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Sexual violence - a letter to Gordon Brown

In the latest stage in its campaign, newstatesman.com publishes a letter to Gordon Brown signed by m

Dear Prime Minister,

As you are aware, the prevalence of sexual violence is, unfortunately, extremely high, with a conservative estimate of at least 80,000 women being raped every year.

The Government’s Sexual Violence and Abuse Action Plan acknowledges that sexual violence is a gendered crime, overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women and children. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. The Action Plan goes on to say that “sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse are two of the most serious and damaging crimes in our society”.

The impact of sexual violence is significant and long-term, affecting physical and mental health, ability to work or study, and disruption in intimate relationships. The cost to the state of sexual violence was £8.5 billion in 2003-04, with much of this cost being lost outputs due to long-term health issues.
Rape Crisis centres provide essential holistic services to support women and girls to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of sexual violence, whether their experiences happened recently or in the past. They provide specialist, longterm support, counselling and advocacy in women-only spaces which empower survivors to take back control of their lives.

Yet most women do not have access to a Rape Crisis centre in the UK (Map of Gaps research), and Rape Crisis centres are massively under-funded, resulting in ever-growing waiting lists, staff redundancies and closure of services, with devastating impacts on women who need support.

One in five centres has closed in the last five years, and new research (The Crisis in Rape Crisis), has found that Rape Crisis centres in England and Wales have a combined annual income of just £3.5m; that 79% of grants are for one year or less, and that the majority of women and girls have to wait over 3 months to access this ‘crisis’ provision.

Many women and girls will experience sexual violence – and they deserve to have the choice to access specialist support that meets their needs. This can only happen if the sustainability of the Rape Crisis sector is urgently addressed.

We warmly welcome the recent announcement by Harriet Harman of forthcoming emergency funding of £1m for Rape Crisis centres. This money will stop the imminent closures of Rape Crisis centres this year. However, what is needed now is a firm political commitment to providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding to Rape Crisis Centres. The Scottish model of providing ‘ring-fenced’ rape crisis funding is an excellent example, as this has not only helped to build the capacity of existing groups, but has also ensured that new centres have opened to address the geographical gaps in service provision for survivors of rape and other sexual violence.

We ask you to urge your Cabinet ministers, including the Inter-Ministerial Group on Sexual Violence, to implement a sustainable business model for the
Rape Crisis sector in the longer term, and to develop a Violence Against Women Strategy, as a matter of urgent priority. Any discussions need to include representatives from all of the Departments involved in contributing towards the emergency funding (the Department for Communities and Local
Government, Government Equalities Office, Department for Health, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet Office) and representatives from
the Rape Crisis sector.

Signed by:

Vivienne Hayes, Chief Executive of the Women's Resource Centre
Dr Nicole Westmarland, Chair of Rape Crisis (England and Wales)
Sheila Coates, Director, South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre (SERICC)
Liz Kelly, Director, Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU); Chair, End Violence Against Women (EVAW)
Theresa May, Conservative MP for Maidenhead, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and Shadow Minister for Women.
Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and a councillor in Haringey
Baroness Joyce Gould, Chair of the Women's National Commission
Shere Hite, researcher, author
Suzanne Moore, journalist for Mail on Sunday
Deborah Orr, journalist for The Independent
Louise Court, Editor, Cosmopolitan
Beatrix Campbell, journalist
Kira Cochrane, Women’s Editor, Guardian
Polly Toynbee, columnist, Guardian
Fay Mansell, Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI)
Katherine Rake, Director, Fawcett Society
Sally Copley, Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns, YWCA England and Wales
Sue Turrell, Executive Director, WOMANKIND Worldwide
Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty
Julie Bentley, Chief Executive, fpa (Family Planning Association)
Dana Hovig, Chief Executive, Marie Stopes International
Ben Hughes, Chief Executive, bassac (British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres)
Kevin Curley, Chief Executive, National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA)
Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)
Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive, Directory of Social Change
Elizabeth Balgobin, Chief Executive, London Voluntary Service Council (LVSC)
Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive, NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations)
Sumanta Roy, Acting Director, Imkaan
Marcia Lewinson, Director, Women Acting in Today's Society (WAITS)
Pragna Patel, Chair, Southall Black Sisters
Parvin Ali, Chief Executive, FATIMA Women's Network
Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive, Women's Aid Federation of England
Sandra Horley, Chief Executive, Refuge
Denise Marshall, Chief Executive, Eaves Women's Aid, Poppy Project and Lilith Project
Juliette Colman, Chair, National Alliance of Womens Organisations in England (NAWO)
Emma Scott, Acting Director, Rights of Women
Stephen Hammersley, Chief Executive, Community Foundation Network
Mark Reedman, Chief Executive, Consortium of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Voluntary and Community Organisations
Vandna Gohil, Chief Executive, Voice4Change England
Katie Curtis, National Union of Students (NUS) National Women's Officer

Click here for a full list of signatories plus check out the story of the sexual violence helpline that's set to close in three months

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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.