Labour must stand up for victims of sexual and domestic violence

by Sarah Rabbitts

Many of us are still shocked by the brutal abduction, gang rape and murder of a female student on a bus in Delhi.

And closer to home, we’re also coming to terms with NSPCC’s confirmation that Jimmy Savile, was “without doubt one of the most prolific sex offenders we have ever come across”. The “Giving victims a voice” report states that Savile repeatedly abused girls, women and boys over six decades. The abuses happened in 13 hospitals, 14 schools and on BBC premises – institutions that should have been a safe place for both children and adults. Most worryingly, none of the victims or witnesses successfully exposed Savile’s widespread criminality before his death in 2011.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper responded to the report by asking for a proper overarching review led by child protection experts into why everyone failed to stop Savile and what should be done now”. However, it is not only people in positions of influence who are a problem.

Last week, the ministry of defence, home office and office for national statistics released a joint review into rape and sexual assaults. This damning review states that only one in ten victims will report a sexual assault in this country, despite 90% of victims knowing the perpetrator. It also has to be a wake-up call for the home secretary that only 15,670 rapes are reported each year which only equates to a quarter of victims. In simple terms, this means that on average 47,010 rapes aren’t reported.

What these reports demonstrate is that first, a staggering number of women and men are still victims of sexual assault and that second, the British judicial system continues to generate very few convictions.

On the 14th February, or V-Day, a campaign called one billion rising will actively demand an end to violence against women across the world. They ask women to walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to this violence by activating women and men across every country to organise local events.

One billion rising is telling the world that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime and that one billion women will be violated in an atrocity. But it’s asking us to use the internet and community events to show women that there are people who are fighting for them.

In this country, one in five women will be a victim of a sexual assault during their lifetime. This is why it’s so important that the Labour party is fully supporting one billion rising. Stella Creasy MP, is heavily involved in promoting the campaign and has recently recorded a video for the Guardian.

It’s agreed that the courts have enough powers to severely punish sex offenders in the UK. What is needed is a greater number of women and men reporting assaults so that there are more successful convictions to act as a deterrent.

One billion rising is a great awareness campaign and has a strong network of supporters across the world. However, it’s essential that authorities and politicians in the UK generate campaigns that will encourage more victims to speak out. Last year the home office launched a television campaign challenging teenagers to re-think what constitutes rape, which was broadcast over Christmas. It’s helpful, but excludes other demographics affected by rape and sexual assault.

Lambeth has one of the highest levels of sexual violence and rape in London. Councillors found that most victims meet their perpetrators at a bar or night club. Last year members of the community, including the Suzy Lamplugh trust, the Brixton business forum, local night venues, the council’s licensing review board and others, began working in partnership to change those venues and to improve women’s safety at night. They launched a women’s safety charter which promotes a unified community response with practical steps for both the council and night venues.

Why are so few women reporting sexual assaults? There’s plenty of evidence to show that women are often embarrassed or believe that it’s a private family matter. Some women might be discouraged by unhelpful media stories of the police failing to protect victims. In November it was widely reported that Rachel Williams rang Gwent police on seven occasions in six weeks to report domestic abuse before she was shot by her estranged husband in her Newport hair salon.

Another explanation is the huge delays in processing rape trials through the courts. When a defendant pleads not guilty to rape it can take on average nearly two years to bring a conviction – surely this is something that Labour can look at ahead of the next election.

There are more reasons why the Labour party needs to reassess the support given to victims of sexual and domestic violence. In November, the national centre of domestic violence reported that there is a connection between domestic violence and austerity: with a 17% increase in attacks since the recession began. However, the government still plans to stop financing all violence against women programmes. It’s also asking women to show that they are at “high risk of violence” before they’re eligible for any legal aid. Under the new proposals, would Rachel Williams be at enough risk or do you have to get shot first?

It’s also essential that victims have more faith in the powers of the police; but that’s against a backdrop of cuts to salaries and police resources that might jeopardise any improvements in the protection currently on offer.

Many of us know that the threat of sexual and domestic violence is still a genuine concern for a number of women in this country and that during periods of austerity it’s increased – the facts speak for themselves. Despite necessary budget cuts, Labour’s belief in social justice must be focused on finding new ways of better safeguarding victims, while both regaining the public’s trust in the institutions that are supposed to protect us and finding ways to encourage more convictions in this country. 

Sarah Rabbitts is a member of Vauxhall CLP and works in communications

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9 Responses to “Labour must stand up for victims of sexual and domestic violence”

  1. bob says:

    It is not down to budget cuts alone, it’s down to social workers and police not doing their job, believing children when they state that they have been abused, look at Rochdale, the Victoria Climbie case, both betrayed by political correctness and refusing to confront the issue due to ‘cultural sensitivities’. The Rochdale case only came to court because the new CPS Director in the Northwest was a person from a minority, so could not be accused of ‘racism’. The local authority and the Greater Manchester Police were paralysed by a fear of being accused of racism and political correctness. A youth from an ethnic minority, not sentenced to incarceration because his education taught him to disrespect women as a mere object not a person. A number of cases of young females being sexually assaulted and raped as part of ‘gang culture’, not dealt with or even reported to police due to peer pressure. Baby Peter, Maria Cauldwell and Saville are other cases, that people knew what was going on but nothing happened to protect the vulnerable.

