Archive for March 14th, 2008

Support is still needed

A big ‘thank you’ to all those who have and are supporting us in our hour of need! We have been truly humbled by the tremendous support that we have received from around the country and even internationally!

At a full cabinet meeting on 26th February 2008, despite a lively protest involving users and supporters of SBS, Ealing Council went ahead with its decision to have only one service provider on domestic violence for the borough. The Council will now make a decision on 1 April 2008 as to who will get the funds. Although SBS has made a bid for the funds (£100,000 per year for 3 years), we are unlikely to succeed as we are insistent that without extra funding, it is impossible to provide a borough wide service without cutting services to black and minority women. On the other hand, a number of organizations including the national charity Refuge, has applied for the recycled funds that have previously been awarded to SBS to meet the needs of black and minority women.

Equality and Cohesion

It is of great concern to us that across the country, at the local and national level, a number of policies and initiatives are being instituted which will have a profound impact on projects such as ours. We are witness to a redefinition of the notion of equality in the delivery of services. Equality no longer appears to be linked to the needs of the most vulnerable and deprived, (traditionally this has included black and minority communities). Instead it is linked to the view that all services must reflect the needs of the majority community because it has been traditionally ‘excluded’ from regeneration policies. In other words, equality means providing the same services for everyone. Under this misguided ‘one size fits all’ approach, unequal structural relations based on class, gender and race are ignored. So, in our situation, due in part to budget constraints, Ealing Council has made full use of the backlash against multiculturalism and feminism to ‘restructure’ its services so that there is only one service provider of domestic violence. They argue that this will not have an adverse impact on black and minority women since they can access the service if they wish. Specialist services likes ours are needed not only for reasons to do with language and cultural differences but just as importantly because organisations like ours have considerable experience and expertise in providing advice and advocacy services in complex circumstances where legal aid is no longer easily available and where immigration difficulties make some people much more vulnerable than others.

At the same time, in a somewhat contradictory fashion, the implementation of ‘cohesion’ strategies in Ealing and around the country are resulting in the promotion of single faith (Muslim) based groups that are provided with funds to build capacity to address a range of social issues. For a number of reasons, this is an extremely worrying development. It also spells the death knell of secular groups like SBS. Our main concern is that social issues like domestic violence and forced marriage in faith based groups will be addressed from within a religious framework which will be disastrous for women’s rights within minority communities. It will close down the options that are available to the most vulnerable in our communities and will violate their fundamental human rights.

Refuge

We are extremely disturbed to note that the organisation Refuge has decided to make a bid for the recycled funds that should be awarded to SBS. Refuge is a national domestic violence charity that has considerable resources at its disposal. In 2006/7 for instance, its total annual income was £9.4 million. Refuge has made a bid for the £100,000 to provide a domestic violence service in Ealing. Needless to say, this move undermines our struggle for funding and for our autonomy. By way of a gesture of support, Refuge wrote to Ealing Council requesting it to make reserve funds available for SBS following the bidding process! It is a matter of great disappointment to SBS that a well known, well resourced national organisation like Refuge is colluding in the closure of a vital specialist organisation. Given its annual income, its bid for the £100,000 represents a ‘drop in the ocean’, but the same funds will make all the difference to our work with black and minority women. Its attitude displays a patronising, unprincipled and indifferent approach to our struggles as black and minority women.

What you can do:
* For those of you who have not written to Ealing Council protesting against its decision to withdraw funding from SBS, there is still time. (Please see our letter requesting support on our website.) Please write to Jason Stacey: Leader of Ealing Council, Ealing Town Hall, Uxbridge Road, Ealing, W5 2BY, Jason.stacey@ealing.gov.uk. Don’t forget to send us copies.
* Please write to Sandra Horley at Refuge protesting against her decision sandra_horley@refuge.org.uk – Please also write to Refuge patrons which include cherie Booth QC, Fiona Bruce and Refuge Trustee Dame Stella Rimington. Please let us have copies of any letters sent and replies received.
* Join the Facebook group in order to keep up to date with the campaign http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=36723275296&ref=mf
* Write letters to national/local newspapers or other media raising this issue
* Lobby your MP to sign the Early Day Motion 1122 tabled by Ealing Southall MP Virendra Sharma. http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=35341&SESSION=891. Find your MP here: http://www.writetothem.com/
* Sign the online petition on the Downing Street website here: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/SaveSBS/
* In the long term, in order to free ourselves from funding uncertainties, we wish to build an endowment fund. Donations small or large marked ‘SBS endowment fund’ will be gratefully accepted.
* Attend a demonstration on 1st April at 6pm outside Ealing Town Hall, Uxbridge Road, W5. Nearest tube: Ealing Broadway.

