Rape's a real crime

Rape has been seen as a 'woman's problem' for far too long and we urgently need more men to publicly

This week Rape Crisis shared a platform with the Met's Assistant Commissioner John Yates, Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker and Dr Alyson Jones of the Lancashire SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination) centre at a conference about improving police responses to rape.

The gathering could not have come at a better time. Although it was planned much earlier in the year, the regional conviction rates just published by Fawcett earlier shone a light on the urgent need to improve police responses.

Senior police officers (largely Chief Constables and Assistant Chief Constables) from all 47 police forces in England and Wales attended the, variously titled, 'summit' or 'conference'.

The message from John Yates and Vernon Coaker was a clear one – senior officers must go back to their forces and ensure that changes are implemented. The message from Rape Crisis and the SAFE centre was equally clear – survivors of sexual violence must be treated with respect and given the support they need.

All seemed agreed on four key points: 1) relationships should continue to be built between the voluntary sector and the police, 2) there is an urgent need for increased interest and investment from the Department of Health, 3) there is the need for a complete turnaround in societal attitudes about rape and 4) this postcode lottery must end.

The highlight of the conference was John Yates' announcement that 'specialist units' are the way forward. I did experience a bit of a deja vu moment as he was talking (haven't we been here before with Vice teams and Domestic Violence Units?), but these weren't the examples used. Instead, he highlighted the shifts that have taken place following the Stephen Lawrence and Victoria Climbie enquiries. A persuasive argument was made in terms of why rape investigations should be seen as a specialism. As evidence of success, he cited impressive statistics about large increases in police detections for these crimes.

After the conference I went on to speak at the second anniversary event of Women in The Treasury (WITT). The panel here (which included Economic Secretary Kitty Usher) reflected on the continuing lack of women in positions of power and how the speakers had overcome hurdles to become 'successful women'.

It was afterwards that I reflected on the gender balance of the two conferences. The Rape Conference for senior police was predominantly male. The Women in the Treasury event was – ok, you guessed it. And it struck me that I'd witnessed something quite special – possibly the first rape conference about that was attended by predominantly male delegates.

So when did this shift happen? Rape has become a 'serious' offence requiring chief officers to be called to Westminster. It's happened now a Home Office minister not only speaks – but also stays on to hear others speak and to participate in the panel discussion.

It's happened now rape is becoming specialist, 'proper' police work. My point here is not to suggest that men should not be doing this work. Quite the opposite. Rape has been seen as a 'woman's problem' for far too long and we urgently need more men to publicly condemn rape and work towards ending violence against women.

My point is simply that as rape is increasingly seen within the police as 'serious', as 'real crime' requiring 'real detective work', the gender balance of the room has shifted. And my hope is that those women officers who have been in the room previously – who specialised in this work when it did not have its new status and attended women's groups events when it was not seen as valid use of police time – will be recognised and given leadership roles as rape investigations achieve their specialist status.

Nicole Westmarland is a lecturer in criminal justice at Durham University and chair of Rape Crisis England and Wales

Getty
Show Hide image

The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times