Those who help victims of rape need more funding, says Lisa Longstaff of Camden's Women Against Rape team
Viewpoint, Hampstead & Highgate Express, 2 April 2009
Your readers may have seen the widespread coverage of police negligence in the recent cases of convicted serial rapists Worboys and Reid.
Based in Camden for over 30 years, WAR has spearheaded a movement of rape survivors demanding justice from the criminal justice system. In those years while fighting many individual cases, we have
-- won recognition that rape in marriage is a crime (1991).
-- helped bring the first successful private prosecution for rape (1995).
-- won criminal injuries compensation for victims initially turned down because the Compensation Authority (CICA) didn’t believe the woman, or discriminated against her because of her ‘character or conduct,’ ie she was a sex worker, had a criminal record, had used drink or drugs . . .
-- and forced recent admissions that the deprioritising of rape by Home Office, police and Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for the disgraceful 6% conviction rate for reported rape.
To do all this, we have stayed scrupulously independent.
In 2001 we were invited to make a presentation to a police conference on Sexual Offences Interview Techniques. We told the unvarnished truth drawn from our daily casework with survivors. Some officers thanked us, others were furious. Later that year we resigned from the Met’s Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Offences; we refused to endorse their PR which substituted for real change. A few months later we had a major article in The Times, spelling out that, contrary to government and police claims, rape was not a priority.
Within months, the then Association of London Government with its Labour majority (now London Councils with a handful of Labour-led councils) cut our modest core funding (one worker and some running costs). A Labour block vote dismissed over 60 support letters from rape survivors and service organisations, as well as protest by the only wheelchair-using councillor on the Grants Committee. By cutting the most outspoken service which also campaigned for change, a precedent was set: rape services were deprioritised, and campaigning for accountability from the legal establishment was discouraged.
No doubt the ALG expected us to fold. Instead we have a growing multi-racial team of volunteers dismayed that the men who raped them or their children were free to rape again.
Public fury, and not only women’s, at what can be seen as the justice system colluding with rapists has pushed the government to announce a paltry £1.6 million for anti-rape charities across England and Wales. It’s a stopgap, as longterm funding is to come from ‘charitable trusts, donations, local authorities’. Will such badly needed services for victims of violence be independent of Home Office and police?
Any victim knows that justice is the main healer. It is in large measure WAR’s dogged campaigning for justice that has caused the truth about police and rape finally to emerge. Having had to acknowledge the deep-rooted sexism of their handling of this violent crime, the police are now promising change. Who will ensure that there is change?
WAR, which has brought this crisis to a head, and needs at least three workers to be useful to all those survivors who come to us, is still without core funding.
See also: Rwanda rape victim in brave fight to help others, Ham&High 14 May