A call for direct action!

Leading women’s groups, charities and other organisations including Southall Black Sisters, Amnesty International UK, Oxfam (GB) National Women’s Aid (England), Imkaan, Newham Asian Women’s Project, Women’s Resource Centre, Roshni (Sheffield) and many others, are calling for a day of mass action on 23 April 2008, to protest against the existence of the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ requirement which causes immense suffering and hardship to women who do not have secure immigration status and who experience domestic violence.

Enhancing the power of abusers

Evidence from around the country shows that the ‘no recourse’ requirement forces women with unsettled status to endure the most horrific abuse imaginable: imprisonment in the home, slavery, starvation and acute mental distress are significant features of such abuse. The ‘no recourse’ requirement enhances the power of violent perpetrators and allows them to abuse with impunity whilst at the same time increasing the vulnerability of the unsettled spouse or partner. Yet when women seek help from statutory and voluntary service providers, they are often denied the options – safe housing and welfare service provisions – that are available to abused women in the wider society because they are not entitled to access public funds due to their immigration status. The result is that these women face a stark choice: either to stay in their abusive relationships and risk their lives or leave and risk extreme poverty, destitution, financial and sexual exploitation.

Subverting the ethos of the voluntary sector and the spirit of zero tolerance!

The failure of the government to heed calls to abolish or at the very least reform the ‘no recourse’ requirement has also led to widespread anger, dissatisfaction and frustration amongst service providers including women’s refuges and the police, because they are compelled to turn abused women away and deny them life saving services. This denial subverts the very ethos of service provision especially in the voluntary sector; to protect and support all women in the face of abuse and to uphold their human rights and dignity, irrespective of their backgrounds. Worse still, abused women with ‘No Recourse’ are increasingly forced to rely on help from strangers and religious institutions. Whilst some are genuinely helpful, it is widely recognised that this is an inappropriate and even dangerous approach that would not be tolerated as a domestic violence strategy in the wider society.

End Double standards

Despite waging a long campaign against ‘no recourse’, the lack of an adequate response from the government has led a wide range of organisations to call for direct action. There is a growing momentum within the voluntary sector and caring services for something to be done to change the present situation.

We therefore call on you to help build the biggest mass movement this country has seen against the ‘no recourse’ requirement. We need to show the government that the voluntary sector, the police and the caring services cannot be taken for granted. The human rights of black and minority women who do not have secure immigration status are not dispensable. Enough is Enough!

Some of the main demands of the Campaign:
* Abolish the ‘no recourse’ requirement for all abused women who have insecure immigration status
* Provide a special fund or other measures pending long term solutions. This could for example be financed out of the Victim Fund and other sources to enable all women to have living expenses and have access to refuges and local authority accommodation.
* Reform the domestic violence rule and extend it to all abused women including trafficked women and overseas domestic workers.
* Provide adequate levels of legal aid so that there is access to good quality legal advice and assistance.

What you can do:
* We call on all front-line service providers and their users to join our protest in London on 23 April 2008. We will be providing further advice and information on how your organisation can take part in the day of action over the coming months. In the meantime, please ensure that you have affiliated to the campaign and put the 23 April 2008 in your diary;
* Whatever the nature of your organisation, we ask you to consider providing only a skeletal emergency service on 23 April 2008 so that you can join us. We ask you to suspend all non-urgent services for that day but ensure that emergency cover is in place and that issues of health and safety are not compromised;
* If you are attending the day of action public meeting in London, will you please make an appointment with your MP so that you can lobby him/her in the House of Commons
* Please get your MP to sign the Early Day Motion (No 693) sponsored by Linda Riordan MP on ‘no recourse’.
* Please get your MP to raise the matter with the relevant Ministers mentioned below.
* If you are a refuge you may be interested to know that housing associations have no objection to the day of action as long as health and safety requirements are met and all staff are aware of the procedures to follow including in an emergency;

