19 May 2021
Labour wants to put violence against women and girls at the top of its agenda. But the proposals in its green paper are a mixed bag.
We welcome the recognition that financial independence is the first step to escaping an abuser. The abolition of the two-child limit for universal credit claimants would promote this, but it is unclear whether the money for the child would always be paid to the primary carer, overwhelmingly the mother.
The proposal to end the presumption of child contact for violent men which endangers thousands of children and women every year, is a crucial safety measure the government refused to include in the Domestic Abuse Bill, despite pressure from women’s organisations such as ours. But the six-month temporary leave to remain for immigrant victims who are banned from claiming public funds is not enough to end the racism this rule is based on.
Other measures, like making misogyny a hate crime, toughening sentences and outlawing street harassment, avoid the central question of how the rape law is applied.
The police and Crown Prosecution Service have effectively decriminalised rape, investigating the woman not her attacker, trawling through her social media, and abolishing specialist police Sapphire units. More prosecutions are closed and 44% of victims now drop out in the years waiting for trial.
While rape convictions have plummeted to 1.4%, the prosecution of victims has risen: at least 200 victims were prosecuted between 2008 and 2018.
We brought cases of rape victims accused of lying and charged with perverting the course of justice to Keir Starmer when he was DPP. He refused to act.
The green paper doesn’t deal with that either. So women will continue to be to punished for reporting, either by having their children removed or being imprisoned.
The Lammy Review on racism in the justice system exposed how men of colour are significantly more likely to be charged and convicted for rape and domestic violence. But the proposal, which Lammy himself has endorsed, to have life sentences without parole like in the US takes no account of this racism. This is akin to the death penalty which the UK has stood against up to now.
Labour’s endorsement of Tory plans to keep more victims out of court by using pre-recorded video cross examination, and their lack of opposition to the public being excluded from more cases is frightening. Given that public scrutiny of rape trials is crucial to winning any justice for women, this would be truly catastrophic.
It is also worrying that Labour may want to include some of its proposals into the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and whip its MPs to drop their opposition to a Tory Bill which needs to be scrapped.
Women are pouring out another level of truth.
“One woman every week is coming forward to report their partner in the police is seriously abusing them or their children,” according to Channel 4 News. Victims described on Radio 4 that police colleagues refused to prosecute. Women went to every authority for help including MPs. None would act. Former senior officers admit that violent police are a significant minority. Abusers who want power and control join the police. One said he could do anything, and threatened to have her child removed if she complained - what victims tell us all the time.
How can we expect more convictions when police abusers are likely to protect other abusers? The Police Bill will reinforce this power.
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