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.

 

 

 

Statements from three women re proposed cuts to legal aid

From Ms PM

I came to the UK in 2003. I fled Burundi to claim asylum here after my family was targeted because we’re Hutus. My husband and oldest son disappeared, my brother was killed in front of me and I was imprisoned, raped and tortured. I was forced to leave behind my three children because I didn’t know where they were. I finally found them living in Uganda in 2008, but because I didn’t have an automatic right to family reunion, it took another two years before they could come here to join me and their sister who was born here. I first made an application for visas for them to come here which was refused without being properly considered; then we asked for reconsideration which was also refused and finally we had to go to the Tribunal for an appeal hearing and then finally the visas were agreed. All this took two years, then another three months before they could actually get here.

I had a family lawyer representing me for the whole process, writing letters, filling in all the forms for the applications, taking detailed statements from myself and my children, gathering evidence for the hearing, and lots more besides. And I had a barrister who guided my case and presented it at the Tribunal. Over the two years while I was fighting, I had a number of preparation meetings with the solicitor and at least two meetings with the barrister. It was a very stressful and difficult time for my children and for me, especially because we had been separated for so long and none of us imagined that it would continue for so long after I found them. My children have now been with me for two months and of course we are overjoyed to be together, but we are all feeling the effects of being separated for so long which are coming out in many different ways. There is no way that I would have got my precious children back without a lawyer. If the proposed legal aid cuts come in, women will be denied the right to have a lawyer for a case of family separation. How many children will be deprived of their mothers’ presence and protection and how many lives will be destroyed by this vicious cut.

I also needed a lawyer to represent me against dispersal. In 2005, before I won my case, I was transferred by NASS to Chadwell Heath. Before that I had been living in North London where I had established a close support network of friends, and could easily get to Kentish Town, where Women Against Rape (WAR) is based. I have been receiving regular counselling and other support from WAR from soon after I arrived. I was devastated to be sent so far away and I just couldn’t manage being so isolated there, so I ended up being housed by a friend near where I used to live, in Haringey. I applied to Social Services for support, but right from the beginning, they tried to get rid of me. I found that the social services assessment is aimed at finding ways to off-load their responsibility for you and not to help you. Without a support lawyer who could quote the law and remind them of their duties, and also threaten them with court intervention, I would never have been able to fight this dispersal. I was suffering from symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, as well as some gynaecological problems and I don’t think I would have survived without all the support I got. Without the legal representation which I was able to call on would still be living a long way from my support network which I depend on all the time.

From Ms MB

If the legal aid cuts go through and people are denied a lawyer for custody cases, I will lose all chance of ever seeing my children again. All my hopes rest on a new lawyer I have recently found. If that possibility is taken from me then the separation from my children will be permanent and my heart will be broken.

I have two children aged seven and eight. I have not seen my children for 18 months because they live with my ex-husband and he will only allow me to see them if I have supervised contact. We are supposed to share the cost of paying a social worker to supervise the visits, which is £120 each time. But I am unemployed and it has been impossible for me to find a job and I cannot afford to save £60 of my benefit income of £62 a week. My ex-husband is also unemployed and he doesn’t care if I see the children or not.

I was made to leave the family home in 2007 even though I had called the police after my husband was being violent towards me. For the next two years I went through hearings in the family court to try to get the children back, but the court said they should stay with my ex-husband. During this time I was also terrified of being deported to Kenya, where I am from originally and I struggled to find a lawyer who would help me. Finally I was given two years Indefinite Leave to Remain.

I have been desperate to get my custody case back to court so that I can see the children. One lawyer told me there was nothing more they could do to help me; the next lawyer I found did nothing for several months and then the firm closed down. I have found another lawyer and I am hoping that we will be able to go back to court soon. I cannot go to court on my own without a lawyer. The law is very complicated and during the previous hearings I couldn’t always understand what the lawyers and judges were saying. It is heart-breaking that I haven’t seen my kids for so long. No-one seems to care about the long-term effect on them of not seeing their mum all this time. I am really worried about what I will do if the legal aid is stopped for family cases like mine. I’ve heard that parents will be told to sort out child contact by going to mediation – but my ex-husband has refused to do that, and because he has the children, he can control everything that happens.

From Ms JF

I left my three precious children in Rwanda after soldiers came to our house, killed my husband and raped me. I knew they would be safer without me, so I fled alone. I won asylum in the UK but I was denied the right to automatic family reunion. My children are now 16, 18, and 21 and they have had to grow up without their mother's love and protection. I am fighting for the children to join me but so far we’ve been refused.
My fight to be reunited with my children would be impossible without legal aid as the government proposes. I got Indefinite Leave to Remain under the Legacy programme but that gives no automatic right to family reunion. I am appealing against my children being refused visa applications. Making those applications and appealing would no longer get legal aid if these cuts come in. All four of us have been separated for nine years and we are just holding on by our fingertips -- it has been so hard. If I didn’t have a lawyer to pursue this I don’t see how I could have any hope of us being reunited, and its hard to see how I could have carried on facing that.

Even where legal aid will still be available, if the cuts have driven out the good lawyers who take time and care to prepare our cases, then our cases will be done badly. My first lawyers and then Duncan Lewis Solicitors handled my case badly, banning me from calling them, not letting me know what they were doing (if anything) about my case, at a time when I needed to know I was in safe hands. The difference with Fisher Meredith who now do my case is almost unbelievable, now I have a lawyer who calls me and makes sure I understand what she is doing and why, and wants to know what I think. She is absolutely determined that my family will be reunited and we are still pursuing my asylum claim even though I won in legacy. Other women in similar circumstances have just had their cases closed even though they also still have children back home who cannot join them. I can’t see Duncan Lewis and other firms going to all this effort, yet if I win my case it will set a life-saving precedent for other families.

I am just about to win housing from my local council. Again this would have been impossible without a lawyer. I think the council were deceiving me and acting like they cared when they tried to get me to accept a place in a scheme. But my lawyer fought this because in reality it was just a way to prevent me making my application. Many of the other women in AAWG have ended up destitute and homeless AFTER winning their claims because they got no help. They end up being raped and abused all over again.

February 2011

All African Women’s Group aawg02@googlemail.com
Black Women’s Rape Action Project bwrap@rapeaction.net
Legal Action for Women law@allwomencount.net
Women Against Rape war@womenagainstrape.net

Crossroads Women’s Centre
230A Kentish Town Road
London NW5 2AB

Tel: 0207 482 2496

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