If you are unable to attend the day of action in London on 23 April, we strongly encourage you to still take part in the day of action by considering the following:
* Take part in an email campaign. Send emails to your local MP and get him/her to raise questions with Harriet Harman MP Deputy leader of the Labour Party; Hazel Blears MP Secretary of State for Department of Communities and Local Government; John Dunworth MP Head of Interpersonal Violence Home Office; John Purnell MP Minister for the Department of Work and Pensions; Jack Straw MP Secretary of State for Justice at the Ministry of Justice and relevant leaders of your local authority such as directors and assistant directors of essential services, commissioners, lead officers of the Supporting People Programme etc.
* Organise high profile joint activities with others in your locality to highlight ‘no recourse’.
* Organise press releases for the campaign in your area highlighting the ‘no recourse’ issue; how your users are affected and the demands of the campaign.

We will be sending out briefing packs about the day of action (including information on how to contact your MP with a summary of the issues), together with details about the public meeting shortly.

Please let SBS know what activities you are planning. (Contact details are set out below)

Please also show your support by:
* Lobbying your own MP on the issue
* Affiliate to the campaign. Leaflets with tear off slips are available from SBS (See contact details below) or go the Southall Black Sisters website: http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk
* Donate to the campaign. Make all cheques payable to the ‘Abolish No Recourse Campaign’. Return to:
Southall Black Sisters (SBS), 21 Avenue Road, Southall, Middlesex, UB1 3BL.
Tel No: 0208 571 9595.
Fax: 0208 574 6781
EMail: southallblacksisters@btconnect.com

Against sexual apartheid

This is my open letter to anyone who will listen.

Sexual apartheid is the outrage of our century.

In Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and countries ruled by Islamic laws, millions of women and girls are segregated, degraded and relegated to second class citizenship.

Keeping women and girls separate and unequal are important pillars of Islamic rule, affecting every aspect of people’s lives.

Sharia law itself specifies that a woman is worth half that of a man and that she is the property of her male guardian, needing his permission even to travel and work.

As the source of ‘corruption’ and ‘chaos’, she must be segregated at workplaces, schools, libraries, universities, in sports and recreation, transportation, the health system, and even when attending weddings and funerals. In Iran, there are even plans to segregate pedestrian walkways on the basis of sex. ‘Alarmed’ at the large number of women university students, the Islamic regime threatens to limit female enrolment and change textbooks based on ‘gender differentiation.’ According to an official of the education ministry: ‘The spiritual, physical, and mental needs of boys and girls are not identical, and therefore textbooks that give them information cannot be the same.’

From age nine on girls must be veiled – a symbol like no other of what it means to be female under Islam – hidden from view, restricted and suppressed. Consigned to walking around with a mobile prison of one’s own.

Separate and unequal.

Like I said – the outrage of our century.

They say a society’s treatment of women is a measure of its freedom.

If so, the mistreatment of and discrimination against women is a measure of the degree of influence and power of Islamic and religious laws – whether in Iran or Britain.

But stop, I am told. Saying so ‘just supports Western propaganda’ – something by the way that the Islamic regime of Iran often tells women and men it is hauling off to prison and execution.

How absurd. It is like Iranian women’s rights activists telling one to stop opposing US-led militarism because it supports the ‘Islamic regime of Iran’s propaganda!’

The religious-nationalist anti-imperialist left always ready to act as prefect when women’s rights under Islamic laws are concerned has an affinity towards Islam, which it views as an ‘oppressed religion’ bullied by the USA.

It is an anti-colonial movement whose perspectives coincide with that of the ruling classes in the so-called Third World.

This grouping is on the side of the ‘colonies’ no matter what goes on there.

And their understanding of the ‘colonies’ is Eurocentric, patronising and even racist.

In the world according to them, the people in these countries are one and the same with the regimes they are struggling against.

So at Stop the War Coalition demonstrations here in Britain, they carry banners saying ‘We are all Hezbollah;’ at meetings they segregate men and women and urge unveiled women to veil out of ‘solidarity’ and ‘respect’.

But even their anti-imperialism – their badge of honour – is pathetically half-baked; it does not even scratch beneath the surface to see how political Islam is an integral part of the US’ militarism and new world order.

Their historical amnesia of even the past 30-40 years ignores that the political Islamic movement was encouraged and brought to centre stage by Western governments as a green belt against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.

