Supreme Court today: rape victims vs Theresa May and police

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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.

 

 

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

Child Rape in Rotherham: Questions rape survivors, parents and the general public want answers to

Submitted to the Home Affairs Committee on 9 September. We have received no substantial reply so far.

The Report by Dr Alexis Jay issued in August 2014, raises more questions than it answers. Unless these questions are asked and answered now, this will amount to a further cover up.

The Report says that over 1,400 girls suffered multiple crimes including: rape, child abduction, threats with guns, being given Class A drugs and alcohol, witness intimidation such as serious injury to themselves and other members of their families. The Report says no councillors or police in the area can say they didn’t know what was going on, following explicit reports by Risky Business to council meetings in 2004 and 2005 naming 50 perpetrators, including names of taxi firms, individual taxi drivers, and takeaways, and addresses where rape took place, yet no concerted action followed for years. Some interviewees told the Report writer they suspected family or business connections with taxi firms, takeaways and hotels where the girls were raped (as Risky Business explicitly named in their reports to Council meetings in 2004 & 5), but police said there was no evidence of this.

Prostitution has been used as an excuse to “blame” these rape victims as involved in “prostitution”, “a lifestyle choice”, being “not blameless”, “undeserving”. Many of these girls were well under 14 when the attacks started, they were victims of the crimes of rape and of paying to have sex with a child. Race and ethnicity were used as an excuse to justify the lack of action against the perpetrators. This presumes that the Pakistani community would stand with rapists rather than victims, which is a blatant piece of racism on the part of the police, the council, the MPs and social services. The Asian community was outraged at the perpetrators and the police and politicians’ protection of the perpetrators. It also presumes that there were no Asian victims; Asian women’s organisations have reported that this is not the case.

The gang rape of children was not investigated and victims were dismissed and even criminalised. This amounts to aiding and abetting rape and all the other violent crimes exposed in this report, which are going on not only in S Yorkshire but all over the UK.

Questions rape survivors and the public want answers to. Given the circumstances described in this report and what has come out from previous reports, it beggars belief that there has been no examination of possible connections, financial or otherwise, between the perpetrators and the police, politicians and social workers who covered for them. Not only all the officers, starting at the top, but all the local councillors and MPs (former MP for the area Denis MacShane was later jailed for fiddling his expenses) and the Home Office must be questioned, and charges brought against those who shielded, enabled, encouraged, organised, profited from or got promoted as a result of this violence against children and their families.

  1. Sex with a child under 13 is rape, there can be no defence of consent. Paying for sex with a child under 16 is illegal.
    Why are officers who claimed 12-year-old girls were compliant and consenting to sex with adult men still in the police force? Do they not know what a crime is? Do they not know the difference between the rape of children and sex between consenting adults? Do they not know that sex with a child is rape, and paying children for sex is not prostitution or a lifestyle choice, but rape? Why is the public paying police as law enforcers when they don’t apply the law?
  2. Police aided and abetted the widespread rape of children. This is a crime. Why have no officers been arrested and prosecuted for this? The Select Committee heard evidence in private from a Home Office researcher who feared for her life after two police officers visited her and threatened to pass her name to the groomers. Who were these officers and whose orders were they acting on?
  3. What other illegality are they engaged in or protecting?
  4. How was other reported rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and other child abuse dealt with while this was going on? How many rapes were no crimed? How many victims were pressurized into withdrawing or retracting their allegations? How many were even prosecuted for reporting rape on the pretext that they were lying?
  5. What are the police doing instead of protecting the public from rape, child abuse and murder?
  6. Victims were themselves charged and prosecuted. Loved ones who tried to protect them were dismissed and even arrested.
    Who are the officers who arrested the girls and their loved ones instead of their perpetrators? Will they be arrested and prosecuted for perverting the course of justice?
  7. Police provided no protection for the girls who came forward. Even worse they seem to have told the perpetrators about them.
    Which police officers leaked to a perpetrator that one girl was about to make a statement about him having broken her brother’s legs? How else would he know that his victim was at that moment in the police station? 
    This information enabled him to text her that he had abducted her 11 year old sister in order to intimidate her into not reporting. Why wasn’t he prosecuted for intimidating a witness – a serious crime?
  8. Dr Jay’s report says police disbelieved the first report as exaggerated: Were police asked why they disbelieved it? Were they asked to look into it anyway? Did they say they disbelieved it in order to ignore it?
  9. Why were police on the side of the criminals rather than their victims? Is it just prejudice against children, especially those in care? Or did they have something to gain?
    What is the relationship between the officers and these criminals? What did the police have to gain by not arresting them? Were officers paid or afforded favours to keep quiet about this? 
    A charity named one officer in written evidence to the Select Committee who was taking bribes from groomers in return for information. Is he being investigated? Are others? Were officers who allowed these rapes to continue promoted? How many?
  10. What is the connection of the officers, both those in charge or those on the ground, with the perpetrators? Was money passing hands?
  11. Some perpetrators were given cautions – meaning they admitted their crimes. Whose decision was it to give perpetrators a caution?
  12. Why have they not been rearrested for subsequent crimes and given a more appropriate punishment? Are the police claiming they have not done anything criminal since they were cautioned?
  13. Which of the so called ‘ring leaders’ have since been prosecuted and for what?
  14. Are those not deemed to be ‘ring leaders’ allowed to carry on with impunity or will they be prosecuted as well?
  15. Who allowed police and children’s services to dramatically reduce the number of girls being monitored, and why was nobody challenged about the tiny numbers of girls being identified as at risk of sexual exploitation?
  16. Have the ‘senior investigating police’ been asked to justify their ‘adamant’ refusal to link the alleged ‘honour killing’ of Child S with what they considered ‘totally unrelated …. other local violence against girls’? Who were the men she was said to have had sex with? Were they connected to the grooming of her sister or any of the other girls?
  17. Why didn’t Risky Business go public and alert the Home Office or a government body or go to the media to blow the racket open?
  18. The presumption is that the Asian community would stand with rapists against their victims, which is a blatant piece of racismAsian women’s organisations have said that Asian girls were also victims. How many? Did any come forward and were they treated any better than the white victims? Is this being investigated now?
  19. The presumption that criminals who are Asian are immune is not credible. How many Asian men were stopped and searched, much of it illegally, over this period?
  20. How much are senior officers determining the priorities for investigation of suspected crimes of their juniors and monitoring what was being done?
  21. Were any police whistleblowers punished or sacked for objecting to this cover up of illegality?
  22. Why didn’t the police know the difference between rape,  which is a crime, and prostitution among consenting adults which is not? How widespread is this gross ignorance among police forces?

