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20 March 2008updated 24 Sep 2015 11:16am

Long-awaited emergency intervention

Baroness Joyce Gould discusses the impact the long-awaited emergency intervention funding will have

By Joyce Gould

Yesterday the government announced long-awaited emergency intervention in the crisis of the Rape Crisis sector. It is a relief that the Government has responded before the end of this current financial year to the appeal. Most Rape Crisis Centres are in critical situations in terms of their funding and this announcement will allow groups to remain open so they will no longer have to reduce or freeze their service provision to the victims of sexual violence.

I am also delighted that the emergency funding has been agreed by a range of government departments including the Department for Communities and Local Government, Government Equalities Office, Department for Health, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet Office. It is essential that these departments continue to work together to take responsibility for the support and well-being of victims of sexual violence, as well as violence against women more broadly.

On 6 March 2008 — International Women’s Day — I opened the annual debate in the House of Lords, in which I referred to the cost to society of violence against women. Putting together the health costs, loss of employment costs and costs to the criminal justice system, domestic violence alone costs £23 billion per year and the health-related cost of a rape is now calculated at £73,487 per case. Every 34 minutes a rape is reported.

My involvement in raising awareness of and preventing sexual violence also extends to my role as Patron of FORWARD (The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development) which is committed to eliminating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and other harmful gender-based discriminatory practices that violate the rights of women.

There are complex interrelations between all elements of violence, be they domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, FGM, forced marriage, trafficking or honour killings. Each require a long term, integrated strategy that includes prevention work, with clear targeted funding and evaluation. The FGM Act of 2003 attempts to prevent girls from being taken out of the country for FGM, but policies such as these are often disconnected and as a consequence good policy does not always have an impact on the ground. The Government has yet to fund a comprehensive prevalence study on FGM, without which a robust argument for funding cannot be made. There is no strategy to implement or monitor the law, and no prosecutions have been made since the law was passed in 1958, despite estimates that about 7,000 girls are at risk.

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I am also Chair of the Women’s National Commission (WNC), an umbrella organisation set up in 1969 to advise Government on the views of women in the UK. The WNC now have almost 500 partners reflecting the views of some 8 million women across the UK. Year after year, these women tell us that violence against women is a top priority for them, which is why the WNC Violence Against Women Group is one of the biggest and longest running of our working groups. We also run a Sexual Violence Group which monitors policy on all forms of sexual violence including prostitution, FGM, rape, and sexual assault. The Group is made up of service providers, academics, and liaises with Home Office officials on all aspects of sexual violence including trafficking and FGM. The Group is chaired by one of our WNC Commissioners and a leading expert in the field, Professor Liz Kelly. As WNC Chair, I have also been working closely with services providers and other experts from the sexual violence field who are campaigning for increased, secured funding especially for the rape crisis sector.

The Women’s National Commission also advocates on behalf of sexual violence support services in other ways. The four-yearly production of the Shadow Report for the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) outlines current progress by the Government on all issues relevant to women including sexual violence, detailing areas such as trafficking of women and girls, child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, women in prostitution, women in adult entertainment, sexual offences, marital rape and FGM. The Report can be found on our website.

An integral part of awareness-raising on sexual violence is sex education in schools. Compulsory relationship and sex education which, if taken seriously by Government and senior staff in schools alike, will be a step towards ending sexual violence. It is imperative that young men are taught from an early age about consent and that violence against women forms a core module of this. Without this, we cannot hope to change attitudes that condone violence against women and hold women responsible for the violence that is committed against them.

Yesterday, Dr Nicole Westmarland, Chair of Rape Crisis England and Wales, welcomed the Government’s commitment to work towards the development of a ‘sustainable business model’ for the longer term. It is vital that we now work very closely across government departments and that this is led by the Minister for Women and Equalities.’ I would add that it is also vital we understand violence against women as a root cause and consequence of inequality.

Baroness Joyce Gould is the Chair of the Women’s National Commission.

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12 March 2008

Rape the forgotten issue

Despite the fact sexual violence affects one in four women the issue has all but disappeared from th

By Liz Kelly

Rape was a key feminist issue in the 1970s, generating anger and activism – alongside reclaiming the night (and the day), challenging victim blame, protesting the misogynist statements of judges and journalists we built new forms of support: helplines, self-help consciousness raising groups, advocacy. Rather than accepting advice to limit our lives we invented feminist self-defence, which presented the real risks – from known men – whilst enabling women to be in their bodies confidently, to trust their instincts rather than behave politely. In the process we discovered how the fear and threat of rape affects all women’s lives.