They conveniently forget how in Iran, for example, it was supported in an effort to crush the left and working class revolutionary movement. Or how political Islamists are some of the US’ closest allies.

They fail to see that in practical terms – notwithstanding the differences – political Islam and USA-led militarism are two sides of one coin with the same agenda, the same vision, the same infinite capacity for violence, the same reliance on religion and reaction, the same need for hegemony.

It should not be surprising then that anywhere US-led militarism has ‘intervened’ – from Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine – political Islam has been brought to power or strengthened.

This type of politics denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ justifies the suppression of women’s rights, freedoms and equality, under the guise of respect for other ‘cultures’ implying that people want to live the way they are forced to and imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class.

In this type of politics, the oppressor is victim and any criticism racist.

Whilst the anti-imperialist left defends and justifies political Islam on the one hand, the virulently racist and right-wing defends US militarism and the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine on the other.

They include groups and organisations like Jihad Watch and the Horowitz Freedom Center. The latter even has an ‘Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week’ and rattles off fact after fact about the horrendous status of women under Islam so that it can help promote the neocon agenda of bombing men, women and children into ‘liberated’ swamps like Iraq.

Like the Stop Islamisation of Europe campaign, these groups have ‘difficulty with the concept of moderate Muslim’ and believe the ‘onus is on Muslims to ensure the safety of non-Muslims.’

Why? As if the onus of safeguarding Spaniards is on all those who are Basque or deemed to be Basque.

They are ‘concerned’ about the ‘rights’ of women and apostates so they can ban the Koran and ‘Muslim immigration.’ So they can stop the sub-human teeming hordes destroying the Christian nature of Europe and the West.

They are quite happy to defend Christian religious morality, restrict the benefits due single mothers, demand exemptions from the Sexual Orientation Regulations, bar funds for AIDS- related and contraception-related health services abroad if they provide abortions and consider the women’s rights movement’s fight for equality ‘the destruction of the nuclear family and of the power structures of society in general.’

According to their warped worldview, ‘the West has skyrocketing divorce rates and plummeting birth rates, leading to a cultural and demographic vacuum that makes [it] vulnerable to a take-over.’

Both anti-imperialist left and the right-wing refuse to see millions of people as truly human – with innumerable differences of opinions, and belonging to vast social movements and progressive organisations and parties – and worthy of the same rights and dignity as they believe is their due.

Despite all their language to the contrary, the politics of both sides has nothing to do with improving and changing the lot of humanity and women’s status.

It is within this context that left and progressive groups, socialist and mass movements within the Middle East and elsewhere are challenging people and organisations everywhere to take a principled and human stand against sexual apartheid vis-à-vis both camps of reaction.

This is the challenge that the women’s liberation movement in Iran brings to you today.

Clearly, sexual apartheid must enrage civilised humanity into an international movement that is about changing and improving people’s lives.

But in order to succeed, this movement must reject both US-led militarism and political Islam and rely on and support a third camp of the millions of refusing and resisting people across the globe. To do so, it must be uncompromisingly secular and humanist, it must refuse to tolerate the intolerable, it must raise the banner of universal rights, it must defend the right and historical duty to criticise religion, and defend the freedoms and equality of people everywhere.

To succeed, it has to have at its core a defence of the human being.

In 1973, as a result of international attention and widespread opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa apartheid was recognised as a crime against humanity.

On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, let’s together proclaim that sexual apartheid is a crime against humanity.

We must accept nothing less.

The above is Maryam Namazie’s speech at a seminar entitled ‘Sexual apartheid, political Islam and women’s rights’ in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 10, 2008 at Conway Hall, London. The seminar was organised by Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, and endorsed by the National Secular Society, the British Humanist Association, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association and the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

http://maryamnamazie.blogspot.com

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See also: It’s time to take a stand against Islam and Sharia

Ending ‘Honour’ Based Violence: The Way Forward
A one day (free) conference for voluntary and statutory sectors service providers and community groups

Friday 28th March 2008 from 10 am – 4 pm
@: The Human Rights Action Centre
17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA

Speakers include:
* Dr. Aisha Gill – Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Roehampton University
* Hannana Siddiqui – Southall Black Sisters
* Sawsan Salim – Director of Kurdistan Refugee Women’s Organisation
* Jagdeesh Singh – Equal Action for Surjit and Banaz Campaign
* Gita Patel – IMKAAN, advocacy support for BMER specialist refuges in the UK
* Naana Otoo Oyzrtey – Director of FORWARD
* Azam Kamguain – Researcher and writer
* Gona Saed – Middle East Centre for Women’s Rights
* Steve Deehan – Ch Insp. Metropolitan Police
* Nazir Afzal O.B.E. – Crown Prosecution Service, West London
* Shailin Shah – Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Forced Marriages Unit

Aim of the conference:
* Provide an update of policies and strategies to address HBV and the current initiatives by voluntary and statutory services nationally
* Identify gaps in both voluntary and statutory sector services and the funding crisis of specialist VAW services
* Justice for BMER women in prosecuting perpetrators of honour crimes Forced marriages Bill/FGM Criminal Bill – Are such laws effective? Where are the gaps?
* Provide an update of policies and strategies to address forced marriages and the current initiatives by voluntary and statutory services nationally

Programme:
09:30 Registration and Refreshments
10:00 Welcome and Introduction – by Gona Saed, Coordinator of CHVF
10:15 Specialist services needed for women at risk of ‘honour’ based violence
Chair: Dr. Aisha Gill – Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Roehampton University and Imkaan

Themes:
* Provide an update of policies and strategies to address HBV and the current initiatives by voluntary and statutory services nationally
* Identify gaps in both voluntary and statutory sector services and the funding crisis of specialist VAW services

Speakers:
1) Hannana Siddiqui – Southall Black Sisters
2) Steve Deehan – Chief Inspector, Metropolitan Police
3) Sawsan Salim – Director of Kurdistan Refugee Women Organisation – support services for Kurdish and Middle Eastern women
4) Gita Patel, IMKAAN – Imkaan is a second-tier organisation which provides strategic advocacy and targeted organisational support to more than 30 BMER refuges and women’s organisations in the UK.

11:15 Question /Answer Session
12:00 Break
12:15 Justice for BMER women in prosecuting perpetrators of ‘honour’ crimes

Speakers:
5) Jagdeesh Singh – Justice for Surjit and Banaz Campaign
6) Nazir Afzal – Crown Prosecution Service, West London
Followed by Question/ Answers

1.00 Lunch
2:00 Legal Remedies to Protect Women/Young Girls
Chair: Azam Kamguyan – researcher and writer

Themes:
* Forced marriages Bill/FGM Criminal Bill – Are such laws effective? Where are the gaps?
* Provide an update of policies and strategies to address forced marriages and the current initiatives by voluntary and statutory services nationally

Speakers:
1) Naana Otoo Oyzrtey – Director of FORWARD
2) Shailin Shah – Forced Marriage Unit – FCO Representative

2:30 Question /Answer Session
3:00 Refreshments
3:15 Plenary Sessions: Way Forward and Recommendations
3:45 Evaluation
4:00 Close

To reserve a place please contact:
By post: The Middle East Centre for Women’s Rights (MECWR), Unit X, Seventh floor, Hannibal House, Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, London SE1 6TE
By email: admin@mecwr.org
By fax: 020 7561 9594
-Places will be allocated on a first come first served basis
-Please book as soon as you can to avoid disappointment
-Last day to receive bookings is 20th March 2008

For further information call: 020 7701 2206 / 020 7263 1027

The number of women forced into marriage per year in the UK could be as high as 4,000, a study has claimed. Previous government estimates stated the figure stood at around 300 but a new report published today claims the official number is dramatically higher.

The study carried out by Dr Nazia Khanum and set up Labour MP and Commons home affairs select committee member Margaret Moran focused on the Luton area. Ms Moran criticised the government’s official national statistics, calling them “woefully inadequate”.

“This report is living proof that the government’s figures on forced marriage are woefully inadequate,” she said. “If you multiply the statistics up and down the country, we’re talking about 3-4,000 cases per year rather than 300. This is the only study in the while of the UK that uses research at a local level, presenting cases as they occur in a community… the results are startling.”

Concerns have been raised recently regarding the number of children disappearing from schools with fears rising that many have been forced into marriages against their will. Baroness Warsi, Conservative shadow minister for community cohesion and social action, called for forced marriages to be treated as a crime.

“As a society we draw a line in the sand,” she said in an interview on GMTV. “This is not a culturally sensitive issue, this is an abhorrent act which we must stand together on.”

