Government announces Same Roof victims can re-apply for compensation

See government press release here. Congratulations everyone who campaigned for this change – what a wonderful if very belated victory for grassroots claimants /campaigners! It seems that the government has decided not to make people wait for the end of their Review of the Compensation Scheme after all. That’s good as the uncertainty has been terribly traumatic.

WAR addressing Baker’s Union annual conference 2019

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/

Petition vs sexual harassment at McDonalds

https://www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/mcdonald-s-end-harassment-in-your-stores

This is an important petition taking off, part of the Bakers Union campaign which WAR has been helping with. It’s an international campaign to protest how women in fast food and hospitality are suffering harassment with no recourse from the company. Please sign and circulate. Nobody should have to suffer this when they go to work – it’s not part of anyone’s job description!

Re: Government Review into domestic abuse and family courts

Paul Maynard MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary (Ministry of Justice)
c/o office@paulmaynard.co.uk

28 May 2019

Dear Paul Maynard,

We write regarding the government review on “how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences” called in response to the investigation by Victoria Derbyshire and the letter from over 120 MPs. We welcome this about-turn following the Prime Minister’s initial refusal during PMQ. 

For this review to be effective it must take evidence from mothers, children and family members with direct experience of domestic violence and those organisations supporting and/or campaigning with DV survivors.  The Panel conducting it should include grassroots organisations which have a long track record and much experience of working in this area, such as our own; it should not be dominated by ‘experts’ intent on proving that the issue is ‘complicated’ or needs further ‘research’ which would have the effect of delaying change and maintaining the status quo.    

As you will know, mothers interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire spoke bravely and articulately: from Clare Throssell describing the murder of her children by their father during unsupervised contact ordered by the courts, to the woman who said that ‘the family court abused me way more than my ex ever did’ – and he was a repeated rapist!  For years mothers and their supporters have been raising the alarm, risking their lives and their liberty.  Some have been jailed for refusing to be silenced and to hand over their children to violent men; others have gathered almost 200,000 signatures petitioning for change.

As anti-rape/DV organizations, which are members of the Support not Separation Coalition of (mainly women’s) organisations and concerned individuals, we confront such injustices all the time.  We have been raising them in Parliament, where we launched the dossier Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers (January 2017) documenting many cases of rape and DV where children were forced into contact or given residence to violent fathers.  In September 2018, SnS’s seminar in Parliament, Do No Harm, heard evidence from a distinguished panel of speakers who highlighted the trauma inflicted by the family court process on children and their mothers.

We know from our casework that rape and DV are not being treated as crimes of violence.  All the evidence is there.  Official figures show that 70-90% of cases in the family court involve domestic violence/abuse, yet only 1% of contact applications are refused altogether.[1]  

We attend SnS’s monthly self-help meetings at the Crossroads Women’s Centre where we are based. Through great collective effort we are enabling some mothers to keep their children and others to win them back, giving hope to all who come to us.

For years organisations of men who deny domestic violence have been allowed to set the agenda, and have had the support of many judges and of CAFCASS – the very service whose job it is to ensure the welfare of children.  On 14 October 2017 CAFCASS was advertised by Families Need Fathers as the keynote speaker of its conference on ‘parental alienation’.  CAFCASS has accepted and promoted ‘parental alienation’, the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner,[2] a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence, defended paedophilia, and argued that children who objected to seeing violent fathers should be forced to have contact.  Soon after he gave ‘expert’ evidence in a family case where the children were forced to have contact with their father, one of the two teenage sons committed suicide.  

Organisations of DV deniers should not be part of this review.  Their purpose is not the welfare of children and their primary carer and protector, almost always the mother, but the imposition of the patriarchal order with the violent father in charge. 

The remit of the review is too narrow.  It should include the following glaring injustices.

  1. Mothers who report rape or DV are not only disbelieved and their children forced into contact, they risk losing their children altogether as the family court may give residence to the father despite evidence of his violence, or blame the mother for ‘parental alienation’ which they claim without grounds, then say it may cause ‘emotional harm’ and take the children into care.  Research published in 2017 in the US where mothers are facing similar injustices, found that the family courts only believe a mother’s claim of a child’s sexual abuse 1 out of 51 times (2%) and lose custody more than half the time (56%) when ‘parental alienation’ is mentioned!  This is the most scandalous attack on women and children by violent men through the use of a state institution.
  2. The court’s bias against women is compounded by discrimination based on disability, race, nationality, age and of course income.  Mothers are generally on lower incomes than fathers, including because we do much more unwaged caring work for children and others.  Our economic disadvantage and/or poverty are at the heart of the sexism with which women are treated.  Most of the women who come to us for help are single mums, many are women of colour, immigrant, have a disability, a mental health issue or a learning difficulty, or have a child with a disability, or were in care themselves and are assumed to be ‘unfit’ because of the traumatic experiences they suffered.
  3. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 which should provide support for mothers and children to stay together, and additional support for disabled mothers under the Care Act 2014 are not being implemented.  Instead millions are being spent taking children into care and profiteering by an increasingly privatised ‘child protection’ industry.  The cruel and dangerous treatment of children by the family courts is being replicated by institutions across the board, especially against disabled children. 
  4. The reason children who have not been harmed can be removed from their mothers, and thus subjected to the harm and trauma of separation, is that their relationship with their primary carer and protector, their mother, is devalued and even disregarded.  There is an assumption that mothers are dispensable so that in taking the child there is no loss despite the bond of love between them.  This attitude makes it possible to assert that any father, even a violent one, or even a ‘corporate parent’, is ‘good enough’ to replace the mother.  A court in New York (2004, Nicholson v Williams) after hearing evidence from reputable trauma experts concluded that taking children from their mother causes more trauma to the child than witnessing DV.  It is time the UK courts acknowledged that.  Princes William and Harry have spoken of their unbearable pain as children when their mother died – children go through similar pain when they are wrenched from their mother by family court decisions.
  5. The biased conduct of ‘fact finding’ hearings by judges would not be tolerated in criminal courts.  It has been hidden by the secrecy of the family courts which prevents public scrutiny.
  6. Controversial algorithms to be used for ‘child protection’ are being developed.  This threatens to automate inequality, which a number of professionals and IT experts are beginning to raise.  SnS’s open letter spells out the reasons for our grave concerns.