Crown Prosecution Service

  1. The Report says that the employees of the CPS dealing with CSE before 2010 have now retired. Why should this prevent an investigation? Will they be arrested and questioned?
  2.  Why are prosecutors who protect criminals allowed to retire on a pension instead of a jail sentence? Will the connection between CPS and perpetrators, direct or indirect, be scrutinised now?
  3.  CPS closed many of the cases because ‘they used rape myths against the victims’. What is being done about this now? Will these cases be re-opened?
  4. Why did it take nine months in one case (as the Report says) for the CPS to make a decision to take no further action against one of the perpetrators? Will this case be re-opened now?

Police and Crime Commissioner

  1. He was aware of the scale of rape and other crime from at least 2005 as the Lead Member for Children and Young People (2005-2010).Why isn’t former South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright being investigated for criminal activities?

Rotherham council – a racket/mafia?

The Report says no councillors or police in the area can say they didn’t know what was going on. Risky Business reported on suspected family or business connections between politicians and perpetrators.

  1. The report refers to rumours that some councillors are related to some of the perpetrators. That is easy to establish. Which ones?
  2. The media has highlighted that ex Deputy Leader Jahangir Akhtar’s cousin was named in Jay’s report as a ‘boyfriend’ of up to 18 underage abuse victims. His son Tanveer is a constable serving in South Yorkshire Police. Cllr Shankat Asli has a relative serving 22 years in prison for flooding the area with ecstasy.  
    Are there others? What is the connection between councillors and perpetrators? Was money passing hands?  
  3. Did the police investigate these allegations? Is this being investigated now?
  4. Why were no minutes kept in 2005, when the present council leader [Roger Stone] chaired a group to ‘take forward’ the above issues raised by Risky Business? Is there no legal requirement to keep minutes of council meetings? Is he being investigated now?
  5. Council Leader in 2006 Roger Stone told a Tory councillor not to publicly raise concerns raised by his constituents about child exploitation, and that they were being dealt with by police. He has now resigned.Will his pension be withdrawn? Will he be investigated?

Social Services

  1. How can care workers not intervene and stop this mass rape? Isn’t the public paying them to care? Why didn’t they blow the whistle, for example say publicly that the refusal of police to prosecute sexual abuse of girls in their care is making their job impossible?
  2. Why are social workers now not demanding the prosecution of the rapists and the professionals who covered for them?
  3. Some girls have complained that their babies have been taken into care.Why are social services punitively removing babies from young vulnerable women rather than offering them the support and resources they need to care for their children?

Home Office

  1. Why when the HO was informed did no one take any action?

Children’s Charities

There are many big children’s charities in England: ChildLine, Barnardos, Save the Children, Children’s Society, National Children’s Bureau, Children in Need 

  1. Did they know? If not, why not? If yes, what did they do?If they didn’t do anything, why not?

Evidence to Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women From Women Against Rape

We believe the UK government is flouting its obligations under CEDAW, and future obligations under the Istanbul Convention in relation to Violence Against Women.

1. Refusal to prosecute rapists including violent partners

“In the 12 months to March 2013 there were about 10,000 recorded rapes of adults in England and Wales, and about 6,000 recorded rapes of children.

“Only 1,820 (18%) of those recorded rape allegations led to a ‘sanction detection’ in which an offender was charged or cautioned for the offence, and 1,423 (12%) of cases were ‘no crimed’1.”

It is disingenuous of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to claim a 60% conviction rate – they are only looking at the cases taken to court. The majority of cases are closed either by police or CPS without ever being taken to court, resulting in a 6.7% conviction rate of reported rapes. (If unreported rapes, the overwhelming majority, were taken into account, the conviction rate would be even lower.)

Recently, public shock at media headlines exposing serial rapists left unprosecuted for decades, have added to the pressure put by survivors and their organisations on the prosecuting authorities to change. They were found to have been dismissive and prejudiced, even threatening rape victims with prosecution to shut them up. Young girls in particular, raped by celebrities such as Jimmy Savile, or by groups of adult men, in many towns and cities, such as Oxford and Rochdale were treated appallingly by police, social services and the CPS. Care homes, churches and public schools have been exposed for harbouring sex offenders among their staff, who abused their position of authority, raping girls and boys for years with impunity. This has been acknowledged in the national media as the authorities’ “widespread complicity in sexual abuse2“.

What is being done to change this?

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has investigated London’s specialist Sapphire rape units nine times in seven years – that is 19 officers disciplined, three dismissed, one imprisoned for fraudulently closing rape cases and another under investigation.

Last February an IPCC report revealed the Southwark (London) police policy to press women to withdraw or retract rape allegations. This “local standard operating procedure”, authorised by senior officers, increased the number of incidents that were classified as “no crime” and therefore increased the sanction detection rates for the unit by 25%-30%3.