The home affairs select committee is expected to report on forced marriages and domestic violence in two months time.

http://www.inthenews.co.uk/news/politics/study-claims-4000-forced-marriages-in-uk-every-year-$1211357.htm

See also:

Breadth of forced marriages exposed

An academic has lifted the lid on the extent of forced marriage in Luton – and revealed the town is not equipped to deal with the problem.

With several posts for women’s advice being discontinued at voluntary groups, and organisations such as Khidmat and Luton Multicultural Women’s Coalition crying out for funding, Dr Khanum highlights the deficiency in local facilities.

Full article at http://www.lutononsunday.com/lutononsunday-news/displayarticle.asp?id=262425

You can download the report from http://www.luton.gov.uk/internet/references/news/Forced%20Marriages

Sexual Violence and Rape Crisis

The number of Rape Crisis-affiliated centres in England and Wales has nearly halved from 68 to 38 since 1984. We believe this is a failure of successive governments and in the coming weeks we will be mounting a campaign for proper funding for this vital service.

Sexual violence is a blight – the British Crime Survey suggests there are more than 300,000 rapes and serious sexual assaults each year. Most are not reported. One in four women have experience rape or attempted rape. One in seven women have been coerced into sex. Yet conviction rates have plummeted from 33% in the 1970s to around 5% now. This brings shame on us all. Rape Crisis have provided help for countless victims of sexual violence many of whom only come forward years after being attacked. As we will demonstrate here in the coming days, this is vital support and it needs proper funding. The Conservatives and Lib Dems are backing our campaign as are a number of key organisations such as End Violence Against Women and the Fawcett Society.

In the coming days we will publish articles on sexual violence from a number of contributors including Bea Campbell, Theresa May, Trevor Phillips, Professor Liz Kelly, Prof. Joanna Bourke and many more.

You can help too by adding your name to this Downing Street petition (http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/RapeCrisis/).

You could also write to your MP http://www.newstatesman.com/action

http://www.newstatesman.com/subjects/sexual-violence-and-rape-crisis

From here there are links to the following articles:

Men can stop rape
By Pat McGann and Steve Glaude 13 March 2008
The US organisation that aims to mobilise men to stop violence against women

Rape the forgotten issue
By Liz Kelly 12 March 2008
Despite the fact sexual violence affects one in four women the issue has all but disappeared from the political radar

Why I’m backing Rape Crisis
By Theresa May 11 March 2008
Conservative politician and shadow minister for women Theresa May explains why she thinks Rape Crisis centres are vital

Why this silence over rape?
By Beatrix Campbell 10 March 2008
It’s not the law on rape, it’s the culture from the police canteens, to the courts, juries, the pubs and kitchens. And why the eerie silence from ministers?

Rape myths past and present
By Joanna Bourke 10 March 2008
Popular prejudices estimate about half rape victims are lying, but research shows just 3% of rape allegations are false – yet another myth about sexual violence

How Rape Crisis helped me
By Constance McCullagh 10 March 2008
How one survivor of sexual abuse turned to Rape Crisis, how they helped her and how we all owe them a debt

Women victims often still experience the inefficiency, neglect and hostility of officers, comments Ruth Hall of WAR

John Yates, the Metropolitan police’s assistant commissioner, has finally admitted what rape survivors have said for years: that “police are contributing to the ‘appalling’ conviction rate in rape cases because officers too often fail to take alleged victims seriously enough and settle for mediocrity in their inquiries” (Rape cases: police admit failing victims, March 4).

Two weeks ago Women Against Rape (WAR) held a public trial – The rape of justice: Who’s Guilty? – at which 30 women testified. Among them were the mother of a teenage victim, women raped as children, sex workers, a police employee raped by a colleague, and others whose attacks were recorded as “no crime”. What emerged was a catalogue of police inefficiency, neglect and hostility: women not believed, evidence – including DNA – lost or uncollected, the investigation of pimps and mobile phone records considered “too expensive”.

In case after case, the women testified, the Crown Prosecution Service had been ill-prepared, inefficient, indifferent or downright unwilling. The result: violent men are free to attack again.

As late as February 15 Yates, the spokesman on rape for the Association of Chief Police Officers, was still dismissing such refusals of justice as “isolated” (on the Radio 4 Today programme). Now, you report, he refers to a “proper professional caring service … available in some parts of the country”. Where? Some of the worst recent complaints are about London’s flagship Sapphire Units, the rape “specialists”.

