Secret policy change by CPS cut number of rape trials, high court told

Application on behalf of women’s group follows concern over fall in number of charges

Owen Bowcott and Caelainn Barr  The Guardian  Tue 17 Mar 2020

legal challenge over alleged changes to Crown Prosecution Service policy on bringing charges in rape cases has been dismissed by the high court.

The judges, Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, and Lord Justice Singh, denied permission for the case to proceed to a full hearing on Tuesday.

The challenge by a coalition of victims’ organisation sought to prove that the CPS had raised the bar for charging suspects in rape cases.

The high court heard arguments that there had been a “precipitous drop” in the number of rape cases brought to trial due to a secret and unlawful change in policy adopted by the CPS.

The CPS adopted an internal conviction rate target of 60% of cases charged and became increasingly risk averse although it consulted with no one outside the organisation about the new approach, Phillippa Kaufmann QC told judges.

Her application on behalf of the End Violence Against Women Coalition follows concern over steep falls in rape charges and convictions in recent years at a time when an increasing number of women have been making rape complaints to police.

“This change [in policy] was brought about in secrecy and no one was told even afterwards,” Kaufmann told the court.

The changes were introduced from late 2016 after an internal review by the CPS’s director of legal services, Gregor McGill, it was alleged.

It resulted in refresher training of prosecutors that in effect abandoned the established policy of a what is known as a “merits-based approach” to assessing whether to charge suspects in rape cases, Kaufmann said.

“The easiest way to [raise the conviction rate],” she added, “is to whip out those cases that are a bit weaker … No one knew about it until it was leaked by an individual inside the CPS.”

The consequence, Kaufmann said, was that some prosecutors reverted what had been known as the bookmakers’ approach – guessing the probability of a jury convicting on the evidence and becoming reluctant to press ahead with more difficult rape cases.

But the CPS, which successfully, resisted the challenge, argued that courts should not become “an arbiter of prosecutorial policy”.

In written submissions, lawyer for the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Max Hill QC, said it was factually wrong to allege that prosecutors have now adopted a “bookmaker’s test” approach.

The CPS maintained that the courts should dismiss the claim at this preliminary stage and not proceed to a full judicial review of the arguments.

“There has not been a change in policy,” Tom Little QC, for the DPP, told the court. “The fall on conviction rates is due to a far wider range of factors involving the police that are now the subject of a government review.”

Rape victims who donated to the legal challenge, because they felt failed by the CPS, are set to see their donations go towards the institution’s legal costs.

The CPS is pursuing legal costs against the women’s rights’ charity the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and asked for a request to cap legal costs to be denied. The CPS were awarded £35,000 – £41, 000 in legal costs by judges ruling on the request for a judicial review into the claims.

The coalition’s director, Sarah Green, said: “We have no regrets about bringing this case. It was the right thing to do, and it was entirely necessary to challenge our justice system institutions when they are failing to keep women safe and deliver access to justice.

“We have been approached by so many women who have been let down by the CPS as we prepared this case. We know there are really serious problems. But instead of working with us, the CPS chose to fight us.

“It is a long way from the kind of leadership we need in our public institutions … The CPS is arguably failing to keep with the times on expectations for justice after sexual violence. The situation as it is cannot hold, it amounts to the effective decriminalisation of rape.”

The charity received hundreds of donations, many for £10 and £20, via a crowd justice campaign ahead of the hearing. Many messages left with the donations were from women who said they had been raped but denied justice. One donor wrote: “Having been through the system myself and being failed on every level I so wish you every success.” Under the anonymous donation of £10, someone simply wrote: “I never got justice.”

The legal challenge also received £10,000 from the family of Jill Saward, the Ealing rape victim who became a leading figure in the fight against sexual violence.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, who supported the claim, said: “We are deeply, deeply disappointed that [the judges] didn’t see there was a basis on which the case arguable.

“We feel they were just not prepared to grapple with all the detail and ultimately they saw it as a factual dispute. The court was not prepared to get involved.”

Wistrich said they were considering appealing against the ruling at the court of appeal. “We don’t see this as a loss because we think we won in the court of public opinion.”

On the heavy costs of £41,000 imposed on the claimants, she added: “ It’s astounding that the CPS have pushed for as much in costs against a small women’s charity.”

NEWS FLASH: Victory after living for 17 years in limbo!

Ms O from Cote D’Ivoire – announces today 3 March 2020 that she has finally won refugee status.

