Victims of sexual violence are being failed. What is Labour going to do about it?

Sienna Rodgers
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Progress is not inevitable. The Crown Prosecution Service released its latest annual report on violence against women and girls yesterday, and it made for terrifying reading. Rape prosecutions in England and Wales are at their lowest level level in a decade. The CPS decides to charge in less than half of rape cases; there has been a drop of 37.7%. The number of cases administratively finalised (i.e. shelved due to lack of timely response to an evidence request) stands at 28.6%. Victims of sexual violence are being failed.

Are these appalling figures down to the police being overstretched? Are the CPS cuts of 30% since 2010 responsible? Is it institutional misogyny, which after all pervades every corner of our society? Has the CPS changed its threshold for prosecuting rape cases, working on the basis of conviction likelihood rather than meeting the legal test? This last claim is being made by the Centre for Women’s Justice and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which says there is evidence of a change in approach by the CPS. CWJ and EVAWC are launching a legal challenge. Whatever the reason, rape is being decriminalised and we haven’t seen nearly enough anger about that.

Sarah Champion explores these issues in her article for LabourList today, which rightly calls on the government to provide answers for these horrifying statistics and links them to the last decade of Tory austerity. Labour activists say “Tory austerity” so much it probably loses its potency, but this is the cold hard reality of it and we cannot forget that. Those brave women and girls who have defied all odds to report the violence to which they’ve been subjected certainly won’t.

At university, rape and sexual assault was the norm. That may sound ‘hysterical’, to use the appropriate misogynist term, but it was true of my experience. It was typical, absolutely bog-standard, entirely expected to be assaulted in a club. And when one woman in a group would reveal that she had been raped, the stories of similar experiences always came pouring out. The normalisation of male violence has created a stubborn and dangerous culture on campuses in particular, where young women are often at their most vulnerable, though of course it’s easily found everywhere.

Champion says if the Tories can’t uphold a basic principle of justice – allowing everyone who reports sexual violence to be confident at least that their allegation can be handled properly – they should make way for a party that can. I sincerely hope that Labour will improve the situation once it wins power. Reversing deep cuts to vital services will certainly make a huge difference.

The horrible truth is that women working in Westminster are keenly aware that there are creeps in all parliamentary parties, however, and stories are routinely swapped of which men to avoid. Labour could do a lot better in the fight against male violence and every type of behaviour on the spectrum of misogyny. The party could start by talking about these struggles a lot more, and not leave that up to Dawn Butler and individual MPs such as Sarah Champion and Carolyn Harris. Some of the numbers for motions going to conference will be revealed today, but where are the brilliant Labour campaigns about the oppression of women? We must be furious; we must shout about it repeatedly and loudly.

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