|We share the outrage of women in Cyprus protesting against the conviction of a 19-year-old British woman who faces prison after reporting gang rape by 12 Israeli men in Ayia Napa. We welcome the UK government’s concern at the unfairness of the trial. But where is the acknowledgement that rape victims in the UK also face prison if they are disbelieved?|
The Cyprus police forced the woman to retract after nine hours of questioning without a lawyer; she was then charged for lying. The trial judge refused to hear evidence that the woman had been raped, stating “this is not a rape case, I will not consider whether she was raped or not.”
We have worked with women in the UK who were prosecuted and imprisoned after receiving similar treatment at the hands of the British police. Some way through the investigation into their rape the police decided they did not believe them and turned the investigation against the women without even affording them any of the rights a defendant would have had, such as a lawyer.
We raised this with Keir Starmer when he was Director of Public Prosecutions (2008-13) and was overseeing a review of prosecutions of women who are disbelieved. We insisted he meet the sister of a woman sentenced to three years in prison after being attacked on her way home by two strangers: there was compelling evidence of a biased police investigation and a biased trial. We also wrote to Starmer asking for the prosecution of a woman who was repeatedly raped, again by a stranger, to be dropped. Both women had been pressurised by the police to retract their allegations. The first refused, the second retracted – it made no difference, both were prosecuted and imprisoned.
We told the DPP and his successor Alison Saunders that the policy of prosecuting rape victims who are disbelieved skews police investigations and undermines women’s ability to report rape. It encourages the centuries-old institutional sexism of police and courts which has never gone away despite official pronouncements to the contrary. How else can we explain that 40 years since the birth of the modern-day anti-rape movement rape prosecutions are at an all-time low and still falling: 3% of reported rapes lead to a conviction granting rapists almost complete impunity.
Our warnings fell on deaf ears. Starmer, while claiming to stand with women against rape, refused to stand with victims once the police had disbelieved them. And so today, victims who are accused of lying face longer sentences in Britain than the woman in Cyprus does for the same ‘crime’ – often way longer than the average sentences given to convicted rapists.
We have helped to overturn some cases, proving how easy it is for victims to be treated as perpetrators. One woman had been raped at age 15 and charged with lying when police claimed to have found no sperm on her T-shirt where she’d said her rapist had ejaculated. Our support led to a second investigation by another police force who found the sperm and the man was prosecuted. The woman later sued the police for £20,000. Another teenage girl who reported a sexual assault had her summary fine quashed – it had been issued when police decided they didn’t believe her. We don’t know how many other women are charged and fined similarly, and are too scared or unable to find the help to fight these injustices.
It is not only the criminal courts that are at fault. The family courts are even worse. Mothers who disclose rape and domestic violence by violent ex-partners risk having their children taken away and handed to the father, even when he has a record for rape or DV. The government is due to report on its review of family court treatment of DV victims.
Recent decisions by police and CPS that victims must hand over their whole mobile phone and social media history, medical and counselling records, and that these must be disclosed to their attacker has led to a further drop in rape prosecutions. Like in Cyprus, in most British cases it is not the rapists that are on trial but their victims.
It has been claimed that the Israeli men were let go because Cyprus wants to protect its political and economic relations with Israel. How much do politics influence court decisions in Britain and elsewhere? We don’t know. But we do know that powerful and well-connected men, like Harvey Weinstein whose trial in the US has just begun, are more likely to get away with it. On the other hand, whistle-blowers like Julian Assange whom governments want to silence because they expose rape and murder by the state, are assumed to be guilty of sexual offences even when they haven’t been charged.
Women Against Rape can be contacted at 0207 482 2496 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dame Vera Baird QC warns over failure to prosecute as charge rate drops from 6.8% to 4.2%
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”.
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
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.
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.
On Monday 15 July, the World at One on BBC Radio 4, considered a newly published official report They also interview Donna, a survivor of serious sexual assault in the British Army who has worked with WAR for several years. Listen to the report by logging onto BBC Iplayer, find the programme and then skip to the particular segment at 16’06”.