Speaking at today’s self-help session (which BWRAP helps coordinate) Ms O described how the immigration judge at her appeal hearing intervened to stop the Home Office barrister from putting intrusive and upsetting questions to her about her experiences.

One of the French-speaking sisters in the session translated for her – “I hardly knew what was happening in the hearing because when the Home Office started interrogating me I broke down with my hands in my head. The judge was so angry and told them to stop. Last week I got a call from my barrister who confirmed I can finally stay here – I’m so happy after living so many years destitute and suffering terrible things here in the UK too. I thank everyone for their support over all these years“.

Ms O’s victory is the latest in a series of fantastic successes at Appeal by women using our collective self-help support overturning racist and sexist decisions in the Home Office’s hostile environment.

Come to the Crossroads Women’s Centre International Women’s Day event to find out more about our work and how you can get involved. . .

Keir Starmer’s record on rape

Camden New Journal  Letters  6 February 2020

The record on rape

We take issue with the letter from MARTIN PLAUT of NW5 (‘Errors in attacks on Starmer’, January 30).  

He claims that rape “is one of the issues [Sir Keir] feels most strongly about and has worked on most assiduously. His determination has been applauded by the victims of these crimes. When he left office as DPP in 2013 prosecutions for these appalling offences were at their highest.” 

Sir Keir has been applauded by some, but others, including ourselves who work with many victims, have criticised his refusal to end the Crown Prosecution Service policy of prosecuting rape survivors who are disbelieved by the police.

[Cut from the letter we submitted: Such cases are similar to the shocking prosecution of a young woman in Cyprus who reported rape by a group of Israeli men but was forced to retract and was herself jailed.]

We have worked with a number of women the British police bullied to retract: some did, others refused but all were treated as criminals.

One woman raped at age 15 was charged with lying when police claimed to have found no sperm on her T-shirt where her rapist had ejaculated. We helped get a second investigation by another police force who found the sperm and the man was finally prosecuted. She was saved from prison and later sued the police for £20,000.

Many are not so fortunate and face long sentences – often longer than convicted rapists; one woman is in prison for 10 years. Another woman, attacked by strangers on her way home, was given a three year sentence while evidence of the assault was lost or not pursued; her brother had complained of police racism – did that play a part?

We raised such cases at a meeting with Sir Keir Starmer when he was Director of Public Prosecutions (2008-2013), demonstrating how the prosecution of disbelieved victims skews police investigations and undermines women’s ability to report rape.

To no avail – the policy remains.

That police and CPS have got worse since Sir Keir left is not evidence that he was good.

Their decision that victims must hand over mobile phones and social media history, medical and counselling records, which are disclosed to their attacker, has of course led to a further drop in rape prosecutions.

In most British cases it is not the rapists who are on trial but their victims.

Add to this austerity which has made women and children more vulnerable to violence, and has cut escape routes – refuges, benefits, etc.

When under 3 per cent of reported rapes lead to a conviction, rapists have almost complete impunity. Sir Keir didn’t feel strongly enough against rape to confront police sexism, racism and other prejudices, and press for better investigations when he had the power to do so.

LISA LONGSTAFF

Women Against Rape

In our secret family courts, judges still don’t understand what rape means

Louise Tickle The Guardian 5 January 2020

It’s a scandal. Away from scrutiny, courtrooms are failing mothers by not taking evidence of sexual assault seriously

When is rape, you know, real, proper rape? Shockingly, in our family courts, it seems it’s only when you put up a fight and have the injuries to show for it. Never mind that you might clearly not consent to sex but in the end submit, terrified of what might happen if you were to actively resist.

In one recently reported case in the family courts a woman had complained to the court that she was a victim of domestic violence and had been raped.

Judge Robin Tolson ruled that because the woman had taken “no physical steps” to stop the man from raping her, “this did not constitute rape”, and consequently ruled against her.

Legally speaking, this means that when it comes to that same judge deciding whether or not, say, it is safe for a father to have contact with his child, claims of sexual violence will not be taken into account. Because, in the eyes of the court, that rape simply didn’t happen.

The fact that the family law system in this country is hidden behind a veil of secrecy means that these offensively vintage attitudes to rape and domestic violence can persist in courts that tens of thousands of separating couples must pass through every year. And it raises the question: what other outrageously sexist decisions are being made by out-of-touch judges behind closed doors?