We look forward to your reply about the issues we raise.  We are very anxious to let women in our network know how they can contribute their experiences to the review. It is urgent that this information as well as the names and qualifications of those who will be on the Panel conducting the review are made public. 

Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project bwrap@rapeaction.net
Lisa Longstaff, Women Against Rape war@womenagainstrape.net
on behalf of the Support not Separation Coalition, Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX

cc Shadow Policing Minister, Louise Haigh MP


[1] All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence Parliamentary Briefing, April 2016

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/dr-richard-a-gardner-36582.html

Letter on arrest of Julian Assange

Dear Editor (unpublished)

Whether or not Assange is guilty of a sexual offence, it is shocking that 70+ MPs calling for his extradition to Sweden in the name of justice refuse to take position on his possible extradition to the US and the torture and even death he may face there. (Give priority to Julian Assange rape claim, home secretary urged, 13 April 2019)

We agree with Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott: Assange’s current detention is not about “the rape charges, serious as they are, it is about WikiLeaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public.” And so it was from the beginning.

Chelsea Manning (currently re-in prison despite President Obama’s pardon) 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?

At the time of the original allegations against Assange, we pointed to the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued. (Guardian 19 Dec 2010 and 23 August 2012) The UK low conviction rate – 6% of reported rapes, and falling – resulting largely from negligent and biased investigations, speaks volumes about how rape is generally downgraded.

The MPs letter claims that Sweden dropped their investigation because of Assange’s ‘unavailability’. Untrue. We and others urged the Swedish authorities to question him at the Ecuadorian embassy so his accusers would not be denied the investigation they were entitled to and justice could be done. They refused until December 2015 when they finally did. They then dropped the case. No charge was ever made. [But Sweden recently reopened the investigation.]

Where is the letter 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 Rape Action Project, we wrote to women MPs about the war crimes and torture, including rape, that were being committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We received no reply.

[Since this letter was submitted to The Guardian, the US government has initiated extradition proceedings against Assange.]

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Longstaff, Women Against Rape

