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.

 

 

 

Ian Huntley was not a one-off

In the Media

Fatally lax policing practices allowed Ian Huntley to repeat offend and work at a school. But, shockingly, this is the norm for violence against girls and women, say Claire Glasman and Lisa Longstaff

The Independent, LAW, 6 January 2004

It took the murder of two children in Soham to expose, yet again, how often the police do not act to protect women and girls. In the eight years before he killed Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, there were at least 11 reports of Ian Huntley's sexual offences against young girls and under-age teenagers. Huntley was rarely charged or even interviewed, and he was never convicted. Time after time, the police ignored evidence or failed to make further investigations about Huntley's offending. And, in addition to the reported incidents, several ex-girlfriends have since said that they suffered violence - being beaten unconscious, thrown down stairs - at Huntley's hand.

In the 30 years that we have worked with thousands of rape survivors, we know that this shocking policing is not unusual. Huntley was protected by the police assumptions that we have confronted for years: that women's and girls' evidence is less reliable than men's, and that rape is not a serious crime, especially if the complainant has, or had, a relationship with her attacker.

In 1998, in Grimsby, a 16-year-old girl reported being raped in an alleyway after leaving a nightclub. Huntley was charged, but the case was dropped when CCTV footage from inside the club showed Huntley dancing with the girl and kissing her. She had told police that she didn't know him, afraid that they would misunderstand. The police not only misunderstood; they ignored the body of law that women have fought for generations to get on to the statute books. The rape law makes clear that, whether or not the woman has had previous contact or a long relationship with, or even been married to her aggressor, if she has not consented to sex, it is rape.

Soon after Huntley's arrest for rape was in the news, a 12-year-old girl reported that he had sexually assaulted her 10 months before. Rather than confirming his likely guilt, police dismissed the girl's allegation as unreliable. Yet the girl had explained that Huntley had caught her as she ran away and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

Hundreds of women each year come to us when the prosecution of their attacker is dropped by the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Challenging those decisions (usually based on the catch-all excuse of "insufficient evidence"), we often find that: key evidence was inaccurately recorded, misinterpreted or destroyed, or not even gathered in the first place; the accused is more likely to be believed than the victim - especially if he has higher social status; a delay in reporting is considered to discredit the complainant. No wonder only 6 per cent of recorded rapes result in conviction, and men convicted of rape feel unlucky rather than guilty.

Perhaps the most devastating practice, and the one most relevant to Soham, is that, where men are serial rapists or persistently attack partners, each incident is dealt with as if it were the first. One record of a rape allegation against Huntley was thrown away after a month. A few months later, when another victim came forward, there was nothing on file. The most basic police practices are disregarded when men's violence against women is the crime.

In 1995, we worked with the English Collective of Prostitutes and Legal Action for Women to bring the first private prosecution for rape on behalf of two women attacked by the same man at knifepoint in strikingly similar circumstances. The police had discouraged the first woman from making a statement because she was a prostitute and "would not be believed" by a jury. When she later found out that another woman had been raped by the same man, she insisted that the police take her statement. Yet the CPS refused to prosecute, leaving both women in fear for their lives and their children's. After many obstacles, our private prosecution went ahead, and the jury found Christopher Davies guilty on the same evidence that the CPS deemed insufficient. He was sentenced to 14 years, reduced to 11 on appeal. After their verdict, the court heard that Davies had a conviction (and a derisory six-month sentence) for attempting to kidnap a teenage girl off the street into a van he'd fitted with restraints.

A woman we helped last year had suffered two years of violence from her ex-partner, including rape at knifepoint and attempted arson. She had reported each of these, but each had been dealt with without reference to the others. The man was never tried for the rape - the police accepted his version of events despite his history of violence against her. When he smashed the window of the car, with her and their baby inside, showering them with glass, eyewitnesses were not questioned. He was charged not with assault, but with criminal damage, and fined. It was the destruction of property, not the violence against woman and child, that was the crime.

While police racism is finally being acknowledged, there has been no acknowledgement of sexism throughout the criminal justice system (or of how sexism and racism combine when the victim is a woman of colour). Yet, we and others have been saying for decades that sexism is the barrier preventing the successful prosecution of rapists, which would deter all violent men.

The legal establishment tends to give rapists the mercy that vulnerable victims are often denied - even when applying for compensation. In 2000, a young woman we helped was told by the Compensation Authority that there had been "no crime of violence": she had "consented", aged 12, to an older man who had plied her with drink.

As with the Yorkshire Ripper and Harold Shipman, people want to know why Huntley got away with it for so long. The Home Secretary David Blunkett has responded by announcing a public inquiry. Yet only the failure to vet Huntley before he was allowed to work near children seems to be under scrutiny. What about the repeated failure to put this rapist and child-abuser in the dock? Why wasn't he prosecuted or even cautioned before he went on to murder?

Significant resources have been invested into policing child porn on the internet; yet a young woman complained to us last year that the police refused to investigate the paedophile ring from which she had escaped. Crimes had included filming her and other children being drugged and sexually abused by adults. When she identified those involved, including a policeman and a doctor, the police told her that this discredited her testimony.

We fear that, once again, recommendations of a public inquiry will serve not women and children but the Government's political agenda (for keeping records on "suspect" people, violent or not, promoting identity cards, etc). The public feels so strongly about rape that the issue is often used to attack civil liberties without any benefit to women's and children's safety. It is not keeping records in general that is the problem; it is the sexist policing and prosecution of rapists and other violent men.

Claire Glasman and Lisa Longstaff belong to Women Against Rape. For information or to make a donation, visit www.womenagainstrape.net

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