Supreme Court today: rape victims vs Theresa May and police

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.