As addiction specialists say, the first step is admitting you have a problem: a step we have yet to see from the CPS. The solicitor general, Vera Baird, has only admitted to CPS problems “in the past”. Now for the second step. Yates says: “There doesn’t have to be such an appalling conviction rate. We can do something about it.” He suggests that “every area could be encouraged to provide the basic necessities: to do all the medical tests…”

“Could be encouraged”? The sexism in the police is entrenched. If, as Yates says, forces are “suddenly ‘getting it'”, it is time to move aside those officers at every rank who are, in the words of New York prosecutor Alice Vachss, “collaborators” with rapists. A petition organised by WAR says: “Police officers, prosecutors and judges who have shown themselves to be sexist, racist, or otherwise prejudiced against victims of sexual violence, or negligent and incompetent in the prosecution of rape cases, should be publicly disciplined, moved off rape cases, or sacked.” They are paid to enforce the law but instead protect rapists. Why is this acceptable to the government?

Many men who get away with rape and domestic violence – Ian Huntley, Anthony Hardy, Levi Bellfield, Pierre Williams – go on to kill women and children. Unpublished police research shows how often attackers with a record of sexual violence are let go. (When will this be made public?) Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners. John Yates says we should not have to wait for a “tragic case” before change happens. But this tragedy has already happened, repeatedly.

Ruth Hall is a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape war@womenagainstrape.net

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/mar/12/ukcrime.gender

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See also: £15,000 for asylum seeker illegally detained in UK

The first major scheme outside the justice system to tackle the behaviour of men with a history of domestic abuse is to be launched in Scotland.

The Working With Men pilot project has secured a £400,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund, to roll out its unique programme for violent men who have not been in court in Edinburgh.

The idea of perpetrator programmes came to the UK from the US more than a decade ago and involve a mix of one-to-one counselling and self-help groups.

Until now, most re-education initiatives in Scotland have been court- mandated programmes for men convicted of domestic abuse offences. But as only a fraction of cases end up in court, the majority of perpetrators will never be referred to such a service.

Rory Macrae, senior social worker at the Working With Men project, said the approach aims to make culprits visible. Professionals such as GPs, social workers and health visitors are encouraged to give referrals to the scheme.

“With the traditional response in relation to child protection, the tendency has been to work with the mothers who are experiencing the abuse,” he said. “What seems the more logical way is to say to the man you are using this behaviour, you are damaging your children and we expect you, rather than her to change’.”

Evaluations of the project indicate around two-thirds of men can be helped. Macrae pointed out a vital aspect of the initiative was a support and safety planning service for the men’s partners, which runs concurrently with the re-education element of the programme.

Michele Corcoran, manager of Edinburgh Women’s Aid, welcomed the scheme, but pointed out it should be seen as an additional enhancement to current services.

“We still need services that protect and support women and they go hand in hand with services to make men accountable,” she said.

http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.2104839.0.0.php

A network of up to 100 specialist courts to tackle domestic violence should be set up to increase prosecutions for wife battering and domestic assaults, the Attorney-General said yesterday.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Government’s chief law officer, told The Times that the move, coupled with the creation of nationwide teams of specialist sexual advisers, could lead to a surge in successful prosecutions in England and Wales. Her comments, timed to mark International Women’s Day, came as ministers announced an extra £1 million to tackle domestic and sexual violence, including rape. “This extra money will help bring more of these courts on stream, much more quickly,” she said.

The Government’s target is for 60 such courts within three years. “The existing courts, there are now 23, have seen a tremendous success rate in prosecutions, running at 70 per cent, compared with 43 per cent in ordinary courts,” Lady Scotland said.

Local teams, made up of specialist magistrates, prosecutors, trained police, and support agencies, apply for funding to set up a court in their areas. The speed at which the courts will be set up depends on how quickly such teams can establish themselves.

“Traditionally there is a real attrition rate for these cases. Women, or men, might be scared to give evidence, or there is family pressure on them to drop the case, so they withdraw. Or the court might be too far from the refuge centre where they are staying, or they are worried about their children.” Officials in the specialist courts are all trained to understand and be aware of the problems and to support witnesses through the process. At the same time, specialist sexual advisers will be attached to courts to help victims alleging rape or other other sexual violence, as well as domestic assaults.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3508265.ece

In the weeks leading up to her death Sabia Rani, 19, was beaten so badly a pathologist described her injuries as similar to those sustained by being hit by a train.
Even before her husband Shazad Khan’s conviction for her murder, in January 2007, an investigation had been mounted into four members of his family. They all lived in the same house as the couple in Oakwood Grange, Roundhay, Leeds.