This sense of sexual danger feeds into everyday, routine activities. Two US researchers (Riger and Gordon, 1989) in a study of women in 11 US cities say:

“Most women experience the fear of rape as a nagging, gnawing sense that something awful could happen, and angst that keeps them from doing things they want and need to do, or from doing them at the time or in the way they might otherwise do. Women’s fear of rape is a sense that they must always be on guard, vigilant and alert, a feeling that causes a women to tighten with anxiety if someone is walking too closely behind her, especially at night.”

We also uncovered the many faces of rapists, the majority of which were distressingly familiar – faces we encountered in our everyday lives; and that rape and sexual assault were depressingly common affecting at least one in four women over their lifetime.

But despite all of this, rape was virtually invisible in the feminist, policy and research agendas in the 1990s. Why did sexual violence virtually disappear from the political and policy radar, why was it more acceptable to invest in and innovate around domestic violence? And what have the consequences of this neglect been?

Costs and consequences

Revealing that the majority of sexual violence takes place ‘close to home’ was undoubtedly disturbing: the news that rapists were ordinary men even more unwelcome. In the 1990s we also witnessed the ‘return of the paedophile’ – a concept I despise, since it literally means ‘lover of children’ (sic) – and the serial rapist, returning us to the safer ground of the dangerous stranger and re-burying the brutality of partners, friends and relatives.

Judges and other opinion leaders continued to assert that rape by a partner was less serious, less traumatic, despite research evidence demonstrating that not only is physical injury more likely but the assaults will probably be repeated. The media favourite of ‘date rape’ not only misrepresents the context in which sexual violence takes place but serves to minimise and disqualify rapes by known men.

We have failed to create a sexual culture in which women’s sexual autonomy is cultivated and respected, for the majority of young people sex continues to be something men take, with young women’s ambivalence and uncertainty a challenge to be overcome.

(Hetero)sexual culture thus reproduces the conditions in which coercive sex is commonplace; an unwelcome message not only to government, policy makers but also many feminists. Recent research gives little comfort to those who championed women’s rights to sexual agency and pleasure. Whilst young women undoubtedly aspire to be sexual subjects, and resist sexual coercion, the overall context continues to be defined through powerful and essentialist notions of men’s sexual needs and desires.

What this neglect has resulted in, across Europe, is a failure of legal systems to deal with increased reporting of sexual violence by known men. England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland have the lowest conviction rates, falling from about a third of reported rapes in the mid 1970s to 6% or less today. There has also been a systematic failure, Scotland apart, to secure and extend support services.

Women who have been sexually assaulted are not sick, or ill or mad. What many want is knowledgable supporters who can enable them to cope with a painful and destabilising experience, a space to make sense of what happened and to work out how they reconstruct their sense of self and their sense of safety in a context where both have been profoundly shaken.

It is the NGO sector and Rape Crisis in particular that has developed a practice which both recognises and validates women’s strength and insights whilst not ignoring the impacts and harms. In other words treating the woman as a whole person – not simply a victim, or patient. Yet we have less Rape Crisis centres in the entire UK currently than in the state of Florida, and whilst here are 21 lap dancing clubs in London, there is no Rape Crisis centre – the nearest is in Croydon.

As I write I realise this is a story of how it is easier today to get away with rape than when feminists began organising in the 1970s, and more difficult to access support. Mary Koss, long time researcher in the US, uses the concept of ‘responsiveness’ to refer to the ways in which institutions and communities address sexual violence.

Community attitudes to rape, rapists and rape victims are measured not by the sympathetic pronouncements of public officials, but by the quality of services that are and are not available…. The quality, speed and sensitivity of services provided by law enforcement, medical, mental health and support agencies measures the true regard, dignity and safety that a community extends as a matter of course to member who become victims.

We have a very long way to go to become a responsive society, one which affords dignity, safety and true regard to victims-survivors of sexual violence.

Professor Liz Kelly, is Chair of End Violence Against Women and Roddick Chair in Violence Against Women, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University

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