The woman in the above case was so horrified at the judge’s finding that she challenged it via appeal. Unlike in a normal family court hearing, appeals are heard in public, and findings can be openly reported.

It is only because of this tiny chink in the family justice system’s protective shield that we are able to glimpse inside Judge Tolson’s courtroom, and see such attitudes for what they are. The usual level of secrecy in the family courts stifles investigation and reporting of what goes on.

I am typically contacted several times a week by women who say family judges have not taken their evidence of domestic abuse seriously. These women, often mothers fearful of the man they say abused and sometimes raped them, are without question retraumatised by a system presided over by some judges who have simply not accepted a modern understanding of what is and is not domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Women point particularly to difficulties in proving coercive control, a dangerous pattern of abusive behaviour that can indicate a risk of homicide. Coercive control is now a criminal offence; but in family courts, I am repeatedly told, judges are reluctant to name it, even if they find that emotional and psychological abuse has occurred.

Not only that. Women say that judges can even agree domestic abuse has occurred but not consider it serious enough to protect the victim and child from what we now know to be its damaging continuing effects: an abusive ex can easily continue their controlling behaviour throughout many years of court-ordered contact with a child.

If it were “just” scores of women telling me that this is happening, then these allegations would be exactly that: allegations. However, I recently sat through days of evidence in a family court case involving claims of domestic abuse and a dispute around child contact arrangements. The judge in that case made it clear he is unlikely to publish a judgment, and it is therefore unlikely at this stage that he will agree to allow the media to publish any part of what went on in court.

But I can say that I emerged from that courtroom astonished, dismayed and alarmed for very similar reasons to those that prompted the woman described above to appeal against a different judge’s findings about what constitutes rape.

In the year ending March 2019, more than 58,000 allegations of rape were made to police in England and Wales. It is an uncomfortable fact that many women are forced to have sex without their consent within relationships. It may be inconvenient for a family law system that operates on the principle that children are better off having contact with both their parents to acknowledge this truth. But surely any judge who grasps the mechanisms and psychological effects of coercive control should understand that you don’t need to be physically forced, there don’t need to be bruises, and you don’t need to scream, in order for it to be rape.

This is 2020, not 1920. Society has moved on. So have the criminal courts, which are open to scrutiny and would be instantly challenged should any barrister or judge articulate such archaic attitudes. Unless you have the courage and the cash to go to appeal, however, the family courts are essentially unaccountable to the public they serve.

Thanks to one of the most senior judges in the land coming firmly down on the side of the woman in the Judge Tolson case, she won her appeal. But it may well feel like a hollow victory. She will now have to relive every aspect of her evidence of domestic abuse and sexual assault at a new fact-finding hearing. This will be in front of a different judge. But that court will, once again, sit in private. How can we – or she – know what attitudes to sexual violence lie in store for her there?

• Louise Tickle is a journalist who specialises in social affairs and family law

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/05/secret-family-courts-judges-rape-evidence-sexual-assault

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Abusive men using child contact as way to carry on subjecting women to domestic abuse

See quotes here and below from WAR SNS, and a mum called Becky who we helped get contact with her (then) baby after she was snatched by her father who she still lives with; Becky is fighting to get her back.

‘We are also aware of instances where women have suffered physical and sexual assault from their abuser when children are being picked up or dropped off,’ says campaigner

Thousands of domestic abusers are preying on their victims during meetings with their children ordered by the family courtsThe Independent can reveal.

Women are being subjected to coercive control, and physical and even sexual assault from their ex-partners when children are being picked up or dropped off. 

Campaigners say abusers also carry on terrorising their victims during child custody battles in the family courts and harassing them via emails, and report the problem is getting worse. 

Julian Watkins, senior research analyst at Safe Lives, said: “We started collecting data on this issue over the last couple of years because domestic abuse services and the survivors they support were increasingly telling us it is a problem.”

The domestic abuse charity has found abusive former partners use childcare arrangements to carry on targeting their victims in around a third of cases where children were cited as the reason for ongoing contact. 

Parents can face fines or even jail sentences if they do not make sure their child sees an ex-partner on a supervised or unsupervised visit when court-ordered contact is in place.

Angela* said the post-separation abuse her ex-husband has subjected her to has been even worse than the actual relationship. 

The 43-year-old domestic abuse survivor, who had one child with her former spouse, said she suffered emotional, financial and online abuse from him while they were together.

