Archive for April 24th, 2008
A teenage boy charged with statutory rape is to challenge the controversial law in the High Court on the grounds it discriminates against him because he is male.
The 17-year-old from Donegal has been charged with the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl on August 5, 2006, when he was aged 15.
A case will now go to the High Court where it will be claimed the boy is the victim of discrimination, as the law he is charged under unfairly grants the girl immunity from prosecution despite having had sex with him.
The Government introduced this caveat to prevent the criminalisation of teenage pregnancies.
But this case will require the Government to convince the High Court that the discriminatory protection granted to underage girls is justified.
This clause was first introduced in the emergency criminal justice act passed in June 2006 to plug the loophole identified by the Mr C case.
On this occasion a man had his conviction quashed because he was not allowed to defend himself on the grounds he made an honest mistake about the girl’s age — this led to the temporary release of other confessed child rapists.
Since then the Government has rejected a chorus of demands to repeal the discriminatory clause. These have come from victims groups, legal experts, the Ombudsman for Children and the joint Oireachtas committee on child protection.
The Government’s constant assertion that it can justify the discrimination will now be put to the test by the Donegal teenager.
His lawyers have prepared a case, citing the state, the attorney-general and the director of public prosecutions as defendants.
It will specifically challenge the statutory rape law, which differs from other sexual offences because it creates the crime of having sex with a person before they reach the age of consent — even if they were a willing partner.
The team will argue that, among other issues, the 2006 act breaches article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits gender discrimination.
The 17-year-old has already been charged at a district court in Donegal and has been sent to trial at the Circuit Criminal Court.
This has yet to take place and the High Court action will seek an order delaying the trial until his challenge is decided.
The teenager is accused of having sexual intercourse with a girl who was under the age of consent on August 5, 2006.
He is also accused of committing buggery on the same day and faces a prison term of up to five years if convicted.
The teenager’s legal team is also planning to argue his prosecution breaches article 8 of the European Convention as it denies his right to a private life.
Last night, director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland Fiona Neary said the case raises serious questions about the laws protecting children.
“This case puts the spotlight on the complexities surrounding child protection in Ireland, especially concerning teenagers as they emerge into their sexuality. The High Court must now decide if this is possible under the terms of the constitutional right to non-discrimination by gender,” she said.
Call for end to TD lobbying in rape cases
The Labour Party has said it is open to introducing guidelines on the circumstances in which its elected representatives can write letters on behalf of those facing criminal charges.
It is expected MPs will get a vote on cutting the 24-week limit – possibly to 20 weeks – in an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.
It would be the first time politicians have had a chance to vote on the issue since 1990. And the prospect has prompted campaigners on both sides of the debate to start lobbying MPs.
A parliamentary campaign, involving celebrities and MPs, is being launched to keep the limit at 24 weeks. It comes after suggestions MPs will table amendments to the bill when it is next before parliament, probably at the end of May.
The 20-week amendment is likely to be tabled by Tory Nadine Dorries(*), a former nurse, although there is talk of a second amendment being tabled proposing an even lower limit.
They are being supported by Alive and Kicking, an umbrella group of pro-life organisations. Julia Millington, the group’s spokeswoman, said they wanted to see the time limit reduced to as low as possible.
“We will support any amendments to the bill which will help us reach our short-term objective of halving the number of abortions in this country.”
However, a cross-party group of MPs is seeking to safeguard the current arrangements. They have received support from celebrities such as comedian Jo Brand.
Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, said: “The medical community is clear that there is no medical or scientific basis for any reduction in the current time limit.”
Leading medical organisations, including the British Medical Association and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, have come out in favour of the 24-week limit, pointing out there has been no significant improvements in survival before 24 weeks.
The recent Epicure 2 study, a major review of all live very early births in 2006, confirms this, although it said there had been improvements in the 24 to 25-week period in the last 10 years. Of those that are born at 23 weeks, 40% will die in the labour ward, the study found.
Pro-choice MPs are also expected to put forward a proposal to relax abortion laws by scrapping the need for two doctors to agree to a termination and allowing nurses to carry them out in the early stages.
MPs will be given a free vote on any abortion-related amendments.
(*) Thatcherite from Anfield to lead abortion battle
Nadine Dorries is the girl from the Liverpool council estate in Anfield who grew up to be a Conservative MP and a lone Scouse voice in a party still dominated by Old Etonians.
A ‘rapid expansion’ of lap-dancing clubs across the UK has been allowed by the government despite concerns about links with prostitution and human trafficking, according to an influential report to be issued this week.
A coalition of MPs, peers, government advisers and think-tanks says that lap dancing has exploited the 2005 Licensing Act – a flagship piece of government legislation – allowing hundreds of new clubs to open in the face of opposition from councils, residents and police.
The result is that there are now more than 300 in the UK, with applications to open scores more. The small town of Stourbridge in the West Midlands has five pubs but two lap-dancing clubs. Along Hackney Road in east London there are now five lap-dancing clubs within a mile.