    Female genital mutilation, under age or forced marriage is known and carried out within the ethnic minority communities, frequently when overseas whilst on ‘holiday’, schools do not publicise this again because of ‘cultural sensitivities’, or pupils disappear for long holidays abroad, are parents investigated by the authorities or are they paralysed by being ‘pc’. Again so called honour killings, very few investigated as they take place at times when overseas or in secret. Look at the Ahmed case in Warrington, why was there no investigation when a teenager swallowed bleach?

    Very few social workers except Shoesmith or police officers have been dismissed from their positions, most are just moved sideways or even promoted. Worse still, the Director of Rochdale social services was allowed to resign and in his worlds ‘seek new challenges’ and keep his pension rights instead of being prosecuted for misconduct in public office along with his senior managers, same for the GMP.

    I have a friend, who was victim of physical and psychological assault, police did very little to assist her in any attempt at evidence gathering or even an attempt at prosecution. My friend has pushed this as far as it will go, divorce and restraint, but a very high percentage will not go to prosecution and will not assist the police. Also, what about female to male domestic violence, the stigma men feel about reporting this crime.

    The Labour Party in its thirteen years of so called government produced a climate that anything that was not ‘pc’ was not acceptable, leaving victims either with their abusers or nowhere were they could go to and be believed. I had a girlfriend in 1999, who was a social work student, she was taught political correctness and cultural sensitivity to the exclusion of everything else far more important than the law and the implications of practice. Lack of action in cases such as Rochdale and potentially the one at the Old Bailey at the present, I suspect will show yet again police and social workers to be deficient in their practice, culturally unable to help the most vulnerable.

  2. Fred says:

    Is this a reference to the specific needs of one Ed Balls?

  3. bob says:

    No, on a different point, protecting Clegg from his wife over private education.

    The silence here is deafening from the people who normally defend the pc status quo.

  4. bob says:

    As an addendum, the social workers in Rochdale, did i believe stated that the victims had made a ‘lifestyle’ choice, what sort of choice is that when under age girls are being abused. They should have all been sacked for that decision making process. we also need to change the law in respect of being able to prevent young people in care being able to roam the streets and being at risk. What is better their so called human rights to be abused or their lone term physical and psychological safety and parents need to WAKE UP and look around them and care for their offspring, and not have others take responsibility for their children.

    That only one person has said anything sickens me to the core, so called socialists, looking to saying we are protecting our people, yes you, Milliband D & E Balls & Cooper and not forgetting Blair Brown Milburn Hewitt Reid Harman and the rest of the political classes on both sides of the divide, who live in a gilded existence with private or top end state education for your children, and i include people like Abbott in this , not a chance for the rest, as most of this is in poor and working class areas. Common purpose training is at the heart of this being a socialist creature, it should be slaughtered and commen sense allowed to take over.

  5. e says:

    @ bob
    I can appreciate your anger. I felt exasperated by this article given recent events. It annoyed me that it conflates distinctly different issues of sexual and domestic violence, albeit to invite support for an international response to violence against women and more money for victims. I didn’t respond; your response makes me feel a little ashamed. I can agree with much of what you say but would add, regardless of race creed or colour, decades of economic and cultural denigration of an entire class has played its part in developing and supporting structures that allow the abuse of power to continue unabated…

  6. bob says:

    e: at least you have read and understood what I have said. It is no good throwing money at the disgusting situation of sexual and domestic abuse that this country faces unless, you CHANGE THE MINDSET. of those responsible for dealing with the situation. Investigation and prosecution of this needs not only to be blind as the statue on the Old Bailey depicts but also colour and race blind as well. Investigators have to have an open mind set, not as it is at the moment. Police and social workers cannot have preconceived ideas in relation to this matter, they must at all times act in the best interests of the victims NOT the perpetrators. Rochdale and other inquiries have shown bias against the victims unfortunately due to fears of racism and the potential for a backlash from the communities and community leaders from the areas of investigation, the police and social services instead of fulfilling their remit of PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE.

    Unfortunately the Labour party has been complicit in this and MPs and councilors have NOT spoken out for fear of loosing their seats, therefore putting personal advantage and gain before the victims. In case you think this is against one party, it isn’t, I address all this to anybody pro-porting to represent a community from politicians men of God and many others, you have a duty to speak out, not to be a coward.

  7. AnneJGP says:

    @bob: well said.

  8. bob says:

    AnneJGP, thank you for at least reading what i have said, unfortunately, there has been little response from the usual people who pontificate long and hard on here on various subjects which are of little or NO interest to people outside a political bubble either at Westminster or locally.

    i accuse the political class from all parties of COWARDICE in dealing with this subject, you utterly disgust me!!!

  9. bob says:

    ‘Good Socialist’, just look at the SWP and its antics and comrade ‘delta’ I do hope the police become involved and he is investigated for the accusation of rape. How many labour members are or have been members of the organisation. If you have been still are or an entryist have you spoken out to condemn them, if not you are a COWARD and have no real right to associate with a civilised society.

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