She said: “He was very aggressive towards me. It was an insidious thing. All of a sudden I realised I had no control over my life. I was basically a slave. Anytime I had an opinion that was different to him, he got angry. if I left a toy out, he went into a rage. I would be back terrified hiding in the flat with the child because he would be on the rampage and skulking around and ready to blow. 

“My money wasn’t my own. My thoughts weren’t my own. I had to check in with him on everything. He was living off me but if I went out and bought a lipstick I was a really bad person. He borrowed thousands of pounds that I never got back. He is very angry with the world. The world is against him. It’s all a conspiracy. Women are out to get him. We are all b*****s. We are all trying to trick the courts. 

“Part of the issue was my ex was using drugs and doing so in proximity of the child. I didn’t know he was taking drugs until very far into the relationship. He would leave lighters strewn around the room and weed out. With a toddler that is unacceptable. He would leave doors and windows open.”

She said her ex would send emails every few days threatening to get the authorities to take her child away after she left him. He was initially only allowed supervised contact with their child due to his drug use but is now allowed to have unsupervised contact.

Read more

Mother and two daughters recount horrors of domestic abuse campaign

“When he was in the home, he didn’t bother with our child but as soon we broke up, access was the most important thing in his life,” Angela recalled. “He would turn up late to contact with our child. He wouldn’t change his nappy. Later, when he was older, he would let him wet himself. He had to do a handover with staff at contact centres when the visits were supervised and he would get aggressive with them.” 

She said they have a contact book where they write notes to each other about practical issues but he has used this to write abusive messages to her. 

Becky*, another woman who was subjected to coercive control by her ex-partner, said he now has custody of their young child and has used childcare arrangements to continue the abuse.

The 47-year-old said: “After I left him, he put her in his car and said he wanted one last bit of time with her on his own and never gave her back. I drove four hours to see her on Mother’s Day for a meeting the court had scheduled, but he said ‘You are not going to see her’ and drove home. He was shouting at me and laughing. He mainly abuses me through emails – mostly he says I am crazy and a bad mum. He doesn’t think that, he says it because he knows it will affect me. She cries when it’s time to go back to him at the end of visits.”

Anne Neale, of Legal Action for Women, said: “Men have been empowered by the family courts being more in their favour to pursue more cases and be more adversarial than they used to be

“This creates a climate in which men feel more emboldened to harass women through the courts and continue exerting controlling behaviour through the courts. It is also linked to the wider fact that women are increasingly speaking out about abuse wherever it takes place, including through the family courts.”

The campaigner, who supports women going through family courts, argued the presumption in law that it is in the best interests of the child to have contact with both parents “enables” the family courts to override a man’s history of violence towards both the mother and children. 

The warning comes after more than 120 MPs wrote to the government in May demanding an inquiry into how family courts in England and Wales deal with victims of domestic abuse.

Lisa Longstaff, a campaigner who is part of the Support Not Separation Coalition, said abusive ex-partners use contact as an opportunity to often verbally and sometimes physically abuse the mother.

She said: “They continue exerting coercive or controlling behaviour with the pretext of making arrangements or cause problems such as making the mother travel long distances, or not returning the child at the agreed time. 

“Violent men also continue to exert control over ex-partners and their children through the family court, enabled by Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), social workers and judges who routinely dismiss rape and domestic violence as either false or irrelevant to a child’s welfare. This is confirmed by official figures: 70 to 90 per cent of cases in the family court involve domestic violence or abuse, yet only one per cent of contact applications from fathers are refused altogether. 

Read more

Tens of thousands of ‘abuse victims at risk over NI number’

“Mothers who report rape or domestic violence are not only disbelieved and their children forced into contact with fathers they may be terrified of, they risk losing the children they are trying to protect. For spelling out the dangers the children face, mothers are accused of ‘parental alienation’ or of causing ‘emotional harm’ by ‘poisoning’ the children against the father.”

Sandra Horley CBE, of national domestic abuse charity Refuge, argued the way family courts deal with child contact cases involving domestic abuse places women and children at risk and called for “urgent reform” to ensure their protection is prioritised.

Refuge, the largest provider of specialist domestic violence services in the UK, is calling for a reversal of the legal presumption child contact in cases of domestic abuse is always in the best interests of a child.

She added: “All too often, violent partners are using child access meetings to continue their abuse. We see cases where violent partners fail to collect or drop off children at the agreed time, causing some women to fear the perpetrator has kidnapped their children, and disrupting women’s lives – causing them to miss work or cancel plans. Shockingly, we are also aware of instances where women have suffered physical and sexual assault from their abuser when children are being picked up or dropped off.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “No child or parent should ever be in danger because of a partner’s access to their child, which is why we are reviewing the family court system to make sure they’re protected.

