Letter to the Guardian (unpublished)

16 February 2021

To: guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Dear Editor,

Sarah Crew, police lead for rape in England and Wales, blames the “decriminalisation” of rape on the “huge progress and expertise . . . lost when specialist teams investigating rape were disbanded during years of austerity.” (Guardian 15 Feb) Anticipating disaster, we asked what risk assessment had been done before disbanding these Sapphire teams. Our FOI request to the Met was rejected as “vexatious”.

Sapphire teams were far from ideal but at least some officers focussed on rape. Now they focus on “digitally strip searching” victims, under CPS orders, and closing cases as unmanageable – “a complainant’s phone on average produces 35,000 pages of information, much of it irrelevant”.

Crew rightly asks: “. . . if you can’t do it for rape, where the effect is life-changing, you could [ask]: what is the criminal justice system for?”

The facts point to a system intent on enabling men to attack women and children, and to punish us when we defend ourselves. Over half of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence. A new report by the Centre for Women’s Justice on 92 cases of women who had killed men over the decade to March 2018, found that 77% had experienced violence or abuse from the deceased. But only six had been acquitted.

Those who manage to escape violent relationships face having their children removed. We work with hundreds of women whose children were taken from them and even sent to live with their violent father after they reported his violence, especially sexual violence, to the family courts. Rape and child abuse are dismissed as mothers lying to “alienate” children from their fathers.

The Domestic Abuse Bill could redress this, but so far the government has refused. It is clearly “vexatious” for women and children to expect justice and resources.

Lisa Longstaff, Women Against Rape
Crossroads Women’s Centre London NW5