have anything in with the Home Office? You need to put something in, because they’re serious about this. They’re going to try and deport you.” He was nice; he was trying to warn me.

Chair’s summary: There are times when you’ve cried, when you’ve shouted, and there are six people against you, and you are in a place where nothing can happen. I think it’s horrible. That’s what I went through. I was in a police cell for three days without any reason. It’s very sad, that the system can gang up against you. You feel like a block of bees are after you. Afterwards, I took time to really feel back. I don’t want anybody to go through it again.

That’s what we do in the All African Women’s Group. We have to document this. I always wanted to have the opportunity to do that, for everybody’s experience to be out there. Because it’s all hidden. Nobody would report this except us.

Now, we’ve got a statement against forced voluntary returns. We know it is a problem because they won’t tell you it’s forced, they will try to pretend that it’s one of the options. But it’s not. We heard how women were forced to sign to agree to go back. Remember, they have started closing detention centres, which could mean that there will be faster deportations. It means that the government is always finding an alternative, a different way to deport us. So we have a job to do, to ask people to sign this statement to help us, help my sisters, help my brothers to stop forced voluntary returns. Are we going to do that?

Chorus: YES

Observation from Women of Colour, Global Women’s Strike:

This is non-violent, direct action for self-defence. People talk about taking direct action, lying down in the road, stopping vans… and this is part of that. This is how we save ourselves. And these are good tips for all of us because when we’re poor they’re always after us for something. So we can use these tactics everywhere.

December 2018

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

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

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

Read WAR’s blogpost on the BFAWU website.

STOP PRESS: TWENTY ONE WOMEN RELEASED – HUNGER STRIKE SUSPENDED

The hunger strike of over 40 women in Yarl’s Wood IRC which started on Monday night in protest at eight women being taken from detention and forced onto a charter flight back to Nigeria, has been suspended.

Four women (and one woman’s partner) DID NOT FLY.  But shamefully the Home Office deported two women with severe walking disabilities in wheelchairs

Speaking to Black Women’s Rape Action Project which with the All African Women’s Group has been providing daily support to the hunger strikers, Mercy, one of the women said:

“We are suspending the hunger strike but will continue to protest and speak out. . . the pressure has not stopped –  another charter flight is being planned to remove our Latina sisters from tomorrow . . . the Home Office tell us nothing they just come for us in the night . . . they have many ways to torture us . . . the system is wrecking our health. . . they are trying to break us down and isolate from our support networks and lawyer . . .   We know people are with us and we thank everyone for their tremendous support. Every message helps us to keep our spirits up.”

Since the strike began national and international messages of support have poured in including from Maru Mora Villalpando, North West Detention Center Resistance and the Latino advocacy organisation a grassroots undocumented led movement in Washington State, USA that works to end the detention of immigrants and stop all deportations.

People will have seen the migrant caravan which has arrived at the Mexican/US border. But what is never mentioned is the US responsibility for destabilising countries – for example it backed a coup in Honduras against elected President Manuel Zelaya and the resulting persecution, poverty and violence forced people to flee their homes.

As ever women – the primary carers for children and loved ones — bear the brunt of unjust immigration policies.  Over 70% of women who contact us from Yarl’s Wood are victims of rape and other violence.  We support women’s demands to

  • Close all detention centres and release people so we can pursue our right to remain
  • Stop all charter flights – like the Windrush generation, many people are illegally deported when they still have ongoing cases
  • We demand to know what has happened to our disabled sisters and all who were deported on Tuesday night.  If five came back, maybe none should have been on the flight!

For more information or to interview women please call on 07456 525 227 or email us.

Black Women’s Rape Action Project 020 7482 2496  @bwrap1

1 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What about my rights?’

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

She was just 14 when she met him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following changes are urgently needed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood – “Release us and close this place down.”

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Over 40 women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre have gone on hunger strike protesting against a charter flight (Tues 27 Nov) that will take traumatised women back to Nigeria.  Women from many different countries including, Bolivia, China, Ghana, Malawi, Mauritius, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Zambia, have come together to take this action.

A case currently in court of people (known as the Stansted 15) who blocked a charter flight from taking off in 28 March 2017, has brought to light the terrible brutality of these pre-booked flights. People are scooped up, sometimes regardless of the status of their legal case, and forced onto planes to fill seats.

One of the women in the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women asylum seekers and refugees, was on the flight that was stopped by the Stansted 15 last March. She says:

I’ve lived in Britain for almost 30 years and have indefinite leave to remain – yet I was taken from my home to Yarl’s Wood and put on a flight within six days despite my lawyer’s protests to the Home Office – I was so thankful to the young people for stopping this flight, they saved mine and other people’s lives.”

Women in Yarl’s Wood are also protesting appalling conditions inside[1],[2]. A dossier[3] by Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape documented a decade of rape and sexual abuse by guards, much of which was covered up by Serco, the multi-national company which was granted a £70 million contract to run the centre. Christine Case died there in 2014 due to lack of medical care. [4]

Fidelia from Bolivia spoke to BWRAP, which is co-ordinating support for the hunger strikers, saying that she is severely distressed at being detained.

I came to the UK for safety as my life was threatened by drug gangs after I spoke out. I’ve been in the UK for over 11 years. I’m a cancer survivor and I need to see a specialist but all I’ve been given is paracetamol! I’ve been held here for seven months for no reason.”

Another woman commented:
We haven’t had the chance to have a proper legal process. The Home Office has been refusing evidence and documents and want to send us back without even looking at our cases. Being here is mentally disturbing – everyone is damaged, physically and emotionally.”

The chief inspector of prisons condemned Yarl’s Wood as ‘a place of national concern’.

Women inside Yarl’s Wood are demanding: an end to charter flights, the closure of detention centres, the reinstatement of legal aid for immigration cases, an end to mothers being separated from their children by detention and for rape and sexual abuse to be recognised as torture and therefore grounds for asylum.

Women are available for interviews – please call Cristel on 07456 525227

[1] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-06-20/40860

[2]  Channel 4’s undercover documentary reveals racist, sexist and violent attitudes by some guards https://www.ein.org.uk/news/channel-4-news-investigation-raises-new-concerns-over-yarls-wood-immigration-removal-centre

[3] Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration & Removal Centre http://www.womenagainstrape.net/sites/default/files/dossier_rape_in_yarls_woodfinaljuly15.pdf

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/30/yarls-wood-immigration-centre-detainee-dies

 

RESPONSE to the Home Affairs Committee Report on DOMESTIC ABUSE

Press release

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

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

1.      Welfare cuts & financial dependence on violent men.

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

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

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

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

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

3.      Family courts and DV.

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

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

4.      Immigrant and BAME women face DV.

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

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

5.      THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

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

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

6.      WOMEN THE MAIN VICTIMS.

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

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

See our evidence to the Committee here[1]

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

Women Against Rape        war@womenagainstrape.net

Tel: 020 7482 2496

 

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