“We have also introduced legislation to ban abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts and throughout our review we have engaged survivors across the country to ensure we are doing everything we can to safeguard them further.” 

Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service did not want to comment when approached.

*The names of the women in this article have been changed to protect their identity

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Fall in rape charges despite rise in reports is ‘creating new victims’

Dame Vera Baird QC warns over failure to prosecute as charge rate drops from 6.8% to 4.2%

PA Media

Thu 29 Aug 2019 00.01 BST

 Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, called for the government to act quickly in its review of the handling of complaints.

The criminal justice system is putting more people at risk by failing to tackle potential serial rapists, the victims’ commissioner has warned.

Dame Vera Baird expressed the concerns as official figures showed that reports of rape are rising but the number of charges being brought has fallen.

Rapes reported to police rose by almost 13,000 to 54,045 in 2017-18, compared with 41,186 the previous year, with 11,913 attacks not recorded as crimes, up from 8,624.

The overall charge rate fell from 6.8% to 4.2%, according to data recorded by public bodies, gathered by the Rape Monitoring Group and published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Baird said the government needed to act quickly in its review of how complaints were handled to make sure victims received justice: “The criminal justice system is letting down current victims and creating new victims by failing to tackle potential serial rapists.”

Only one in every 50 cases results in a conviction. How can this be justice?

She added: “More complainants are coming forward, but fewer cases are being prosecuted and only one in every 50 cases results in a conviction. How can this be justice? We know that nearly four in five victims of sexual assault choose not to report the crimes committed against them. How can we ever give these victims the confidence to report when so few cases ever secure a conviction?

“We need to understand the reasons behind this failure. It is in part down to the treatment of complainants by police and prosecutors – for example, failing to update them on investigations or making intrusive and disproportionate demands on their personal data. We also know that the treatment of complainants in the courtroom can cause trauma and distress.”

The data was recorded by bodies including the Home Office, the Office for National Statistics, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), covering all 43 police forces in England and Wales and the British Transport Police. It was previously published separately.

The CPS decided not to charge any suspects in just under half the cases. For 24,280 of the offences there were “evidential difficulties”, such as the victim not supporting a prosecution. There were 2,238 offences that resulted in a charge or summons, with the outcome for 6,647 not yet recorded.

According to the latest MoJ figures, the average prison sentence for rape is about nine years.

Rebecca Hitchen, campaigns manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the figures were “truly shocking” and evidence of “just how broken the system is”.

She added: “This is a crisis and it needs the highest level of political attention. We urge the prime minister, the home secretary and the justice secretary to get fully involved in the ongoing rape review, from which very little has been heard. We urge them to demand answers as to what is going on. They should also make clear, public reassurances to women, and men, who are considering reporting rape, that meaningful work will be done to improve access to justice.”

A CPS spokesman said: “The growing gap between the number of rapes recorded and the number of cases going to court is a great cause of concern. That’s why the CPS is taking part in a system-wide review to scrutinise how these cases are being handled.” He added that the “significant fall in the volume of referrals from the police” had contributed to the drop in rape charges.

Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, said it was vital that statistics about rape were made as transparent as possible and she hoped the data would help the criminal justice system do all it could to “prevent this most heinous of crimes”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/29/fall-in-charges-despite-rise-in-reports-is-creating-new-victims

Our response to Guardian report showing a significant fall in prosecutions in England and Wales

Revealed: collapse in rape cases that end up in court, 27 July 2019

• It is shocking that after decades of campaigning by women and repeated official claims that scandals like Savile, Worboys and Rotherham are things of the past, we learn that rape charging has collapsed even further. It is not because victims don’t come forward. There is “a sharp rise in reports of rape made to police … from 2015 to 2019, the number of rape claims … rose by 61%, from 35,847 to 57,882”. Two women a week, many of them mothers, are killed by partners or ex-partners – usually after reporting multiple assaults and threats which go unheeded by police. Rape and domestic violence terrorise women daily, yet perpetrators can count on almost complete impunity.

How much does the latest drop in charging have to do with the abolition of specialist rape investigation units and “digital strip search”? We and many others, including the information commissioner and victims commissioner, objected to this indiscriminate download of victims’ social media. Big Brother Watch claims the police powers used against victims are more extensive than those used against crime suspects; lawyers question whether they are even legal.