The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union has been working with WAR on an inspirational campaign to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. They invited Lisa to speak at their annual conference in Southport on 10 June 2019, about the campaign. Watch the film here on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_50u7Ay-3I
After the speech there was a standing ovation. The BFAWU represent workers in fast food and hospitality industries and is a leading campaign taking strike actions against precarious contracts and low pay. We know that benefit cuts and poverty wages make women and girls more vulnerable to sexual violence, including abuse of power by employers. Read more about their amazing campaigns and strikes at https://www.bfawu.org/blog and https://www.bfawu.org/
See Lisa Longstaff of WAR interviewed on SKY News, 1 May 2019
Good account by anon survivor who went through three trials:
And another survivor’s account:
Also, see good article by Dawn Foster here:
There’s a lot in the news today about the new ‘national consent forms’ victims of rape are being asked to sign authorising the police to trawl through their social media – phone, internet, computer, etc. – when investigating the rape. The CPS threatens to close any cases where the victim wants to put restrictions on what material they can access. We were interviewed on TV Sky News at 12.10pm.
This is closely related to the established practice of trawling through medical health records, school records and any records of sexual behaviour/sexual history. This irrelevant information is commonly used to discredit allegations and stop the case going to court or to trash you in court when you give evidence. Rape survivors already refer to their trial as a second rape – authorising new indiscriminate social media evidence will make it even worse. Some victims are calling it a ‘digital strip search’.
The gathering of evidence should focus on the violence which has been reported between x and y, not on who you slept with or sent texts to in the past, or whether you were assaulted as a child.
The police and Crown Prosecution Service can’t be trusted to judge what is ‘reasonable intrusion’ or ‘reasonable lines of inquiry’ when their record shows how sexist they are – that is why rape convictions are at an all time low (6% of reported rape) and falling.
Police and CPS have a duty to disclose information to the defence, including where it undermines the prosecution. That some cases may have collapsed because they didn’t disclose information which should have been disclosed is no reason to institute further trawling of irrelevant material which will inevitably be used by the defence to discredit victims.
We don’t see victims of other crimes (like burglary which also often happens in private without witnesses) treated with this assumption of suspicion, so why us?
We have campaigned for years for rape and sexual assault to be taken seriously; this is a throwback to police treating victims as suspects (without even the protections granted to suspects) and blaming us rather than their biased investigations for the low conviction rate. They want to put us back in our boxes and stop us reporting and getting justice.
This measure (like the proposal to bring in anonymity for rape suspects which crops up regularly) must be defeated.
For more info see: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/apr/29/new-police-disclosure-consent-forms-could-free-rape-suspects and most of the other national papers.
Published in The Caterer
THURSDAY, JANUARY 10TH 2019, 10:07
WRITTEN BY: EMMA LAKE
The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) has launched a campaign against sexual harassment in the fast food and hospitality industries.
The union has joined forces with Women Against Rape to launch the campaign. The charity said: “Sexual violence in the hospitality industry is much more common than we all think. We don’t exactly know how common because most people don’t tell anyone. Abusers count on the victim being afraid to report it, scared that she may lose her job if she is not believed, or even if she is.”
BFAW hopes the campaign will encourage victims of sexual violence to report abuse. The two groups have said those in low-paying roles, on zero-hour contracts or with insecure immigration status may be particularly vulnerable and fear coming forward.
Woman Against Rape added: “Things are changing. Decades of campaigning by organisations like ours, individual women and other survivors who fought back, and the advent of social media have enabled global movements like #MeToo. This has encouraged workers in the hospitality industry to come forward.
“But it is hard to speak out if you don’t know your rights and you don’t know if your union is going to back you or you don’t have a union. The BFAWU has come to Women Against Rape because it wants to ensure that workers can report any abuse, win justice and stop any further violence. We are very glad about that and want to support in every way we can.”
More details of the campaign, and advice on how to report an incident, can be found here.
Men behaving badly: how to protect your staff from harassment>>
Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union announces launch of Sexual Harassment campaign supported by our sisters from Women Against Rape
Has the #MeToo movement helped workers in the fast food and hospitality industry to speak out about sexual violence at work and win protection?
Read WAR’s blogpost on the BFAWU website.