This was also policy in five other London boroughs4.

In November, the Public Administration Select Committee heard evidence from a police whistleblower PC James Patrick, who exposed widespread police pressure on women to retract. Like rapists, they targeted the most vulnerable victims.
The IPCC further revealed that two senior officers involved in the case of serial sex offender Kirk Reid5  (thought to have assaulted between 80 and 100 women) were promoted, rather than disciplined6 . In our own case, taken to the IPPC and then to court by a girl raped in Southwark when she was 15 years old, the police commander who had prioritised car crime over rape investigations was also promoted (more details below).

In 2009 and 2012 we met the heads of Sapphire. We demanded they stop promoting bad officers as this set the tone for rape investigations and discouraged those officers who wanted to do a good job. We also opposed their proposal to prosecute rapists for offences other than rape and sexual assault – a way of downgrading sexual violence while using the reports of distressed victims to gather intelligence on unrelated matters.

Since more than half the rapes reported in London are by partners or ex-partners, we highlighted the police separation of rape from domestic violence as a major obstacle to getting convictions. Different units deal with rape and domestic violence, so the full picture of the violence suffered by the majority of victims remains hidden – as a result cases are dropped and prosecutions fail.

Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners. Despite police refusal to act in at least 50 murders investigated by the IPCC over six years, only one police officer has lost his job for negligence.

The 6 month time limit for bringing charges of common assault is routinely used by police and CPS not to prosecute domestic violence attackers. This limit should be dropped, but also charges of aggravated assault or grievous bodily harm rather than just common assault should be used more often in domestic violence cases. That they are not reflects the sexism, laziness and incompetence of the authorities in gathering relevant evidence such as medical records and witness statements, and providing adequate protection to the victim. We are working with a local woman left disabled after years of domestic violence who is taking legal action on this very point. She speaks for thousands.

Like many in positions of power, the police seem to resent accountability. They have responded to the demands of survivors and campaigners like ourselves by improving their PR rather than their performance, and drawing in the voluntary sector. Most rape service organisations (statutory or voluntary) are now funded by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, or the police. Not surprisingly they have become less critical, repeating the police mantra that ‘things have improved’ even in the face of much evidence of a worsening situation. How can they be trusted to be independent when their funding is not?

Recent research by Professor Betsy Stanko, Head of the Strategy, Research and Analysis Unit, Strategy and Improvement Department, Directorate of Resources at the Metropolitan Police, documents that women are targeted for rape who are from vulnerable sectors of society, although there are sectors she has overlooked. Stanko acknowledges that girls under 16, women raped by partners, those with mental health problems and those who were drinking are among the most commonly raped and least likely to get justice. In our experience race, immigration status and nationality also make women targets for violence and are used by police and CPS to deny justice to the victims. Those of us who are women of colour and have been attacked have experienced:

• police going after our Black partner or brother, rather than the white man reported as violent, sometimes a racist neighbour;
• racist personal comments from the police such as ‘why don’t you do your hair nicer?’;
• questions about our immigration status; one woman was wrongly accused of having a false identity;
• police suspecting the rape victim is lying, involved in crime, or has some suspicious motive other than trying to bring her attacker to justice.

Ineffective CPS prosecutors and biased judges give the appearance that the defence has too many rights; but it is the prosecutors and the judges who need to protect witnesses from irrelevant and cruel questioning, which is standard practice in rape trials. For example, several women in our network raped in their teens were accused in court of making it up to seek attention because their father had recently passed away. Others who were victims of domestic violence had their reports of violence used against them in court because the police had not acted on them or because the unprotected victim had withdrawn for fear of repercussions. All this ought to have been stopped – it was aimed only at discrediting the victim implying she is unreliable or liable to make things up. But CPS and judges routinely allow irrelevant “evidence” to be brought up or pursued beyond any reasonable limit.

Recommendations:

Police must stop promoting bad officers as this sets the tone for rape investigations and discourages those officers who want to do a good job. More robust punishment is needed against officers who don’t implement the law: they should be taken off rape investigations, sacked and/or prosecuted if they break the law. If they are not held to account, nothing will change.

End the Metropolitan Police strategy of prosecuting rapists for offences other than rape and sexual assault – a way of downgrading sexual violence while using the reports of distressed victims to gather intelligence on unrelated matters.
The police must end their separation of rape from domestic violence. Domestic rape and sexual assault should be investigated as one case and all charges brought to bear.

Prosecutors and judges must protect witnesses from irrelevant and cruel questioning by the defence. This is their job and responsibility; if they exercised it more often, defence lawyers would soon learn that new boundaries for cross examination have been set.

End the 6 month time limit for bringing charges of common assault in cases of domestic violence; it is routinely used not to prosecute violent partners and ex-partners, and it enables sexist or lazy police to drag their feet during investigations until it is too late to bring charges.

Apply charges of aggravated assault or grievous bodily harm more often in domestic violence incidents.

2. The law continues to allow irrelevant sexual history questioning

In 1997-99 we campaigned for a ban on victims being questioned on their sexual history with men other than the accused. How many people a woman may have had sex with or what kind of sex she had with them is not relevant to whether or not she consented to sex with the accused. The new law did not make a distinction between sex with the accused and sex with others. And it did not ban sexual history questions if the man ‘believed’ the woman consented. Given that this is the most common defence (except for the rare cases where the identity of the accused is in doubt), the protection afforded to victims is more apparent than real as judges continue to allow irrelevant and highly prejudicial questioning.

Recommendation: Don’t allow the defence to ask sexual history questions on the pretext that the man ‘believed’ the woman consented.