In February, Khan’s mother Phullan Bibi, 52, his two sisters Uzma Khan, 23, and Nazia Naureen, 28, and her husband Majid Hussain, also 28, were found guilty of allowing the death of a vulnerable adult. His mother has been jailed for three years and his sisters for two. Hussain was given a one-year suspended sentence.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the conviction forms one of only three successful convictions for this offence, in the UK, to date. Malcolm Taylor, a specialist case work lawyer, who worked on the prosecution against Khan and his relatives, said: “It wasn’t the easiest case because the evidence needed piecing together like a jigsaw.

“But we, like the jury, were satisfied that the family knew the suffering Ms Rani endured and did nothing to stop it. Sabia Rani’s injuries would make a person’s stomach turn.”

The family were tried under a relatively new law, the Domestic Violence and Victims Act 2004.

Only Khan’s brother, who stood as a prosecution witness in his trial, and Khan’s elderly father, Pola Khan, escaped prosecution for Ms Rani’s killing. Khan was jailed for a minimum of 15 years. West Yorkshire Police were satisfied they played no part in her death.

The family’s defence blamed Ms Rani’s death on “black magic or witchcraft”, initially claiming they knew nothing of the violence she had endured. But, the prosecution team used Shazad Khan’s murder trial to build up a dossier of evidence against each family member.

A picture of Ms Rani’s life since her arrival from Pakistan in February 2006 was pieced together.

Phullan Bibi was the matriarch of the family, who saw her son’s new bride as nothing more than domestic help at the “bottom of the food chain”.

Ms Rani spoke no English and had no contact with the outside world. She had come to Leeds as Khan’s wife in an arranged marriage months before her death in May 2006. She was the daughter of Phullan Bibi’s sister, making her and Khan first cousins.

What the CPS found disturbing, as their investigation developed, was that Ms Rani’s entire family “closed ranks to protect each other.” Mr Taylor said: “After Sabia Rani’s death we went to Pakistan to visit her family, they were all part of the same family, they didn’t want any part of our investigation about their daughter. “There was just a wall of silence, which they saw as protecting their relations.”

Exactly what happened in the teenager’s final hours was never made clear, but medical evidence painted a picture of horrific pain and beatings in the family home. The four relatives said she passed away in the bath but this was refuted by medical evidence which suggested that Ms Rani’s injuries were so extensive she would not have been able to lift a limb. One theory is that the family dumped her body in the bath in a bid to revive the young bride or to cover up what happened.

Mr Taylor added: “Without question it is the worst case of domestic violence I have ever worked on.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/7291022.stm

South African schoolchildren are so affected by crime that they play games of “rape me, rape me” and mimic robberies in the playground, according to the country’s human rights commission. In a report on school violence published yesterday, the commission said schools were the “single most common” site of crimes against children, such as robbery and assault, including rampant sexual violence, some of it by teachers.

The commission said it had identified a number of games pupils played in response to the violence, including one in which they pretended to rape each other. “This game demonstrates the extent and level … brutalisation of the youth has reached, and how endemic sexual violence has become in South Africa,” it said.

The report said that a fifth of all sexual assaults on young people occurred at school. A survey of 1,227 female students who were victims of sexual assault found that nearly 9% of them had been attacked by teachers.

The commission also found that some boys committed what they called “corrective rape” on lesbians, justifying the assault by claiming that it would make the victims heterosexual. “There is a growing phenomenon of corrective rape. This refers to an instance where a male learner rapes a lesbian female learner in the belief that after such a sexual attack the learner will no longer be lesbian,” the report said.

A separate study by the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme found that a quarter of secondary school students said that forced sexual intercourse did not necessarily constitute rape.

The human rights commission report said that more than 40% of the young people it interviewed had been victims of some form of crime. It recommended that the education department consider introducing metal detectors and fences at schools, after the Red Cross children’s hospital in Cape Town said it commonly treated school pupils who had been assaulted with fists, knives, machetes or guns, or who had been raped.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/13/southafrica.internationalcrime?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront