The Rape Crisis crisis

Nine Rape Crisis Centres have closed in the last five years, 69% describe themselves as unsustainabl

‘Rape Crisis’ – what vision does that conjure up to you? Weeping, hysterical women with torn clothing and mascara running down their face?

In fact, Rape Crisis is a bit of a misnomer – most of the women and girls who contact us have lived with their experiences of rape for many years before they feel able to pick up the phone and tell anyone about it. And its not ‘just’ rape – we are contacted about a wide range of different forms of sexual violence, including those that no-one wants to talk about: women and girls who are forced to have sex with animals; women and girls who are forced to have sex with their brothers; women and girls who were raped when they were babies and toddlers; women and girls whose videos and pictures of abuse exist forever on internet sites making money for abuse profiteers.

Instead, the term Rape Crisis probably best describes the state of the movement at the moment. New research, to be launched tomorrow by Rape Crisis and the Women’s Resource Centre, lists a catalogue of funding failures. It describes the series of hoops Rape Crisis Centres have to jump through, for example the centre that receives its annual funding of £77,000 from a total of 14 separate funders. On the other hand, it describes centres with no or few funders - the centre that had to close for part of the year because it had no income at all and another with just £306 for the year.

Scarily, 69 per cent of centres described themselves as ‘unsustainable’ in the future. Six centres reported situations where they had not been able to pay their staff – but where these staff had continued to work without pay during these periods of financial crisis. But despite this remarkably high level of staff dedication, nine Rape Crisis Centres have closed in the last five years. The research concludes that while Rape Crisis has always been marginalised and suffered from underinvestment, that the crisis point is here, and it’s happening right now.

The real problem of course lies in what all these figures mean. Last year Rape Crisis had almost 135,000 contacts. This is just the tip of the iceberg; we know there are many more women who try to access our services. The longer helplines stay open, the more calls they receive. Telephone line monitoring shows that the women who manage to get through are in the minority. Imagine receiving an engaged tone after lifting up the phone ready to talk about being raped or being told there is a long waiting list for some services. Support for women and girls to rebuild their lives after rape should be a right, not a privilege determined by a postcode lottery.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the problem. But - and here is the really good news - nor does it take a genius to work out the solution.

In 1997 New Labour put violence against women on the public agenda alongside an elevation in the ‘status’ of victims and witnesses of crime generally. The increase of women in government, appointment of pro-feminist ministers and support from femocrat ‘insiders’ has led to a much needed shift in the way violence against women is understood within Whitehall. A strong policy message has been articulated from the top: that violence against women is not acceptable in modern society and will not be tolerated. Although rape has not received the attention that other forms of violence against women have (described by Liz Kelly last week as ‘the forgotten issue’), attitudes have undoubtedly shifted. Students in my classes find it hard to understand the political climate that allowed men to rape their wives. Many of the women in key government roles today would probably accept the feminist label.

The good news then is that the hard work is done. Rape Crisis has been consulted, researched, visited and evaluated. We’ve been invited to launches, meetings, forums, committees and conferences. The policies, strategies and workplans are in place. We know what works and what women want. Our views are generally listened to and taken seriously. Except when it comes to money.

This is the point at which whoever we’re talking to starts to get that faraway, glazed look in their eyes. Ministers and officials are sick to the back teeth of hearing that our sector is massively under funded. To be perfectly honest, we’re sick of saying it. But we guarantee that we will never to stop saying it until it is fixed.

We are at a unique point in history in terms of partnership working, but without funding for services none of it means anything. If there is a serious commitment – in reality not rhetoric – then why are Rape Crisis Centres scrabbling around for spare coppers every March? Why are 79% of grants for one year or less? Why are Rape Crisis Centres closing down? The hard work is done; it is now time for the government to put its money where its mouth is. It’s been done across the border and Scotland have committed to a Rape Crisis specific ‘ring fenced’ fund that includes funding to establish new centres where there are no existing ones.

We issue this plea to the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Department of Health: help women and girls access the services they need by placing £5 million in a Rape Crisis specific fund, and do it now while there is still a Rape Crisis movement to save.

Dr Nicole Westmarland is chair of Rape Crisis (England and Wales) and a rape expert at Durham University

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.