You Can’t Lose if You Don’t Quit!

Ms R (62), a longstanding member of All African Women’s Group, finally won her right to stay in the UK after a 13 year struggle.  Ms R left Jamaica in 1990 to escape domestic violence from her partner.  Ms R’s father, who was a British citizen, had encouraged her to leave and come to live with him in Britain and eventually bring her son.  Sadly her father died in 1991 and she was forced to return to Jamaica and her abusive partner.  Unknown to Ms R this man started raping their son who, in 1997, left the island to escape this abuse.  Ms R was tormented by guilt when she found out what her partner had done.  She left for Britain again in 2000 and was able to remain for several years as a student while trying to regularise her status.  Private lawyers (charging a fortune) put together a number of applications for her to stay in the UK but they were so bad they were refused by the Home Office.

Ms R was close to ending her life when she came to BWRAP in January 2013.  She had never been able to speak before about the horrific abuse her son had suffered and her anguish at not being able to protect him.

She had been living hand to mouth and would have been homeless without a kindly landlord allowing Ms R to stay for free in one of his properties. (This would be illegal under the Immigration Act 2014).  The stress of being destitute and living for years under the threat of deportation had taken a terrible toll on her mental and physical health. On one occasion when she was asked how she was managing without any income, she said:

“I don’t know, sometimes I can do a little sewing in exchange for food, I never know if I am going to eat that day, I only get clothes if I find something in the jumble here (at the women’s centre), I have nothing for myself.”

In order to get legal aid for a lawyer to represent her Ms R had to apply for “Exceptional Case Funding” as she was not automatically entitled. This application was callously refused by the Legal Aid Agency despite compelling expert evidence from Notre Dame and ourselves confirming that Ms R is a traumatised and vulnerable woman. In tandem with this, BWRAP supported Ms R in making a formal complaint against one of the negligent private lawyers.

In the autumn of 2015 Ms R was at another very low point, coping with anxiety and panic attacks caused by the fear of being sent back. After much effort, BWRAP found her a solicitor at Camden Law Centre and a psychiatrist who wrote a report confirming that Ms R was traumatised.    At her appeal hearing Judge Rodger acknowledged that Ms R was a “vulnerable witness” in accordance with the Joint Presidential Guidance Note 2 of 2010*.  The Judge took into account the wealth of medical and other evidence including BWRAP’s written and practical support and Ms R’s “real” fear that she could be targeted by her community for what happened to her son.  She was finally granted Leave to Remain under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act on the grounds that it would be a disproportionate breach of her right to private life if she was returned to Jamaica. After thirteen years, Ms R has been given two and a half years status – a welcome, though insufficient, victory considering all that Ms R has suffered. On winning the right to stay Ms R commented:

If only I had found this sympathetic support group earlier – they have changed everything and made it possible for me to smile again. A great weight is off my mind – my life can definitely begin again!”

*The Practice and Guidance Notes which give guidance on the approach to be adopted by First Tier Tribunal judges when considering all the personal circumstances of an “incapacitated or vulnerable person when assessing their evidence”.

Report: Jail Rapists not Rape Victims, meeting in House of Commons

Women and families affected by biased rape investigations were joined by supporters in the House of Commons on Tuesday 2nd December to discuss the campaign, led by Women Against Rape (WAR) andBlack Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP), against the prosecution and imprisonment of rape survivors.

Hosted by John McDonnell MP, the event – Jail Rapists not Rape Victims – focused on the perverse and harrowing injustices women who report sexual violence are subjected to by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

An estimated 85,000 women are raped[1] in England and Wales each year; 90% of reported rape and domestic violence goes unprosecuted. Despite such an appalling record on achieving justice for victims, the legal system has managed to prosecute 109 women for false rape allegations in the past five years. The vast majority of these women are charged with ‘perverting the course of justice’, an offence that carries a maximum life sentence.

As immigration and detention practices grow increasingly severe, and shelters, legal aid, social housing, childcare and income support are restricted and shut down, women are left with few routes to escape sexual and domestic violence. To compound this with the threat of imprisonment and/or the removal of children if women are accused of lying or of being unable to protect their children, effectively leaves women trapped, and allows rapists and other abusers to continue with impunity.

BWRAP and WAR have been challenging this practice for the past seven years, and the evening threw light on the injustices they have uncovered through their campaign. They also mentioned women unable to be with us that evening due to incarceration or, as in the case of Eleanor de Freitas, suicide.

Attendees heard some of the survivors’ stories firsthand. Sandra Allen talked us through the ordeal her daughter, Layla Ibrahim, has faced since she was attacked in 2009. Layla served three years in prison after she reported having been violently attacked by two strangers while on her way home after a night out. Sandra traced how the police’s initial appearance of concern twisted into an investigation of Layla, rather than of her attackers: family members were contacted and told that the police suspected that Layla had inflicted her own injuries, suspects that fitted Layla’s description of the men were not pursued, forensic evidence that supported her story was lost or destroyed. Layla was pressured to drop the charges and told that if she did so she would ‘be dragged through the papers, but not through the courts’. She refused to “confess” to something she hadn’t done. After she served her sentence, one of her suspected attackers was found guilty of raping another woman using similar techniques he had used on Layla.

An appeal against Layla’s conviction is going to the Criminal Cases Review Commission this month. Sandra Allen called for the public to support her daughter’s application so the investigation into the original rape can be reopened and Layla’s name cleared.

Hamish McKenna, whose partner Rhiannon Brooker is serving a three and a half year sentence after reporting rape and domestic violence in a previous relationship, told a similar story. Rhiannon’s decision to speak out was met with persistent mistrust, perverse logic and threats from the police. Her family and friends were investigated; Hamish himself was threatened with being charged for perverting the course of justice should he give evidence in support of Rhiannon. The police even contacted social services in a bid to remove Rhiannon and Hamish’s child, who was still breastfeeding at the time – fortunately social workers saw what a loving family they are.

For Gail Sherwood, a mother of three, reporting her longtime stalker and rapist was met with laughter and suspicion. Gail was placed under surveillance, accused of planning elaborate false attacks on herself, and eventually sent to prison for two years. Whilst serving her sentence, her stalker continued to contact her in prison and since her release he has attacked her again.

We also heard from Verna Joseph, a St Lucian woman trafficked to the UK by a gang who had raped her and forced her to carry drugs into the UK. Despite an expert report submitted to the British court confirming that she had been raped and beaten by the gang and the St Lucia police telling the court that they could not protect her, Verna was sentenced to nine years in prison.

After serving five, she was released and claimed asylum, only to have her claim refused and be sent to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. There, on hunger strike protesting racist and sexist abuse from guards and terrible conditions, Verna battled with a series of appeals – she eventually won her release and asylum along with 22 other women from Yarl’s Wood.

Verna has since been raped again whilst staying at a women’s hostel. The man was arrested and put on trial. But during his trial, his only witness was permitted to sit in court while others gave evidence so she could tailor her evidence to discredit Verna’s story. The man was released, and Verna denied justice once again.

A further harrowing account was given by a young woman from Rotherham, who as a teenager had been taken into care and placed with her paedophile uncle. She had never spoken in public before and everyone was moved to tears.

Looking further afield, Professor Lisa Avalos compared how different countries deal with rape. She found that police disbelief, shaming and suspicion toward rape survivors is also common in other Western countries, but that the UK is exceptional in its draconian prosecution policy. She has ‘not found any country that pursues these cases against women rape complainants in the way the UK does. The UK has an unusual approach and I think that approach violates human rights’.

Nigel Richardson, Layla’s and Rhiannon’s solicitor, commented that he had not seen the police investigate any other crime with the dogged, vindictive enthusiasm with which they pursue suspected false rape allegations: digging into women’s pasts to pin stains on their character, threatening friends and family members and concocting elaborate stories in which women violently attacked themselves.

The speakers told us their stories with palpable courage, struggling through the pain of their memories and the indignities they had been forced to suffer to have their truths heard. We were reminded that these cases perpetuate trauma for victims of sexual violence, dragging their experiences long into the future as they suffer the injustices that accompany a criminal record and the pain of not being believed or achieving justice. Amongst speakers and the audience, who often gasped in shock and fury at the details of these women’s stories, there was an atmosphere of care, solidarity and a resolution to move forward. Our host, John McDonnell MP, pledged his ongoing support to the campaign.

The discussion unfolded a commitment to stop these practices, and to connect this struggle to others: one person reminded us of institutionalised abuse of disabled people that went unaddressed; another of police and politicians’ negligence and complicity in widespread child abuse in Rotherham and elsewhere; the galling hypocrisy of police that claim to have neglected rape investigations out of fear of being called racist when they continue to harass, criminalise and sometimes kill people of colour was highlighted; sex workers complained about police turning out en masse to dispossess them in Soho under the guise of tackling sex trafficking while refusing to investigate attacks against them.

As Verna Joseph concluded for us: ‘Everywhere our stories of survival are coming out. We won’t be silenced. We’ll keep on fighting and we will have justice in the end, all of us.’

Help us win justice for rape survivors. Support the campaign to clear Layla Ibrahim’s name.

[1] 2013 Rape Crisis – http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/mythsampfacts2.php 

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre  

Our report chronicles a regime of predatory sexual abuse (including racist sexual abuse) since it opened and began accepting women and families in 2002.  It brings together the many allegations that have been reported to us, with other reports that have appeared in the media.  Many of the reports come from All African Women’s Group members some of whom have been centrally involved in protests including successive hunger strikes .

Jail Rapists NOT Rape Victims, 2 Dec 2014, House of Commons

Women and families affected by biased rape investigations were joined by supporters in the House of Commons on Tuesday 2nd December to discuss the campaign, led by Women Against Rape (WAR) and Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP), against the prosecution and imprisonment of rape survivors.

Hosted by John McDonnell MP, the event – Jail Rapists not Rape Victims – focused on the perverse and harrowing injustices women who report sexual violence are subjected to by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

An estimated 85,000 women are raped[1] in England and Wales each year; 90% of reported rape and domestic violence goes unprosecuted. Despite such an appalling record on achieving justice for victims, the legal system has managed to prosecute 109 women for false rape allegations in the past five years. The vast majority of these women are charged with ‘perverting the course of justice’, an offence that carries a maximum life sentence.

As immigration and detention practices grow increasingly severe, and shelters, legal aid, social housing, childcare and income support are restricted and shut down, women are left with few routes to escape sexual and domestic violence. To compound this with the threat of imprisonment and/or the removal of children if women are accused of lying or of being unable to protect their children, effectively leaves women trapped, and allows rapists and other abusers to continue with impunity.

BWRAP and WAR have been challenging this practice for the past seven years, and the evening threw light on the injustices they have uncovered through their campaign. They also mentioned women unable to be with us that evening due to incarceration or, as in the case of Eleanor de Freitas, suicide.

Attendees heard some of the survivors’ stories firsthand. Sandra Allen talked us through the ordeal her daughter, Layla Ibrahim, has faced since she was attacked in 2009. Layla served three years in prison after she reported having been violently attacked by two strangers while on her way home after a night out. Sandra traced how the police’s initial appearance of concern twisted into an investigation of Layla, rather than of her attackers: family members were contacted and told that the police suspected that Layla had inflicted her own injuries, suspects that fitted Layla’s description of the men were not pursued, forensic evidence that supported her story was lost or destroyed. Layla was pressured to drop the charges and told that if she did so she would ‘be dragged through the papers, but not through the courts’. She refused to “confess” to something she hadn’t done. After she served her sentence, one of her suspected attackers was found guilty of raping another woman using similar techniques he had used on Layla.

An appeal against Layla’s conviction is going to the Criminal Cases Review Commission this month. Sandra Allen called for the public to support her daughter’s application so the investigation into the original rape can be reopened and Layla’s name cleared.

Hamish McKenna, whose partner Rhiannon Brooker is serving a three and a half year sentence after reporting rape and domestic violence in a previous relationship, told a similar story. Rhiannon’s decision to speak out was met with persistent mistrust, perverse logic and threats from the police. Her family and friends were investigated; Hamish himself was threatened with being charged for perverting the course of justice should he give evidence in support of Rhiannon. The police even contacted social services in a bid to remove Rhiannon and Hamish’s child, who was still breastfeeding at the time – fortunately social workers saw what a loving family they are.

For Gail Sherwood, a mother of three, reporting her longtime stalker and rapist was met with laughter and suspicion. Gail was placed under surveillance, accused of planning elaborate false attacks on herself, and eventually sent to prison for two years. Whilst serving her sentence, her stalker continued to contact her in prison and since her release he has attacked her again.