Object, the campaign calling for a change in the law to have lap-dancing clubs reclassified as ‘sex encounter establishments’ and therefore subject to tighter regulation, blames a loophole in the legislation which has put lap-dancing clubs in the same category as cafes, karaoke bars and pubs, making it relatively easy to obtain licences.
This week’s report highlights the link between lap dancing and criminality, citing research that links clubs to prostitution and human trafficking.
The proliferation of lap-dancing clubs, adds the report, has fuelled an ‘increased demand for the purchase of sex’ while encouraging ‘factors driving human trafficking flows’.
The man who destroyed “Alicia’s” life couldn’t have done it without the hundreds of others who were willing to pay him to have sex with her.
She grew up in Uganda, where she was harassed by police and jailed because of her Rwandan ethnic background. Desperate to get out of the country, she met a man who offered to take her to London for 1,000 pounds ($1,975).
He seemed respectable and promised to provide her with documents. She could easily find a job as a receptionist, and could pay him back, he said.
When they arrived in Britain, he took her to an apartment in a row of terraced houses in a south London suburb and locked her inside. She knew nobody.
“He would lock the house and go. I asked myself: even if you left, where would you go? A huge big country. And the only person I know is him,” she told Reuters in an interview, asking that a pseudonym be used in place of her name.
“On the fourth day, he came and demanded sex from me. When I refused, he forced himself on me and raped me. Two weeks later, he started bringing in a ‘friend’.
“At first I thought they really were friends. And then I realised, they would be in the other room and they would be shouting over money, and I realised there was more to ‘friend’ than I thought.”
Night after night, six or eight men had sex with her while her trafficker collected their money in the next room.
“If you are resisting it becomes hard on you, because they are rough. They manhandle you. I would just go through with it and then it was over.”
Her trafficker warned her never to speak about her ordeal. “To me he was like this god. I can get anything through him, as long as I never say what happened in that house.”
Does she think clients understood she was a prisoner?
“I don’t think they would have come back. If they really knew. But it’s not their concern at the end of the day: you’ve paid your money, and you got what you are paying for.”
She adds: “I think they knew. If you pay your money and you go into a place like this, you have to know. I can’t believe how blind people are. How can it go on in such a country?”
One of the men offered her his business card, apparently an offer of help, but she was too scared to take it.
“You always think: if I had been stronger, if I had talked out, if I had screamed to the outside world, maybe they would hear.”
Eventually her trafficker began bringing her to a night club, where she was put to work behind the bar. He collected her wages and brought her back to the apartment each night.
She persuaded a customer at the bar to help her escape. The customer met her outside and brought her to his apartment. She thought she was safe, but her trafficker tracked her down and brought her back.
“When we reached home, he really beat me. I think that was the worst time, beating and kicking like you are a piece of furniture.”
After 11 months, with little explanation, her captor gave her a fake French passport and set her free. She was caught by police and jailed for possessing the fake document.
She discovered she was infected with HIV and attempted suicide in jail, but now she says she wants to keep fighting.
“My thoughts were: I just wanted to kill myself. But now I am thinking it’s worth it to be alive.”
The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) said other large events had transformed host cities into hotspots for the sex industry.
The issues of exploitation and trafficking at the 2014 Games will be debated in a motion at the STUC’s annual congress next week.
Glasgow beat the Nigerian city, Abuja, to host the games.
Speaking ahead of the annual congress, STUC general secretary Grahame Smith, said: “There is evidence from organisations that have been involved in this issue that events like the World Cup or the Olympic Games, where you have large numbers of men attending, the availability of certain services and the demand for these increases.”
He said there was a need to ensure that when the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow the city does not become a “magnet for traffickers”.
Mary Senior, STUC assistant secretary, added: “The STUC is absolutely delighted the Commonwealth Games has come to Glasgow.
“We just want to ensure that people are not exploited.”
A spokesman for the Glasgow 2014 Organising Company (OC) said: “The OC supports attention being drawn to the tragic issue of human trafficking.
“While the scale of the Commonwealth Games in 2014 mean they are much less of a magnet for such issues, any exploitation is unacceptable and we will continue to support the relevant authorities working in this area.”
Also high up the agenda at the STUC congress will be concerns over the economy, the need for a balanced energy strategy and fears that technology is allowing “cyber bullying” of some workers.
The theme for the 2008 gathering, whose keynote speakers include First Minister Alex Salmond, is ‘Equality and Justice’.
Figures for the last quarter show domestic violence accounts for as much as 40% of violent crime in some suburban areas in the east of Preston including places such as Ribbleton and St Matthews.
The overall average in Preston is 23%.
And one theory is it could be down to a change in people’s social drinking habits following last year’s smoking ban.
