This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

Letter to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority protesting discrimination on the basis of a woman's "character and conduct"

Dear Peter Spurgeon,

We are writing to complain about discrimination by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority against rape survivors. Paragraph 13 allows CICA Members wide discretionary power to reduce or refuse compensation on the basis of an applicant’s character or conduct. This power is being abused to discriminate against some victims.

In particular, we refer you to the CICA’s recent treatment of Ms S (your ref. x/97/206610-REV1) who, while working as a prostitute in September 1996, was raped, beaten and robbed. Her assailant was prosecuted and sentenced to five, three and three years in prison to run concurrently. Ms S applied for compensation as is her statutory right.

Initially, in November 1997 Mr John Allen on behalf of the CICA refused to award compensation to Ms S because of her character and "unlawful conduct", stating, "The police have informed us that the applicant was working as a prostitute . . ." Ms S had no convictions for prostitution and as she later pointed out, working as a prostitute is not unlawful. Ms S contacted the English Collective of Prostitutes with whom we work closely, and together we helped her to appeal Mr Allen’s decision.

On appeal Mr Charles McLeod awarded Ms S the tariff for rape (£7,500). But he imposed a reduction of 25%, offering her £5,625. Mr McLeod wrote, "In this case, it is considered that evidence of your unlawful conduct makes it inappropriate that a full award should be made and the award is reduced."

Unlawful conduct

CICA guidelines state that, "conduct means something which can fairly be described as bad conduct or misconduct and includes provocative behaviour and offensive language". On precisely what basis did Mr Allen and Mr McCleod make these reductions? Do they consider that prostitute women are bad or immoral, and thus not entitled to compensation for being raped, beaten and robbed? Or that working as a prostitute is provocative; that prostitute women are "asking for it", or even that rape is part of the job? Does the CICA stand by such discriminatory decisions?

On 7 August 1996 Harry Cohen MP wrote about prostitute victims of crime to Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, then chair of the CICB. "If it is regarded that their (sic) profession is by nature a dangerous one then the logic of your argument breaks down. On that basis you would refuse compensation to policemen who have been the victims of crime and their families." It often seems that police officers can rely on discretion in their favour, whereas victims of rape experience discrimination. How much of last year’s budget went to police officers?

Reducing compensation for criminal convictions

Refusing compensation because of an applicant’s convictions has drawn a great deal of criticism. Both Mr Allen and Mr McLeod knew that Ms S had no convictions for prostitution offences. Both decisions on this application contradict the CICA’s Guide which lays out what percentage reduction is appropriate according to length of prison sentence.

Loitering and soliciting are not prisonable offences. Such offences carry two penalty points which according to the Guide, merit no reduction to an award. What is the purpose of putting this in the Guide if Members have no obligation to adhere to it?

In stark contrast to the common law

In court Ms S made no attempt to hide that she had been working as a prostitute at the time of the attack and that her assailant was a client. Nevertheless, the jury granted her the same legal protection as a non-prostitute woman, and found her assailant guilty. If the judge had imposed a shorter sentence because she was working as a prostitute or commented that the attack was her fault, there would rightly have been a public outcry.

The CICA is increasingly out of step with public opinion and even with the courts. In 1995 we helped two prostitute women bring the first successful private prosecution for rape in England and Wales. The jury found him guilty. Before sentencing the rapist the judge stated "Prostitutes are particularly vulnerable to people such as yourself, and you no doubt thought they would be unlikely to complain." As Victim Support pointed out, "The practice of using character and conduct to reduce an award is in stark contrast to the common law."

Discretion to discriminate

The Authority is supposed to compensate victims for the effects of crime, not to judge the victim or blame her for violence against her. Every woman who is raped or assaulted is entitled to the same compensation and respect. It is deeply unjust that an individual Member’s moral prejudices can determine a reduction or refusal of compensation. Such grading and degrading of the worthiness of a victim of crime is unjustifiable. Does the CICA allow its Members to exercise other bias, for example on the basis of an applicant’s race, class, sexual preference, age?

Conclusion

Compensation was denied to a woman who did nothing more than sell sex in order to support her son who has special health needs and to pay off debts left by an ex partner. This was extremely distressing to a victim already traumatised by a serious violent crime. Instead of the acknowledgement of her suffering and assistance to recovery that she has sought, she is further abused and undervalued. Instead of valuing the public service she performed when she helped to get a dangerous rapist prosecuted, a mark of her strength of character and sense of social responsibility, CICA Members prioritised their moral prejudices about her conduct as a prostitute woman.

We find it outrageous that the victim who is attacked once by an individual violent man is attacked again on paper twice by members of the CICA. It is time this sexist injustice ended.

We look forward to your reply.

Yours Sincerely,

Lisa Longstaff

Letter sent to:
Peter Spurgeon, Chief Executive
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
Morley House
26-30 Holborn Viaduct
London EC1A 2JQ 7

December 1998

 

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