 

3. False allegations or miscarriages of justice?

Victims who retract allegations can face prosecution and the UK is particularly punitive compared to other countries. Layla Ibrahim and Gail Sherwood were both prosecuted in 2010 (as were at least 30 others). Both said they were pressed to retract under threat of prosecution. One did retract, the other refused. Both were imprisoned.

We have been campaigning for seven years against prosecution of women reporting rape or sexual assault. 27 organisations signed our 2011 letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He responded with guidance: the CPS should not routinely prosecute women with mental illness, girls under 18 or victims of domestic violence. But he refused to acknowledge that biased and negligent investigations are resulting in jail for rape victims rather than rapists.

“Sarah” was jailed in 2010 after reporting her husband, despite the police and CPS knowing that he had raped her. She retracted her claim under pressure from him and his family – the authorities then prosecuted her for making a “false retraction”. After a public outcry her sentence was quashed but not her conviction – she, not her violent husband, has the criminal record. She has applied to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn her conviction.

• A teenager who came to WAR in 2012 faced prosecution because forensic tests did not corroborate her account. Her formal complaint resulted in reinvestigation by another force – new tests found semen where the first police team claimed there was none; charges against her were withdrawn, the rape prosecution was reinstated and the rapist was jailed for five years. Had she not come to us, she would have been prosecuted and even jailed.

• Another young woman we helped was put on trial in 2013 for a so-called false report of rape. The case was thrown out by the Crown Court Judge, who expressed outrage at the lack of evidence against her. She hadn’t even reported rape, only that she awoke in bed with a soldier in a hotel after she suspected she had been drugged to the point where she did not know what happened to her and whether she had been assaulted. The CPS took the case to Appeal, wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money, where it was thrown out again.

This malicious prosecution directly contradicts a police advice leaflet for victims, which says: ‘You can’t remember what happened to you so how can you tell us? This situation does happen. If you or anyone you know are worried or anxious and you think something may have happened to you, you can go to any police station.’

WAR did collaborative research7  with Lisa Avalos, Law Professor at the University of Arkansas, comparing prosecutions of women for alleged lying in the US and UK. We documented three US cases where women were accused of lying about rape and prosecuted – their rapists were later identified and brought to justice, vindicating the women.

Prosecuting women for false allegations distorts the priorities of the police and CPS – they are constantly suspicious that a woman may be lying and therefore less likely to conduct a thorough investigation of the original rape complaint. Prof. Avalos has called for UK police to implement the IACP Guidelines for investigating rape.

Women who do not report attacks are increasingly telling us they worried about being disbelieved but also about being prosecuted instead of their attacker. So while police publicly claim they want victims to come forward, they discourage them from doing so and even punish those who do.

Recommendations:

Stop prosecuting women accused of lying about rape.

Police to carry out a thorough investigation into every report of rape.

 

4. Women are unable to report domestic violence to police or doctors for fear of social services taking their children from them

Domestic violence is commonly used to take children away from their mothers, even if the violence is in the past and the violent partner is no longer a threat. The charity Family Rights Group (FRG), has said: “Our data tells us … that the state’s way of dealing with domestic violence is often to end up with a child being made subject to child protection plans.” The FRG report documents8  that domestic violence – not parental mental illness, drugs or alcohol – is now the main reason children are taken from their mothers.

Similarly the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) said in 2013 evidence to NICE for draft guidance on Domestic Violence that “admissions of domestic violence, past and present, result in an automatic referral to social services . . .” In AIMS’ letter to the Dept of Health’s Sir Liam Donaldson in 2007, they said “Ironically, the basic, simple help or real support families would like, is unavailable because resources are lacking, and that is not the focus of social work activity . . . Women who are suffering domestic violence are continuing to conceal it . . . Since we have seen cases of babies removed from such women, even after they have left their violent partners and are coping well, we are not surprised.”

Many organisations agree that punitive social workers are preventing women from reporting DV to police or to doctors for fear of losing their children. Social workers don’t seem to care that to separate a child from her or his mother is violence against the child as well as the mother with lifelong consequences for the child. We call this forced separation of child from mother STATE CHILD ABUSE.

This sadistic punishing of victims for the violence they suffered puts both child and mother in danger. If mothers cannot report attacks for fear of losing their children, they will not be able to get out of the situation and the life-threatening torture will continue.

Recommendations:

Stop using domestic violence as a reason to take children from their mothers.

Prioritise the rights of the child to stay with the mother or extended family and halt the rush to adoption by strangers.

Give mothers the help and support they need in order to keep their children, rather than take a punitive approach.

 

5. Legal Aid reform is preventing women holding the authorities to account

The cuts in legal aid remove access to legal representation for everyone with low or modest income. In response to the cuts and the introduction of competitive tendering the best law firms are closing.

For years the police had immunity from being sued [civil] for negligent investigations. However, under the Human Rights Act, rape victims are beginning to take the police and CPS to court for failure to protect them from rape, domestic violence, trafficking and domestic slavery. WAR supported several such cases which will be no longer possible due to legal aid cuts. For example, in 2013 in a landmark human rights case, the daughter of a Women Against Rape volunteer won compensation from the police, following seven years of campaigning, after Southwark Sapphire lost evidence of the rape. The rapist was acquitted; we later learned he had been accused of another rape. A damning IPCC report found that all Sapphire detectives had been transferred, to prioritise motor crime over rape. Four junior officers were disciplined. But the commander who set the policy refused to be interviewed by the IPCC and went on to the National Centre for Policing Excellence.

Similarly, two victims of serial rapist John Warboys have won the right to compensation under the Act for injury they suffered from the police refusal to investigate.

Victims of rape will now be denied legal aid to get a decision judicially reviewed if a prosecution is prematurely closed.

Victims of domestic violence who didn’t report to the violence to the police or their doctor, or stay in a refuge, or have a protective injunction will also be denied legal aid.