Preston’s Chief Supt Peter White said: “We are having reported to us by the licensing trade that the smoking ban is really affecting business in pubs and we know from our patrols in the city centre the pubs don’t seem to be as busy. We know pubs are closing. A lot of the licensees are quoting the smoking ban and price of alcohol in pubs. We also know, relatively speaking, alcohol in supermarkets is very cheap and we also know statistics are showing we have not reduced domestic violence as quickly as the ban has reduced crime in the city centre. I don’t particularly think it’s a leap of faith to suggest one of the reasons crime is going down in the city centre and not going down elsewhere might be people’s social drinking habits are changing.”
Chief Supt White added: “It would seem sensible that some people will stay at home and drink more because it’s cheaper to do it that way. That may lead to dispute between partners and therefore domestic violence.”
Because domestic violence is often a hidden crime that takes place in the home, police say the increased reporting of incidents could also be seen as positive as the increase may just be that more victims are seeking help.
Chief Insp White said a lot of work was being done to address domestic violence and urged people to come forward and report it.
Director of Preston Women’s Refuge, Valerie Wise, said: “It’s horrendous that 40% of violent crime cases in some parts of Preston are related to domestic violence. I think sometimes people use drink as an excuse and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no excuse. If people can’t hold their alcohol they shouldn’t drink. They know if they have got a problem from that perspective. Domestic violence is a deliberate act and so can’t be excused by having a drop too much to drink.”
In February the Evening Post revealed another leading policeman had blamed the ban for pushing violent crime onto the city’s streets. Insp Steve Evans said a sudden increase in smokers lighting up outside pubs and restaurants since the ban had “provoked” trouble in the city centre.
Domestic violence is on the rise in the Redbridge – but police claim this is down to greater confidence in the justice system.
Overall, crime levels have actually fallen in Redbridge. There were 2,000 fewer incidents of rape, violent crime, robbery and burglary between March 2007 and March 2008, which equates to a drop of nine per cent.
But domestic violence in the borough has risen by nearly 2.5 per cent, putting the total number at incidents at 1,350.
Borough commander Dave Grant has defended the figures, and insisted they should not be taken at face value.
He added: “Domestic crime is a strange one because we don’t judge it on how many crimes are reported. It’s on how many are solved and if we avoid repeated victimisation.
“The fact the figures have gone up just shows that more people are reporting domestic violence, which is a good thing.”
A mum-of-three, however, who took her children to her native Pakistan last year in a desperate attempt to break free from a brutal, loveless marriage in Ilford, said police were not doing enough.
The woman, known only as Sadia, was sent to England by her family in 1997 to marry a man twice her age she did not know.
She said she was beaten and treated like a slave by her husband’s family before she managed to escape to her homeland with her children.
She has now returned to the UK to fight her husband for custody rights, but is living in hiding after being threatened with a gun by her in-laws in Ilford High Street.
She said: “My case is not unusual.
“I know at least 60 or 70 other women in Redbridge who are in the situation I was in, and the police just don’t seem to bother.”
Domestic violence support worker from Ali Sheppard said although figures showed an increase in reported crime, agencies should work together to provide a holistic approach for those still suffering in silence.
She added: “We know that two women a week are killed in the UK as a result of domestic violence, but a lesser known figure is that ten women commit suicide each week as a result of not coming forward.”
Ms Sheppard normally receives 150 referrals a month, but said the figure was gradually increasing, and she received 240 in March alone.
A centre which helps victims of domestic violence in Mansfield and Ashfield has been given a funding boost to help it survive for the next year.
It was reported earlier this year how the Mansfield and Ashfield Safety Centre (MASC) was facing a serious funding shortfall of around £80,000 and could have been forced to make service cuts. (See Abuse centre is facing cuts – 13th February – http://www.chad.co.uk/news/Abuse-centre-is-facing-cuts.3768752.jp)
But a number of organisations have come forward to give the centre, which is run by Mansfield and Ashfield Women’s Aid, the funds needed to keep going for at least the next 12 months — with some pledging cash for the next three years.
Said domestic violence co-ordinator Karen Walker, who is based at Mansfield District Council: “The MASC is at the very hub of local services for victims of domestic violence and we are delighted that its future has been secured for the next 12 months at least.
“We are extremely grateful to all the funders who have committed to support its valuable work. We are in the process of expanding the range and type of support available to victims of domestic violence. Many incidents still go unreported, but by increasing the range of support and services available we hope to encourage more victims to break the cycle andstop suffering in silence.”
Organisations which have come to the rescue of the centre are Mansfield District Council, Ashfield District Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, The Tudor Trust and Nottinghamshire Primary Care Trust.
The centre, which is at an undisclosed location in Mansfield, opened two years ago and has helped more than 300 victims of domestic violence and their children since opening.
It provides a range of services to victims, including advice on safety, finances, housing, legal advice and counselling and costs £120,000 a year to run.
For help with domestic violence contact the national Women’s Aid helpline on 0808 800 0340 or visit the Mansfield and Ashfield Women’s Aid website at http://www.mawa.co.uk or the National Domestic Violence Forum website at http://www.ndvf.org.uk.