Boris Johnson, who as London mayor made sweeping cuts to the police service, now wants to recruit 20,000 additional officers. Will any of them be used to police the terrorism of rape and domestic violence? Or will they be deployed to repress us when we protest against lack of action on sexist or racist violence, climate change, or child poverty?
Cristel Amiss Black Women’s Rape Action Project 
Lisa Longstaff Women Against Rape

Assange: UN Rapporteur on Torture is right to be alarmed at the manipulation of rape allegations

For over four decades we have campaigned to get rapists convicted. But the pursuit of Julian Assange is not driven by any concerns about rape but by US government pressure to punish him for his Wikileaks exposes on war crimes. Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel and Degrading Treatment, is right to be alarmed.  

At the time of the original allegations against Julian Assange, we pointed to the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued. (Guardian 19 Dec 2010 and 23 August 2012). It is unlike any other rape investigation we have seen anywhere.

The low UK rate of charging men for reported rape (figures just published show it has dropped even further from 14% to 2.5% in four years) – resulting largely from negligent and biased investigations and prosecutions, speaks volumes about how rape is generally dealt with.  Only one in 65 reports result in a summons or charge.  The police excuse for this is that they are overwhelmed and understaffed.

But every resource has been thrown at the Assange case, at great cost to the taxpayer for which he has then been blamed.  

It is not for us to decide whether or not any allegation made against Mr Assange is true and whether what happened amounts to rape or sexual violence – we don’t have all the facts and what has been said has not been tested. But we do know that rape victims’ right to anonymity and defendants’ right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are both crucial to a just judicial process.

In this case the judicial process was corrupted from the beginning and justice denied both to accusers and accused. On the one hand, the names of the women were circulated on the internet; they were trashed, accused of setting a “honey trap”, their allegations dismissed as “not real rape”. On the other hand, Mr Assange has been treated by much of the media as if he were guilty, though he has not even been charged.

Swedish and British prosecutors are responsible for how the women’s allegations have been handled. As with every rape prosecution, the women are not in charge of the case, the state is.

Julian Assange has always made clear that he was available for any investigation into the allegations, and he was in Sweden during the first investigation which cleared him. He also made clear that his only concern was not to be extradited to the US from Sweden if he returned there, and that’s why he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. Sweden refused to give guarantees on the grounds that no such request from the US had been made.   

But as soon as Julian Assange was taken out of the Ecuadorian embassy after a change of government, the US initiated extradition proceedings and laid 17 charges including for ‘espionage’.

Nils Melzer warns of the implications of the witch-hunt against Mr Assange in the course of documenting the effects of his forced confinement, now imprisonment. Mr Melzer wrote in his Op Ed:

…Assange had been systematically slandered to divert attention from the crimes he exposed. Once he had been dehumanized through isolation, ridicule and shame, just like the witches we used to burn at the stake, it was easy to deprive him of his most fundamental rights without provoking public outrage worldwide. And thus a legal precedent is being set…

We are glad Mr Melzer revised some of his comments on the women’s allegations, but his overall point remains. Mr Assange is being publicly vilified in order to divert attention from the state’s revenge and silencing. We are alarmed by the precedent this sets for journalists and whistle-blowers everywhere. We oppose torture and the death penalty. We cannot condone the way rape allegations against an individual continue to be used to pursue a political agenda intent on hiding rape, torture and murder committed by the state.

Having worked with thousands of rape victims who are seeking asylum from rape and other forms of torture, we have met nothing but obstruction from British governments. Time after time, they have accused women of lying and deported them with no concern for their safety. So don’t tell us they are concerned about victims of rape.

Where is the campaign demanding justice for the rapes and murders Wikileaks exposed? Who will speak up for these victims if whistle-blowers are silenced?

In 2004, together with Black Women’s Rape Action Project, we wrote to women MPs about the war crimes and torture, including rape, under US-UK occupation, that were being committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We received no reply.

Chelsea Manning (currently re-imprisoned despite President Obama having commuted her sentence) was able to use Wikileaks to expose the extensive cover up of rape, other sexual violence and murder, including of women and children, by the US military in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq. Do these victims not count?

Both Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning have already suffered years of isolation, confinement, imprisonment, public vilification and humiliation, longer and more shaming than many men convicted of rape.

Once again women’s fury and frustration at the injustices we face, is being manipulated by governments for their own purposes. Sending someone to their death or life imprisonment and torture in the US for ‘espionage’ isn’t justice for rape.

More than 1,000 reports of sexual abuse and harassment at UK McDonald’s, campaigners say

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/mcdonalds-sexual-harassment-protests-abuse-workers-a8937186.html

Exclusive: ‘He texted me to say he was at home alone with just the kids. I just blocked his number. That resulted in him pulling his pants down in the stockroom where there were no cameras,’ says McDonald’s employee

The president of the UK’s largest independent trade union in the food sector says workers in McDonald’s across the UK had told them sexual harassment is commonplace ( Getty )

McDonald’s workers in the UK are being subjected to a “toxic culture” of sexual harassment which has seen at least 1,000 women abused and predatory employees moved to different stores rather than sacked, campaigners have told The Independent.

Allegations range from managers making repeated sexual comments, brushing up against staff and discussing sexual desires, to abusing their access to workers’ contact details in order to send texts and explicit photos, and even offering better hours and promotion in return for sex.

Workers at branches across the UK have detailed a catalogue of abuse and harassment to the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), the country’s largest independent trade union in the food sector.

Ian Hodson, president of the union, alleged complaints were “swept under the carpet”, workers were “victimised” for complaining, and added that some had been paid compensation on the condition they sign non-disclosure agreements.

A spokesperson for UK McDonald’s responded by urging anyone with any concerns around sexual harassment to speak to their manager or contact their confidential employee helpline to allow them to “investigate immediately”.

A spokesperson for the BFAWU said: “Sexual harassment is very prevalent. There is a toxic culture. Predatory employees operate with impunity. I would not say sexual harassment and sexual assault is happening in every store, but where a predatory manager or culture arises then McDonald’s is doing far too little to address it. 

“Workers are dependent on their hours to survive so it creates a power imbalance when a staff or senior staff or manager is a predator. There are very little checks and balances on them because of that power structure. When people make a complaint, managers do not deal with the procedure as they should. They often brush it off rather than say, ‘That should not be happening, we need to start an investigation into this’. We have heard of several situations where managers accused of sexual harassment have been moved.”

The union spokesperson estimated that over 1,000 female workers had experienced sexual harassment at McDonald’s in the UK – explaining this figure is based on conversations the union has had with workers across the country.

“It is rare for McDonald’s workers to file grievances about sexual harassment,” he added. “This might be because they do not recognise the behaviour of sexual harassment or they might not know the process for filing a grievance. They might also feel shame or are often concerned that they will not be believed.”

The spokesperson noted victims of sexual harassment might also be put off reporting abuse due to fear of retaliation or being bullied, worries about being isolated or further isolated in the workplace and concerns around the perpetrator being a friend of the manager. They will often try and manage the situation themselves by avoiding the perpetrator or asking colleagues to keep an eye out for them, he added. 

He noted that a very small proportion of McDonald’s workers are union members – explaining that McDonald’s does not recognise the union.

The union organised the first McDonald’s strikes in British history back in September 2017. It is calling for a £10-per-hour minimum wage and guaranteed work hours, as well as for McDonald’s to recognise their union.

A female McDonald’s employee from London said she had endured sexual harassment from a more senior colleague at a store where she has worked at for a number of years. 

She said: “I got approached by a manager to me who would make sly comments like asking if I was up for any fun while his wife was going to be away. He would say that in the workplace. He eventually got hold of my phone number from the system or from another employee. He text me to say he was at home alone with just the kids. I just blocked his number. That resulted in him pulling his pants down in the stockroom where there were no cameras. He held his penis and said, ‘Is this worth waiting for?’ 

“After I complained, a manager said I better have proof of what I’m saying he did because if I was saying this about her, she would use her life savings on getting me done for slander.”

The employee added that she walked out in the middle of a shift after learning that her harasser had been sending inappropriate texts to another female member of staff. 

The union said her attempts to seek help over many months were not taken seriously – explaining that she had asked colleagues for help and approached senior colleagues, but was largely left to manage the situation herself.

This culminated in her writing a formal letter about what was happening to human resources – with it leading to what the union described as an inadequate “investigation” meeting being carried out months later. Following the initial “investigation” she was expected to continue working alongside her harasser.

She subsequently had a panic attack at work for which she was taken to hospital, the BFAWU said, adding that she has been unable to return to work since.

The employee said there was one manager there who had been moved to another store after being accused of sexually harassing girls – adding that it “got to the point” where there were no more stores for him to go to and he got sacked.

“He would make inappropriate comments, make girls feel uncomfortable and try breaking relationships between crew members up,” she added. “What I hope happens is McDonald’s and my managers listen. We need a zero sexual harassment policy. McDonald’s care if you give out one too many sauces or one too many napkins in the drive-through but they need to address harassment. There are a lot more women suffering sexual harassment than any of us can imagine.”

She said she was in touch with people from a number of different McDonald’s stores and came across many people in her own store who said they had been sexually harassed at other stores.

She added: “I know 20 or 30 specific incidents of sexual harassments across different stores in the UK that people have told me. After a while you see a pattern – people say, ‘The manager pulled me in the freezer, in the toilets, stock room.’ Basically, wherever there is no camera, and obviously a manager is going to know exactly where all the cameras are, rather than a crew member who has been working there for three days. It gets to the point when people get so upset and furious with it they end up walking out and losing their jobs or lashing out and getting fired. Imagine if it was your daughter or your son.”

Another female McDonald’s worker who worked at a store from 2011 to 2013 said the “banter” was “quite pervy and flirtatious”.

“There was someone in the kitchen who smacked my bum,” she said. “He was persistent with other girls. I was not aware of any protocol if sexual harassment were to happen. I would have been careful who I reported it to as they were keen to cut corners there. I would have queried who would have dealt with it correctly. I would not have gone to the managers and would have gone to head office.”

The former worker, who worked there from the ages of 16 to 18, said one of her colleagues was sexually assaulted by a male colleague, who was in his early thirties, on a night out. Her friend, who was just 17, was “groped” by him.

“She did not tell management,” she said. ”She felt ashamed. She was so young she might not have even had the wherewithal to think she could report something like this.”

A survey by Unite union from January of last year found sexual harassment was rampant in the hospitality industry – discovering nine out of 10 hospitality staff have experienced sexual harassment at work. Of those who reported they were sexually harassed at work, more than half said the perpetrators were members of the public and another 22 per cent said they were harassed at the hands of a manager. A further eight out of 10 surveyed said they witnessed others being sexually harassed at work.

When asked whether their work had an anti-sexual harassment policy in place, 77 per cent said no or they did not know. Some 60 per cent said they were unsure or lacked faith in their management to deal with a sexual harassment complaint.

Dr Hannah Bows, of the Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse at Durham University, said: “Lots of studies have shown sexual harassment is a huge problem. The majority of women will experience it at some point. If you are on a zero-hour contract or in temporary work, it is harder to report as you may face losing your job. Women are often blamed or a common response is getting rid of them.

“Also, sometimes women normalise sexual harassment because we know they experience it in every part of life – from on the way to work on the Tube to sexual harassment at work to at the gym after work. It can be difficult to pinpoint whether or not what you are experiencing is sexual harassment because it is part of everyday intrusions.” 

McDonald’s employs more than 120,000 people, according to its website. Its gender pay gap report from 2018 states there are 1,290 restaurants across the country that are owned and operated by either McDonald’s or their franchisees – as well as explaining women account for over half of the total workforce.

McDonald’s response to the “Migration Advisory Committee – Call for Evidence” states over 80 per cent of their employees are UK nationals. Most of the remainder (around 12 per cent) are EU nationals. 

More than two dozen current and former McDonald’s workers filed sexual harassment complaints in the US last month to challenge what they claim is widespread misconduct at the fast food giant. The allegations include indecent exposure, groping, propositions for sex and lewd comments – behaviour that reportedly took place at both corporate and franchise stores in 20 cities.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s in the UK said: “There is absolutely no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind in society or at McDonald’s. We deeply regret that the employee’s case was not treated with the sensitivity and gravity it warrants. This is not acceptable and our investigation into the case is ongoing.

“We have long-standing policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment – we regularly review and evolve these and we’ve recently rolled out a new training programme and guidance.

“We have an ongoing commitment to educating and raising awareness at all levels of our organisation – encouraging open conversations and communication – and we will continue to prioritise this. We take any allegations extremely seriously.”

They said the company has always strived to create a positive experience in its restaurants and create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued – adding that McDonald’s is committed to a culture that is respectful to all of its employees and customers. 

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SEXUAL HARASSMENT |  MCDONALD’S |  BAKERS |  FOOD AND ALLIED WORKERS UNION

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