Recommendation: Stop cuts to Legal Aid and lower the savings limit so that more people can get it.

6. Welfare Reform – massive cuts are closing our escape routes out of violence

Women, and particularly mothers, depend on welfare benefits to escape from violence as they allow for basic survival and time for recovery – for the mother as well as the traumatised children who need their mother’s presence and reassurance. Government “welfare reform” has slashed benefits, trapping women and children with violent men, and impoverishing women and children who do escape.

• Mothers of children over age five, and single women, are allowed only a three-month respite from job seeking conditions, and are sanctioned with a cut in benefit if they miss appointments.
• Crisis Loans and the Social Fund have been abolished. Many women relied on such funds to set up a new home. Local councils refuse many applications for cash help as these are discretionary.
• Traumatised rape survivors and refugee women recovering from appalling injuries, are found “fit to work” by Atos, the company in charge of applying the work capability test on those who apply for sickness benefit.
• The Benefit Cap limits a family’s total benefits to £500 a week (including housing benefit and child benefit). Mothers and children are being left with nothing after rent is paid. Rents, especially in London, are extortionate even for social housing. As a result thousands of families have already been forced out of London, away from relatives and other protective networks.

legal challenge was brought by a number of single mother families, two of them fleeing domestic violence. Their solicitor Rebekah Carrier described the Cap as “catastrophic, cruel and arbitrary” and WAR petitioned to end it. An Early Day Motion is circulating among Members of Parliament. The Children’s Society said that 2/3 of those who will be affected are children. Despite all this, the court ruled that the Benefit Cap was legal. The legal challenge is now being taken to the Supreme Court.

Families are being left with no money for food or heating (emergency payments from the local authority are discretionary and short-term) – this in itself is a justification for children to be taken into care. Many refuges and hostels are not exempt from the Cap, so will not accept women unable to pay their high rents.
Single women escaping domestic violence are also hit by the Benefit Cap, which is £350 for a single person. As a result, there is immense pressure to stay with or return to violent men despite the risk of being injured or even murdered.

Recommendation: End the benefit cap and other welfare reform as it harms victims of violence.

 

7. Criminalisation of sex workers and clients make women more vulnerable to violence

We strongly oppose the blurring of the distinction between consenting sex and rape. It allows for silencing and manipulation of so called victims by people in authority who have their own political agendas.

We oppose the characterisation of sex work as violence against women. It assumes that sex workers cannot tell the difference between rape and consenting sex, and that someone else is better qualified to say what ‘protection’ they need. Criminalisation flies in the face of the anti-rape movement fighting for every woman’s right to determine what she consents to.

In December, over 200 police officers in riot gear accompanied by the media raided sex workers’ flats in Soho, London. The police action has been criticised by sex workers and local people, including the parish priest as unfair, dangerous and unlawful. While the police originally claimed they were acting to protect vulnerable women from rape and trafficking (one of whom they forced into the street in just her underwear), they later admitted that they found no victims of rape or trafficking. Their justification then changed to clamping down on harbouring stolen goods.

Actor Rupert Everett described the raid and flat closures as a ‘land grab’ for a multi-million pound development to gentrify the area.

How can police so short of officers to thoroughly investigate the rapes, sexual assaults and domestic violence that are reported to them, afford to put huge resources into cracking down on sex between consenting adults? Why are they acting for property developers rather than rape victims?

Senior police officers have publicly stated that: “[police] operations to tackle the trade are ‘counterproductive’ and likely to put the lives of women at risk9.”

According to the English Collective of Prostitutes, which supported the women throughout the raids and legal actions, Soho is the safest place in London for sex workers, in part because the women have the support of the local community. Evidence shows it is 10 times safer to work in premises than on the street, especially when working with another woman present10.

Why are the police assuming these sex workers are trafficked? Anti-trafficking enforcement actions have been shown to be punitive to victims, leading to deportation back to their country of origin. They have acted as immigration controls dressed up as safety measures. If the authorities want to stop trafficking, as we do, they need to prosecute genuine traffickers, while safeguarding and supporting victims. The “no recourse to public funds” rule works against victims who need emergency accommodation and money to live on.

We defended a victim of rape in civil war in Uganda who was made to have sex with men by the woman who brought her to the UK, who kept the money they paid. Evidence provided by Freedom from Torture and ourselves about the impact of what this victim had endured in Uganda was used by the immigration authorities against her. UKBA claimed that she was traumatised by the violence in Uganda not by the violence in the UK. So although her account of trafficking was accepted, she was considered no longer a victim of it. As a result her case to remain in the UK was refused on those grounds and she is still fighting for asylum.

As a member of the Safety First Coalition, set up after the murders of five sex workers in Ipswich, we oppose the criminalisation of clients. By driving prostitution further underground it deters women from reporting rapists and other violent men. Sex workers say the police must go after the men they have reported, not those they have not.
We have met representatives of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective and they have shown us evidence that sex workers are safer since prostitution was decriminalised there. It is galling that the UK government had not been interested in such evidence, preferring to press ahead with criminalisation.

Recommendations:

The decriminalisation of prostitution for safety’s sake.

An end to raids, arrests and prosecutions of sex workers which all push women into danger.

An end to the use of trafficking legislation to arrest and deport immigrant sex workers rather than protect genuine victims.

28 March 2014, Women Against Rape
Contact WAR at: Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX.
Tel 020 7482 2496 war@womenagainstrape.net www.womenagainstrape.net

This evidence was previously submitted to the Joint Select Human Rights Committee Inquiry into Violence Against Women and Girls (UK)

1. “Police ‘culture of disbelief’ over rape claims alarms official monitoring group”, Alan Travis, The Guardian, 31 January 2014.