We also heard from Verna Joseph, a St Lucian woman trafficked to the UK by a gang who had raped her and forced her to carry drugs into the UK. Despite an expert report submitted to the British court confirming that she had been raped and beaten by the gang and the St Lucia police telling the court that they could not protect her, Verna was sentenced to nine years in prison.

After serving five, she was released and claimed asylum, only to have her claim refused and be sent to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. There, on hunger strike protesting racist and sexist abuse from guards and terrible conditions, Verna battled with a series of appeals – she eventually won her release and asylum along with 22 other women from Yarl’s Wood.

Verna has since been raped again whilst staying at a women’s hostel. The man was arrested and put on trial. But during his trial, his only witness was permitted to sit in court while others gave evidence so she could tailor her evidence to discredit Verna’s story. The man was released, and Verna denied justice once again.

A further harrowing account was given by a young woman from Rotherham, who as a teenager had been taken into care and placed with her paedophile uncle. She had never spoken in public before and everyone was moved to tears.

Looking further afield, Professor Lisa Avalos compared how different countries deal with rape. She found that police disbelief, shaming and suspicion toward rape survivors is also common in other Western countries, but that the UK is exceptional in its draconian prosecution policy. She has ‘not found any country that pursues these cases against women rape complainants in the way the UK does. The UK has an unusual approach and I think that approach violates human rights’.

Nigel Richardson, Layla’s and Rhiannon’s solicitor, commented that he had not seen the police investigate any other crime with the dogged, vindictive enthusiasm with which they pursue suspected false rape allegations: digging into women’s pasts to pin stains on their character, threatening friends and family members and concocting elaborate stories in which women violently attacked themselves.

The speakers told us their stories with palpable courage, struggling through the pain of their memories and the indignities they had been forced to suffer to have their truths heard. We were reminded that these cases perpetuate trauma for victims of sexual violence, dragging their experiences long into the future as they suffer the injustices that accompany a criminal record and the pain of not being believed or achieving justice. Amongst speakers and the audience, who often gasped in shock and fury at the details of these women’s stories, there was an atmosphere of care, solidarity and a resolution to move forward. Our host, John McDonnell MP, pledged his ongoing support to the campaign.

The discussion unfolded a commitment to stop these practices, and to connect this struggle to others: one person reminded us of institutionalised abuse of disabled people that went unaddressed; another of police and politicians’ negligence and complicity in widespread child abuse in Rotherham and elsewhere; the galling hypocrisy of police that claim to have neglected rape investigations out of fear of being called racist when they continue to harass, criminalise and sometimes kill people of colour was highlighted; sex workers complained about police turning out en masse to dispossess them in Soho under the guise of tackling sex trafficking while refusing to investigate attacks against them.

As Verna Joseph concluded for us: ‘Everywhere our stories of survival are coming out. We won’t be silenced. We’ll keep on fighting and we will have justice in the end, all of us.’

Help us win justice for rape survivors. Support the campaign to clear Layla Ibrahim’s name.

[1] 2013 Rape Crisis – http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/mythsampfacts2.php

Statement from rural women in India on recent events in Delhi

Please help BWRAP and WAR to circulate the statement and article below:

The mass protests taking place all over India, and the international support for them, show how determined women are to end rape, and how we face similar violence and similar sexism by the authorities, wherever we are. For years our Indian sisters in Chhattisgarh have been organizing against rape and murder in the family but also by landlords, police and the military. But Dalit and Tribal women’s struggles have not been given prominence and support by the media or by most middle and upper class women in India or in the UK.

In our experience of dealing with rape and domestic violence here in the UK, the police are also the main obstacle to rape survivors getting justice. Only 6.5% of rapes in the UK end in conviction. We see daily cases dropped, as police have not gathered the evidence properly or the Crown Prosecution Service has decided it is not good enough to take to court. This is especially true for children, women of colour, women with disabilities and working class women generally. That’s why abusers and rapists like Savile and those in Rochdale and North Wales children homes and elsewhere were allowed to go for so long without being prosecuted, despite having been reported to the police and social services a number of times – vulnerable women and girls were treated as ‘plebs’ who exist to be available to sexual predators. We are even having to campaign with rape survivors imprisoned for reporting rape. Many cases of police rape have also come to light in the UK. We know these are only the tip of the iceberg.

