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

 

Support the Strikers this Thurs 4 Oct

This Thursday, 4 October, workers at McDonald’s, TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons are striking against low wages and slave working conditions: https://www.facebook.com/events/357347934806498/ In the US, the Fight for $15 campaign is taking strike action across the country in the hospitality industry. https://fightfor15.org/

BWRAP and WAR are joining actions wherever we are. Low wages, zero hour contracts and lack of other employment rights make women in particular vulnerable to sexual violence and workplace exploitation. Women have kids to feed, and when wages are low, and they may face sanctions and even the sack if they report abuse, it is really hard to complain or speak out about it. But workers have had enough and are organising together.

At McDonalds in the US on 18 September workers held co-ordinated strike/walkouts in many US cities, to publicly expose the systemic abuse. This includes groping, sexual demands and other abuse from colleagues and employers. Those who report it to managers are ignored or punished.

Over the past decade, legal actions by victims won substantial damages, and/or their local employer was often fined. But the company has evaded responsibility by blaming the local McDonalds franchise holder.  (Explanation and details on legal actions here: https://www.vox.com/2018/9/13/17855198/mcdonalds-strike-me-too)

When women workers came out in the US, they arrived wearing tape over their mouths with #MeToo written on it. Some of their placards read “I am not on the menu”.

Let’s show our support for the low-waged women who are striking – because their actions are in everyone’s interest.

#McStrike

Find a nearby action, or organise your own: https://waronwant.org/mcdonalds-respect-union-mcstrike-action. Please let us and others know what you are doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government announces review of CICA rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Against Rape, 17 September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fantastic news: single donation of £1000 received for Brigitte & her daughters!!!

Brigitte’s pro-bono legal team at Kingsley Napley have just announced that they will cover the full cost of her daughters air fares! 

Brigitte is overwhelmed by the kindness and the generosity, not only of her solicitors, but of everyone who has been moved to make immediate donations.  A further £172 has been received so far.  These and any further donations will be used to cover additional/inevitable costs incurred by moving from the DRC and settling here in London.

Thank you all for your care and support for Brigitte and her children.  We will be back in touch once they are with us!

Black Women’s Rape Action Project. 

Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa, one of All African Women’s Group’s (AAWG) longest standing members, is finally to be reunited with her two daughters after a traumatic thirteen year forced separation.  Her daughters have just been granted their “indefinite leave to remain” visas.  However, the authorities have only given them a “30 day window” to reach Britain otherwise their visas will expire!

Brigitte urgently needs to raise £1000 just to cover the girls fares from Kinshasa to London.  Since time is running out for Brigitte and her daughters, we hope you will please give as quickly and generously as you can.

Thank you.

BACKGROUND

Brigitte fled the Democratic Republic of Congo having been detained and tortured in prison by the authorities for her own and her family’s involvement in the opposition movement.  Once in the UK she spent seven years fighting for the right to stay whilst doing what she could to find her five children who were lost to her.

In 2013, with BWRAP’s help, Brigitte won indefinite leave to remain but was denied the right to automatic family reunion.  Later that year, miraculously, she found two of her daughters alive in DRC, but living in terrible conditions.  She wanted to bring them to Britain, but couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer. BWRAP was able to secure pro bono representation from Katie Newbury at Kingsley Napley and Rebecca Chapman at 2 Garden Court. Applications for family reunion were made in May 2016, but rejected three months later. None of the evidence so painstakingly gathered was addressed.  Statements from her daughters detailing their vulnerability to destitution, the history of the abuse they had suffered after Brigitte fled, and the traumatic impact that ongoing separation had on them, were dismissed and ignored.

Brigitte appealed.  BWRAP and Women Against Rape gave witness testimony at her hearing and Brigitte was supported by 19 women from AAWG all crammed into a tiny court. Unlike some judges who dislike public scrutiny, Judge Lingam thanked everyone for attending.

Finally in March 2018, Judge Lingham granted Brigitte the right to family reunion in Britain – a monumental victory. It could never have happened without a mother who refused to give up, a dedicated team of women campaigners and a legal team all ready to put their expertise and their hearts into the struggle together.  Brigitte says:

I’ve watched other mothers like me live for the moment they’re precious children come back. Words cannot express what we feel, but we know that no mother or child anywhere in the world should have to suffer so much to live together.

To donate, please mark your donation: “Brigitte’s Appeal”

Bank transfer: HSBC Account name: Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Account No: 61635581 Sort Code: 40-04-04

Or via PayPal: Black Women’s Rape Action Project.

More information: Tel 020 7482 2496, email bwrap@rapeaction.net