2. The Guardian editorial, 14 February 2014.

3.  See www.ipcc.gov.uk/news/ipcc-finds-failings-working-practices-southwark-sap…

4. “Police failed to investigate sex attacks across six London boroughs A man accused of rape was allowed to walk free and kill two children as a result of a policy to manipulate crime statistics.” Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, 26 February 2013. www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/feb/26/police-failed-investigate-sex-attacks

5. “Metropolitan police facing crisis after failures in Kirk Reid rape inquiry”, Sandra Laville, The Guardian, 27 March 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/mar/27/metropolitan-police-rape-inquiry

6. Sex crime: Yard attacked over failures in serial offender probe, with officers later promoted to top jobs, Margaret Davis, The Independent, 26 February 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/sex-crime-yard-attacked-over-…

7. “False Reports of Sexual Assault: Findings on Police Practices, Laws, and Advocacy Options”. See the research at http://womenagainstrape.net/sites/default/files/final_paper_for_war_9-23…

8. http://www.frg.org.uk/images/Policy_Papers/report-about-advice-service-2007-2013.pdf

9. Chris Armitt, national police lead on prostitution and Martin Hewitt, ACPO lead on sexual offences, quoted in “Mariana Popa was killed working as a prostitute. Are the police to blame?” The Guardian 19 January 2014.

10. Hilary Kinnel, Prostitutes’ Exposure to Rape, June 1993.

Read more: key points from Dr Jay’s report

A Summary of issues raised in the ‘Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013)’ by Dr Alexis Jay, issued in August 2014.

Download a pdf of the full Report here
Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013) 

Good Press report in the Telegraph

This striking report is a breakthrough but leaves many questions unanswered.  See WAR’s Questions to the Home Affairs Committee.

Refusal to Investigate and Prosecute

The Report says that over 1,400 girls suffered multiple crimes including: rape, child abduction, threats with guns, being given Class A drugs and alcohol, witness intimidation such as serious injury to themselves and other members of their families. This has been known by council social services and police since at least 2004, perhaps even since the late 1990s.

“At an operational level, the police gave no priority to CSE [child sexual exploitation], regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.

“Further stark evidence came in 2002, 2003 and 2006 with three reports known to the police and the council, which could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. This had led to suggestions of cover-up. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them.”

No councillors or police in the area can say they didn’t know what was going on, following explicit reports by Risky Business to council meetings in 2004 and 2005 naming 50 perpetrators, including names of taxi firms, individual taxi drivers, and takeaways, and addresses where rape took place, yet no concerted action followed for years. Some interviewees told the Report writer they suspected family or business connections with taxi firms, takeaways and hotels where the girls were raped, but police said there was no evidence of this.

The Director of Education 2001-2005 raised concerns with police three times, after the heads of three schools had told her of girls being picked up at the school gates by taxi drivers for abuse. “Police watched the schools in unmarked cars but the problem persisted.” “… she described how she was shown a map of the north of England overlaid with various crime networks including ‘Drugs’, ‘Guns’, and ‘Murder’. She was told that the Police were only interested in putting resources into catching ‘the ring leaders’ who perpetrated these crimes”. . . “if they were caught, her local problems would cease.”  (pp 103-4)

The police and children’s services dramatically reduced the number of girls being monitored so that only tiny numbers of girls were identified as at risk of sexual exploitation.  “The Police reason for removing several girls from monitoring was they were pregnant or had given birth. All looked after children were removed from the list.” Risky Business challenged this decision.  (pp 104-5)

“…Between 2007-2013, the Police undertook a series of operations, jointly coordinated and designed to investigate cases of suspected child sexual exploitation, although only one resulted in prosecution and convictions … It ended in 2010 with 5 convictions.” (p 4)

“…Operation Chard in 2011 led to abduction notices and 11 arrests but no convictions.”

Child S, aged 17, was murdered – police dismissed it as an unconnected ‘honour killing’ by her boyfriend jealous of her having sex with other men. He was convicted. Her sister had been in care and was known to have been groomed.

Crown Prosecution Service

The Report says that the employees of the CPS dealing with CSE before 2010 have now retired.

CPS closed many of the cases because ‘they used rape myths against the victims’.

It took nine months in one case for the CPS to make a decision to take no further action against one of the perpetrators.

Rotherham councillors

The Report says no councillors or police in the area can say they didn’t know what was going on. Risky Business reported on suspected family or business connections between politicians and perpetrators.

No minutes were kept in 2005, when Council Leader Roger Stone chaired a group to ‘take forward’ the above issues raised by Risky Business.

Council Leader in 2006 Roger Stone told a Tory councillor not to publicly raise concerns raised by his constituents about child exploitation, and that they were being dealt with by police.

Police and Crime Commissioner

PCC Shaun Wright was aware of the scale of rape and other crime from at least 2005 as the Lead Member for Children and Young People (2005-2010).

A question of priorities

A lot of the girls were in care; why is their safety considered worth less than others?

Prostitution has been used as an excuse to ‘blame’ these rape victims by claiming it was a ‘lifestyle choice’. But many of the girls were under aged 14 at the time, and were victims of rape or paying for sex with an underage girl. When they tried to get help from police, social workers or others in authority, they were not only denied help but criminalised, as were loved ones who tried to get the rapes to stop.

Race and ethnicity were used as an excuse to justify the lack of action against the perpetrators. The Report repeats claims that the authorities feared accusations of racism if they took action.  This presumes that the Asian community would stand with rapists rather than victims, which is a blatant piece of racism by the police, the council, politicians and social services. The Asian community was outraged by the perpetrators and the way victims were treated.

Since the Report was published Asian women and girls have publicly stated that Asian girls were also being raped by adults.

