Rally tells CPS to prosecute rapists not rape survivors - London
Women's groups coming together as 'Slut Walk Means Speak Up' picketed at the Crown Prosecution Service offices in London today calling for them to stop prosecuting rape survivors and sex workers. UK. 1st July 2011
Black Women’s Rape Action Project, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), Women Against Rape (WAR) and others picketed the Crown Prosecution Service offices in Central London today calling for them to stop prosecuting rape survivors and sex workers who work together for safety. Southwark, London, UK. 1 July 2011
Following on from London's Slutwalk, these groups acting together with some of the Slutwalk organisers as 'Slut Means Speak Up' set up this protest at the CPS offices on Southwark Bridge calling for action over miscarriages of justice against rape survivors. There is considerable and compelling evidence that police and prosecutors are too often failing to bring rapists to justice and also disturbing cases where rape victims have been jailed for so-called false allegations.
Among the cases highlighted by the groups are those of Layla Ibrahim, found guilty in a Carlisle court of having fabricated evidence that she had been raped and sentenced to 3 years, and Gail Sherwood, sentenced to two years at Bristol in 2010, according the The Guardian report "despite protests from her family and anti-rape campaigners that she had been telling the truth" over the attacks and rapes by an unknown stalker.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer, has so far refused to take action over these cases but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is currently conducting a review of such prosecutions, and the protest hoped to influence their views.
One current case, due to come to court in September, is of Sheila Farmer, who spoke at the Slutwalk rally in Trafalgar Square. Around 18 years ago had to give up her work as an IT consultant due to deteriorating eyesight caused by diabetes. She went into sex work as the only way she could support herself, working on her own for six months but then suffered a vicious attacked by a man who raped her repeatedly, tried to strangle her and kept her tied up for hours. He was deported after an Old Bailey trial and since then she has always worked with friends.
Farmer's flat was raided by police in August 2010, following complaints by neighbours, and she agreed to move elsewhere in response to the complaints. The police could find no evidence that there was any force or coercion at the flat, where she was working with others consensually and independently, but returned later and arrested her while she was moving away. They only released her from custody when a doctor stated her health would be in serious danger if further detained.
She has in the past stood up for other women who have been attacked, appearing as a witness against an armed gang and helping to ensure their conviction. She is now also suffering from a malignant brain tumour. Her consultant has now stated that because of the progress of her tumour "If possible it would be medically justifiable to try and avoid any stress associated with any prolonged Court hearing." One of the women read out a long message from her at the protest, which she was unfortunately not well enough to attend.
The ECP state "The laws which force sex workers to work in isolation and make us more vulnerable to attack must be abolished. For safety’s sake, decriminalize."
The ECP banner says "no bad women, just bad laws" and in the area of sex and prostitution there are certainly many bad laws, and the few bad women are not those who become sex workers but a very small minority of those who oppress other women. In recent years we have seen some limited attempts to crack down on the true horrors of parts of the sex industry forging an unholy alliance between some of left women and right-wing Christians to clamp down on prostitution, resulting in police persecution of sex workers and in forcing them out of working in relatively safe flats and on to the street, exposing them to dangers.
There seems to be no public benefit in bringing a case against Sheila Farmer that could result in up to seven years in prison, as well as the loss of her savings which she needs to pay for her cancer treatment. Currently she is having to survive on state benefits.
Around 50 people turned up for this 'Slut Means Speak Up' event, an hour -long protest with banners, placards and speeches on an open microphone on the pavement in front of Rose Court. Mainly they were women, but there were men there too. Some of those present identified themselves as sex workers, including one man who was a leader of the sex workers section of the GMB union. There were speakers from all the groups present, including one of the Slutwalk organsers, as well as from a number of individuals.
Most moving were the testimonies by a number of women present who had been raped and came forward to tell a litany of obstruction and obfuscation they had faced in trying - and failing - to get justice for the crimes against them. Often it was the police who were at best unhelpful and in some cases treated them as criminals rather than as victims. Even in perhaps the only case where the police did their job well, the prosecution was blocked by the CPS, who seem to make it very difficult for women to present their cases to them and to be able to come up with endless reasons to brand rape victims as unreliable witnesses - in some cases it seemed because they had suffered rape. One case we heard about appeared to have been shelved simply because the woman judge set to hear it found the evidence disturbing. Clearly we have a legal system that is failing victims regularly and systemically and justice is not being done.
It is hardly surprising hearing these accounts that over 90% of rapes are thought not to be reported, and that of those which are reported only around 1 in 16 end in a conviction. Women Against Rape report that over 30 women who have "reported rape have been disbelieved and imprisoned in the last 12 months. Asylum seekers who report rape and other torture are often deported. Sex workers who come forward risk prosecution." Those who have complained to the so-called Independent Police Complaints Commission have usually failed to get any satisfaction. Rape is not of course the only case where police and the legal system fail to protect; one man spoke about how trying to get a case of child grooming investigated led to his prosecution.
Speakers made clear that not everyone in the police or prosecution service adopts a negative and unfeeling attitude or trivialises rape, although as the recent comments by Ken Clarke suggest there are people at the very top among those who fail to take rape - or at least some rapes - seriously. There were hopes expressed that some of those who are sympathetic to the victims of rape may become whistle-blowers, exposing some of the cover-ups, illegal practices and kicking into the long grass that is too often taking place.
This protest aimed at the CPS and the DPP is the first in a series they are organising at key sites concerned with criminal justice around London, including New Scotland Yard and the Home Office. More details of the campaign and the cases are on the ECP and WAR web sites.