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.

 

 

 

Row on change in rape evidence

Jay faces row on change in rape evidence
The Times, MONDAY MARCH 1 1999BY FRANCES GIBB, LEGAL CORRESPONDENT

THE Minister for Women. Baroness Jay of Paddington, was at the centre of a row last night over plans to reform the admissibility of the sexual history of a woman victim as evidence in rape trials. The proposals are soon to be considered by the House of Lords. They are opposed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, and the organisation Women against gape for conflicting reasons.

The controversy has been fuelled by the disclosure that the Government's own Women's Unit, headed by Lady Jay, says that there are times when a woman's sexual history may be relevant. In particular, the unit says that it could be relevant to whether a man thought a woman had consented to sex or not — the attacker's defence that he — "thought she wanted it".

The Women's Unit says: "A defendant might claim that he believed the complainant was consenting because he had been told that she always kicked and screamed during sex. This would be relevant to his honest belief."

The disclosure, in a letter to Women Against Rape, has outraged and dismayed the group, which argues that the Home Secretary's proposals give wide latitude for a woman's sexual history to be admitted. Under present law, a man cannot be convicted of rape if he honestly believed a woman consented. This is based on a ruling in 1976.

In a reply to the Women's Unit, Women Against Rape condemns the failure by Lady Jay to meet its request — backed by 200 organisations — to support a ban on questions about sexual history in rape trials. "How can rape victims expect protection if after two decades of campaigning for protective laws, the Women's Unit — which is supposed to represent their interests — believes rapists' lies over women's evidence?" the pressure group says. "Rapist after rapist has been allowed to walk free after claiming that the victim he had beaten black and blue loved 'rough sex'."

Jack Straw's proposals seek to curb the discretion of judges on admitting as evidence a woman's sexual history. But judges would be able to admit such material where it is evidence of a man's belief in consent. Women Against Rape says that this means that the protection which the proposals appear to give would evaporate. It wants tighter restrictions.

The Lord Chief Justice is arguing that what is admitted should be at the discretion of the trial judge, as now. The Bill will also stop defendants cross-examining their victims, a move opposed by the Lord Chief Justice — and also by Women Against Rape.

Ruth Hall, of Women Against Rape, said: "This is a false protection. Most rapists are represented by barristers who are more skilled than themselves in humiliating discrediting victims". The issue was not who asked the questions, but what questions were asked. she added, "Many countries now ban sexual history evidence. None makes an exception for — a man who claims he believed that a woman who was kicking and screaming was consenting."

The proposals are contained in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill and are expected to be debated by peers at the Bill's report stage. The Women's Unit says that Lady Jay shares the concern of Women against Rape that "irrelevant evidence about complainants' previous sexual history should be kept out of sexual offence trials".

The Lord Chief Justice wishes to retain the discretion that judges currently have on whether sexual history be allowed; but Women Against Rape argues that the Government's proposals create a huge gateway for sexual history to be admitted. Lord Thomas of Gresford has highlighted the fundamental flaw in the Bill that "in almost every case where the defence is one of consent, there will be an additional defence that, even if the complainant did not consent, the defendant reasonably believed that she did consent".

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