What were the police doing instead of investigating and arresting child rapists? S Yorkshire is the same police force found to have been acting illegally at Orgreave during the miners’ strike (1984-5) and Hillsborough.

Why do the police deal with rape cases so badly? Lisa Longstaff in the Guardian

Their record in rape cases is abysmal – and they seem to resent accountability, preferring to improve PR rather than performance

Lisa Longstaff
theguardian.com, Monday 4 March 2013 09.00 GMT

Allegations of sexual violence and cover-up are threatening every institution. Can rape be dealt with when so many in authority are themselves guilty? Of course it can. But first the police, charged with enforcing the law, must change.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has investigated London’s Sapphire rape units nine times in seven years – that’s 19 officers disciplined, three dismissed, one imprisoned for fraudulently closing rape cases and another under investigation.

The latest IPCC report reveals the Southwark police policy to press women to withdraw or retract rape allegations. “This local standard operating procedure, authorised by senior officers, increased the number of incidents that were classified as ‘no crime’ and therefore increased the sanction detection rates for the unit” (by 25%-30%).

This was also policy in five other London boroughs. Fiddling the figures is fraud, and enabling rapists to go free amounts to criminal conspiracy. How many of the victims denied protection were raped again or worse? We already know that one alleged attacker killed his children. Were other women raped by these men? Did any victims denied justice take their own lives?

Further, victims who retract allegations can face prosecution. Layla Ibrahim and Gail Sherwood were both prosecuted in 2010 (as were at least 30 others). Both said they were pressed to retract under threat of prosecution. One did, the other refused. Both were imprisoned.

We have been campaigning against the prosecution of women who report rape. In 2011, 27 organisations signed our letter to the director of public prosecutions. He responded with guidance: the CPS should not prosecute women with mental illness, girls under 18 or victims of domestic violence. But he refused to acknowledge that negligent and biased investigations can result in jail for rape victims rather than rapists.

We are working with three women facing criminal charges. Several others were prosecuted for harassment after their rapists made counter allegations and were believed. Sex workers who reported violence were also prosecuted.

Last year, in a landmark human rights case, the daughter of a Women Against Rape volunteer won compensation from the police, following seven years of campaigning, after Southwark Sapphire lost evidence of the rape. The rapist was acquitted; we later learned he had been accused of another rape. A damning IPCC report found that Sapphire detectives were told to prioritise motor crime over rape. Four junior officers were disciplined. But the commander who set the policy went on to the National Centre for Policing Excellence – setting standards.

The IPCC now reveals that two senior officers involved in the case of serial sex offender Kirk Reid (who is thought to have assaulted between 80 and 100 women) were promoted, rather than disciplined. One later retired on full pension.

In 2009 and 2012 we met the heads of Sapphire. We demanded they stop promoting bad officers, and opposed their proposal to prosecute rapists for offences other than rape. We later wrote to DCI Duthie: “…resources will be diverted into gathering ‘intelligence’ for less serious crimes, avoiding a thorough investigation of the sexual violence allegations … Is it to do with officers having their own agenda rather than paying attention to what the victim reports?” We warned that “police priorities would again be skewed, the myth that rape is difficult to prosecute reinforced, and thus that there is no point investing too much into investigating it”.

We pointed to the separation of rape from domestic violence as a major obstacle, since more than half the rapes reported in London are by partners or ex-partners. Different units deal with each crime, so the full picture is hidden – cases are dropped or prosecutions fail.

Why do the police deal with rape so badly? Some are rapists themselves – a 2012 IPCC report, produced with the co-operation of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), looked at 54 accusations of sexual assault against officers. Some are sexist – a 2005 Home Office study revealed that many officers believed women are liars. Some are lazy or incompetent. Those officers who are committed to doing their job and seeing victims get justice clearly have less influence over priorities.

Like many in positions of power, the police seem to resent accountability. They have responded to anti-rape campaigning by improving their PR rather than their performance, and befriending the voluntary sector.

The IPCC helps them. Created to police the police, it shamelessly endorses the police claim that the problem is “historic” rather than current. In December 2012 the IPCC invited Eaves, Rape Crisis, NIA Ending Violence, Victim Support and the Havens to meet. The IPCC says all agreed that Sapphire, though patchy, has improved; all that is needed, it seems, is for frontline police to be trained in “informed consent” and “cultural issues”. Each one of these organisations (statutory or voluntary) is funded by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice or the police. Those of us who are independent of police and government were not invited.

If senior officers were prosecuted when they pervert the course of justice, sexual violence investigations would improve. So would the behaviour of men, beginning with those in authority.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/04/police-behaviour-sex-attacks-women-change 

Police pay compensation in precedent rape claim

PRESS RELEASE

A landmark civil suit was settled on recently with the Metropolitan police paying £15,000 damages to a woman whose rape when she was 15 was badly mishandled by a police Sapphire Team in Southwark, London. With the scandals in the news of scores of girls raped over years in Rochdale, Rotherham and by Jimmy Savile (and possibly his associates), this case puts the spotlight on the flagship Sapphire Rape Units.

Their response so far is not encouraging. Every time they have been exposed mishandling rape investigations, they have claimed that the units had been restructured and cases like this could not happen again. But they continue to happen. When asked this morning on the Today programme why then the conviction rate for reported rape remained so low, Sapphire’s head DCI Mick Duthie said that 40% of women who report rape to the Met don’t want to prosecute. This is not our experience and is given the lie by the figures. All the women who come to us wanted justice and were prevented from getting it. The Met closes over half the reported rapes, and the CPS closes a further 40% of the rest – all decisions made against victims’ wishes.