To Woman’s Hour: parental alienation interview, 26 April 2019

30 April 2019
Dear Woman’s Hour
We object in the strongest possible terms to Woman’s Hour’s sexist broadcast on 26 April about ‘parental alienation’.
Woman’s Hour’s website says it is ‘the programme that offers a female perspective of the world’. This interview offered the perspective of a men’s organisation which attacks women, represented by two female professionals – a lawyer and a psychotherapist.
‘Parental alienation’ is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A. Gardner, an American misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence as lies, defended paedophilia, and argued that children who objected to seeing violent fathers should be forced to have contact anyway. Soon after a family case where he gave such ‘expert’ evidence, one of the two teenage sons forced to visit his dad committed suicide.
(See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/dr-richard-a-gardner-36582.html)
As organisations that have worked with victims of rape and domestic violence for decades, we are horrified that a programme for women would promote such views. Jenni Murray didn’t pursue them on the facts that rape and domestic violence are a key issue in many marriage break-ups, that two women a week are murdered by partners or ex-partners (often despite multiple calls to police for help), or that over 50% of rapes reported to the Met Police are committed by a partner.
We are sickened by seeing violent men repeatedly attack their partners with impunity while women are denied help, protection and resources to escape. And if they manage to escape, they are often pursued by their violent ex through the family courts, and men take the children as the ultimate act of punishment and control.
Working on family law cases for several years, we’ve have seen how ‘parental alienation’ is increasingly invoked by aggrieved fathers who suddenly became interested in their children when their wives left them.
We have witnessed domestic violence repeatedly dismissed by judges (men and women) in ways that are blatantly sexist. Judges could no longer express such views in the criminal courts. Family courts operate in secret and so escape the discipline of public scrutiny, and this has protected them from having to change in response to women’s pressure to take men’s sexual and domestic violence as the violent crimes they are.
A single judge makes a factual ruling on whether or not they believe you suffered violence, and if they choose not to believe you, as they often do, they can take your children and forbid your raising the violence again under threat of cutting all contact with your children.
We see mothers’ efforts to protect their children from a violent father dismissed as ‘parental alienation’ even when the man has a criminal record for violence. Family courts assume contact with any father is better than no contact and often ignore or breech protective measures laid down by other courts or by the police who advise no contact for safety’s sake. At least 19 children have been murdered by fathers as a result (Women’s Aid).
The overwhelming majority of mothers who come to us because their children have been or are at risk of being taken by Social Services, are women of colour escaping rape and domestic violence (including asylum seekers).
Family courts remove children from their mother who is blamed for causing the child ‘emotional harm’ by witnessing domestic violence, while the father who committed the violence is considered a good enough parent to get residence. Now they are using ‘parental alienation’ as a pretext to give him the children – ’parental alienation’ is considered abuse from the mother, while domestic violence is not abuse from the father.
Is Woman’s Hour not aware of the public campaign by Rotherham rape survivor Sammy Woodhouse just before Xmas whose convicted rapist-torturer was invited (while in prison) to be a party to proceedings over their child born of rape when she was 15? This was not an isolated case, but part of a national pattern. There are hundreds if not thousands of mothers who are trying to defend their children from violent men, not only children born of rape.
Is Woman’s Hour not aware that there is a mass movement of mothers and children traumatised by unjust separation and forced into contact or residency with violent fathers?
These Woman’s Hour guests were invited onto the programme a day after a Families Need Fathers (FNF) march promoting ‘parental alienation’. Why is WH inviting guests who echo the FNF agenda that mothers are often hostile to fathers for spurious reasons, and that such hostility is abusive to the child?
FNF is a notoriously sexist men’s organisation hiding behind respectability as a charity. They campaign for fathers’ rights to trump mothers’ and children’s rights. As long ago as 1994, during a debate on the Child Support Agency, MP Glenda Jackson reported in Parliament that FNF advised fathers who were not allowed access to their children to ‘kidnap them. If that failed and nothing else could succeed, it advocated the murder of the mother.’
FNF dismiss domestic violence as false allegations. They claim that ‘False and unfounded allegations poison proceedings when a non-resident parent is seeking parenting time with his children. Judges need to make findings of fact as soon as possible and to take false allegations into account when determining the best interests of the child.’ FNF claim that ‘there is widespread abuse of men and boys in the context of the family courts’ and accuse women of ‘making allegations’ as ‘a motorway to obtaining legal aid’.
What on earth is Woman’s Hour doing airing this blatant misogyny? We must have the right to reply to such bias.
Yours sincerely,
Cristel Amiss, Lisa Longstaff,
Black Women’s Rape Action Project Women Against Rape
bwrap@rapeaction.net war@womenagainstrape.net

See other complaints to the programme from others at supportnotseparation.blog

New police disclosure consent forms

Update:

See Lisa Longstaff of WAR interviewed on SKY News, 1 May 2019

Good account by anon survivor who went through three trials:

Giving my phone to police after my rape left me in limbo feeling violated

And another survivor’s account:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/29/sexual-assault-case-dropped-refused-police-phone-rape

Also, see good article by Dawn Foster here:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/29/rape-victims-phones-police-guidelines

WAR’s comment:

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.

International Women’s Day – Strike

Friday 8 March protest 12-2pm at Royal Courts of Justice WC2A 2LL:

We invite you to join and speak out at the International Women’s Strike event this Friday.

We’ll be highlighting sexual violence including:

-Putting the family court on trial for removing children from their mother after they report rape or domestic violence;
-Our campaign with the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union demanding an end to sexual harassment, zero hour contracts, starvation wages and benefit cuts;
-Putting the government on trial for detention, destitution and deportation of rape survivors seeking asylum.

More info here https://www.facebook.com/GlobalWomensStrike/
Tel: 020 7482 2496
Please share in your networks.
Twitter #IntWomenStrike2019

All women, children and non binary people welcome.

2.30: SOAS Cloisters – Decolonising Our Minds and Payday men’s network hosting the Strikers with food, exhibits, film screenings. SOAS University of London, Bloomsbury, London WC1H 0XG. Everyone Welcome.

Government announces scrapping of ‘same roof’ rule

This government press release was published on 28 Feb 2019, a victory for all those who campaigned against the discriminatory rules of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/access-to-compensation-scheme-for-victims-who-lived-with-their-attacker

The ‘same roof’ rule had been used to deny compensation to anyone who had been sexually attacked before 1979 by someone living in the same house (for attacks after that date the rule had been set aside, but continued to be applied retrospectively to cases before 1979).

After years of legal challenges, a woman’s case in 2018 was won, establishing that this rule was unjust.

The government has been forced by this case and weight of public opinion to finally concede that this rule must be scrapped. They are now suggesting that victims reapply, or apply for the first time. They are also in the process of a wider review if the scheme, and will release the results later in the year.

Union launches campaign against sexual harassment in hospitality

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>>