Below are statements from a sister organisation based in 400 villages in Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh state; and comments from Arundhati Roy focusing on rape committed by police, army and others in authority, against women who have least. That these rapes are not prosecuted gives all violent men the go ahead – they know the authorities are on the side of the rapist and women are undefended.

We who are demanding justice today in India are demanding justice for all beginning with grassroots women everywhere including in the UK.

Statement from Nawa Chhattisgarh Mahila Samiti (Chhattisgarh Women’s Organisation), Chhattisgarh State, India – 6 January 2013

We condemn the gang rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi, and we demand the rapists get life imprisonment so other rapists are afraid and do not rape. In Chhattisgarh, Dalit and Tribal women and girls are being raped like the young woman in Delhi. Sometimes the media covers it but many times they don’t.

High level people who rape women, girls and boys should also be punished as many times they are not. This is happening in many countries. Our law is made by the government and it should be used against the high level people including if they are in government.

For many years in India there has been a grassroots movement of Dalit and Tribal women against rape. Nawa Chhattisgarh Mahila Samiti (NCMS) is part of this movement and has been working against rape since 1987 — in our area, 3,000 Dalit and Tribal women in NCMS have been fighting it. Women and girls are raped by high caste men, landlords and policemen. We help Dalit and Tribal women report rape and demand the police take statements, gather evidence and bring a prosecution of the rapist. Sometimes in the village area, up to 500 women go together to protest against a rapist at his house and shout against rape. Then the women go to the police station and demand the police file a report and punish the rapist. Last year government soldiers were raping women in the Tribal area, Bastar (Chhattisgarh) and in Kashmir but were not punished. We have campaigned to get bicycles for Tribal girls to go to school as school is far from their homes and this has also helped them not get harassed on the way.

In 2003 a police constable raped a 5 year old girl in Raipur. NCMS supported the girl and her family and helped the family get compensation from the government for the hospital costs for the young girl who had been severely injured. The policeman was prosecuted and imprisoned. This is one case of many where we help women and girls get justice against rape.

Naya Zamaana Aayega! A New Age is Coming!

* NCMS is an anti-racist organisation of Adivasi (Tribal) and Dalit women campaigning against bonded labour; rape, low and unequal pay and other discrimination. It brings together people from these two communities who are divided by landowners and other employers, police and government. NCMS is part of the Global Women’s Strike network.

Police, army rampantly use rape as weapon: Arundhati Roy

Published: Monday, Dec 31, 2012, 11:58 IST
Place: London | Agency: DNA

Reacting to the terrible news of the 23-year-old girl succumbing to injuries sustained while fighting off her rapists in a moving bus in the capital, Arundhati Roy warns that it is a sign of forebodings for women of all classes. About the massive outpouring of protests across the country, Roy said, “While we are seeing some very unexceptional reaction to an event which is hardly exceptional, though it’s a terrible thing to call a tragic event ‘exceptional’.

“However, the real problem is why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, like the vegetable vendor, gym instructor or bus driver actually assaulting a middle class girl. Whereas when rape is used as a means of domination by upper castes, the army or the police it is not even punished,” said the feted author.

When asked if there was any chance that these huge protests are going to ring in some genuine change, Roy said, “I think it will lead to some new laws perhaps, an increased surveillance, but all of that will protect middle class women. But in cases of the army and the police as perpetrators, we are not looking for laws. What do you do when the police themselves burn down villages, gang-rape women. I have personally listened to so many testimonies of women to whom this has been done.”

Pointing to the contrast between the actual truth about women across the country and the image of modern India being portrayed by Bollywood and the hi-tech India, the author agreed that there are quite many a world competing here. “Feudal India has a huge history and legacy of disrespect and violence against women. Any accounts of Partition or what is done to Dalit women contains that but now there is sort of psychosis,” she said. See the YouTube video
While stating that the army and the police routinely use rape as a weapon against people in places like Chhattisgarh, Kashmir and Manipur after gaining impunity behind laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Roy said, “More dangerous is the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Earlier, at least the rich did what they with a fair amount of discretion, but now it’s all out there on television for conspicuous consumption and there is an anger and psychosis building up and women at the top, middle and the bottom are going to pay the price for it.”