This precedent claim is based on the Human Rights Act (Articles 3 and 8) and overturns decades of legal obstruction which has prevented victims of rape from suing the police for negligent investigations. The persistence of a mother campaigning with Women Against Rape and legally represented, has opened the way for other victims of crime to hold the police to account for ineffective investigations. On the basis of this claim and what was established here, others will now hopefully be encouraged to make their case.

Commenting on the settlement, the girl’s mother said:

“The police thought we were going to give up, and unless you fight all the way, they will intimidate you and smash you down with their enormous power and resources. But we were determined to win, for my daughter and all the other girls who have been denied justice. Why should victims who are let down have to go through this?”

“The settlement is not all we wanted, but we have won a lot along the way. We got four officers disciplined. We got a personal written apology from Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions. We got some compensation. But the most senior officer DCI Chambers was never held accountable for his actions. The trial judge criticised the police investigation and referred to non investigated issues as a disgrace. After the complaint investigation, a High Court judge said, ‘…It is reasonable to suspect that had the matter been investigated properly and the corroborative evidence obtained, the result might well have been different.’ This case has shown that the problem is not merely the ‘canteen culture’ at the lowest ranks, but the de-prioritising of rape organised from the top.”

The rape of the 15-year-old by a 28-year-old man took place in 2005. Despite the police having the attacker’s address, his vehicle registration and mobile number, it took three months of pressure by the girl’s mother, and another girl reporting the same man for rape, before he was finally arrested.

But that was not the end of the carelessness Ms X and her daughter suffered. At trial in 2006 it became clear that: the police had not interviewed potential witnesses and had lost crucial phone evidence which would have undermined the Defendant’s account. Not surprisingly, the jury did not convict, leaving the victim and her family shattered.

The man walked free and the girl’s mother contacted WAR, and soon became part of a team campaigning for justice.

Arrangements were made to speak to the media and meet both the local MP and the Borough Commander. This sparked an internal investigation by the head of the Central Sapphire Team, which found that the rape investigation had been wanting, and listed the following “mistakes”:

• “A serious stranger rape attack allocated to a PC [not a detective] to investigate.
• Failure to identify the link between the crime scene and the suspect’s vehicle.
• Failure to visit the crime scene at the earliest opportunity.
• Failure to identify the suspect and arrest at the earliest opportunity.
• Failure to properly investigate the allegation thoroughly and expeditiously, with particular emphasis on the failure to obtain correct telephone records.
• Failure to properly and effectively supervise the investigation.”

This report was not disclosed to the victim and her family until 2012, after a lengthy legal battle. Not satisfied with an apology that did not even offer any explanations, a formal complaint was lodged to the IPCC. Under pressure from the victim, her mother, Women Against Rape, and the victim’s lawyer Debaleena Dasgupta, the IPCC issued an unusually thorough and damning report in 2009. It revealed that:

• The Southwark Sapphire Rape Unit was systematically starved of resources, while resources were diverted to motor crime and robbery. At some points, the Unit was functioning without any trained detectives.

• The Unit left hundreds of rapes and sexual assaults to untrained, unqualified officers. The main officer on this case was a PC who had just joined the unit from Safer Neighbourhoods work. The PC was expected to handle over 30 cases at one time, an overwhelming number, with little or no training or supervision, and no experience of detective work.

• Officers (in this case women) who tried to get rape taken seriously and asked for more resources were rebuffed and blocked at every turn by their (male) superiors.

• Just weeks before, two of the officers in this complaint had been the subject of a complaint on another rape case in which they evaded discipline.

The IPCC report makes clear that the most junior officer struggled under an impossible workload; and while four officers were disciplined, it blames the man in charge the then Deputy Borough Commander DCI Chambers, who set the priorities and starved the Unit of resources could not be disciplined. DCI Chambers was able to refuse to be interviewed, and instead prepared a 37-page statement denying responsibility, retire from the Metropolitan Police and swiftly move to another position – at the Centre for Policing Excellence!

The girl’s mother said, “The police have been vicious in fighting our civil claim, and they fought dirty. I had to listen to them in court and felt that they were insinuating that my daughter hadn’t been raped. And when that didn’t work, they tried to minimise how ill their actions had made her – largely because of the additional trauma of being refused justice after the rape and of our family having to fight over years to get the truth disclosed. My daughter’s life has been destroyed, my 30-year marriage has ended under the stress. These injustices affect whole families and communities, and no amount of money can compensate for our loss. Do the police care? Does the Home Office care?

“This has never been about money. We wanted a declaration that my daughter’s human rights had been breached, an admission which would help to other women and girls. We were ready to go all the way to court to get it, but we were forced to settle because of costs risks – we don’t have the huge resources the police have. Working with WAR I see similar cases coming through our door all the time, so they can’t tell me this is all in the past. Victims are dismissed and ignored, especially children and teenagers. Those officers who want to do their job and complain about lack of support within the force also face obstacles.

“This case proves that the police, even when they admit mistakes, will spend lots of public money to stop victims getting justice.”

As Lisa Longstaff of WAR points out, “They keep saying that everything has changed, but these cases – from Rochdale to Southwark, from Saville to Coleman-Farrow[1] – are a continual reminder of what the police policy on rape is in practice. For many, many women, children and families, it is not just that victims are disbelieved but, believed or not, that they face at best carelessness and at worst a complete refusal by police to properly investigate rape. . There is much PR about reporting but in reality children are treated as if they are supposed to be sexually available and keep their mouth shut.”

The claimant in the case said, “I think the police really believed me, but they really didn’t care.”

13 December 2012

For interviews contact:
Women Against Rape at 020 7482 2496, or war@womenagainstrape.net

________________________________________
[1] Sapphire Detective Constable Ryan Coleman-Farrow was convicted of falsifying rape records and closing cases of at least 12 survivors of rape recently.