Emily’s inquest ends: time for change, by @newsaboutwomen

Cross-posted from: Women's Views on the News
Originally published: 06.03.18

WIP2020 Campaign, INQUEST, Corston Review, change, women in prison“Nothing has changed … everyone promises, it’s delivering that counts.”

On 1 February 2018 the inquest into the self-inflicted death of 21 year-old Emily Hartley at HMP New Hall in 2016 concluded.

She was the youngest of 22 women to die in a women’s prison that year; 2016 saw the highest annual number of deaths on record.

And the evidence at the inquest raised serious issues about the decision to place Emily in prison.

Read more Emily’s inquest ends: time for change, by @newsaboutwomen

On hashtags, secrets and the balance of power, by @abigailrieley ‏

Cross-posted from: Abigail Rieley
Originally published: 22.10.17

This post is a hard one to write. I’ve kept this blog for years but this is the post I’ve always second guessed myself out of writing. I’ve written about dysfunctional homes so many times, homes that weren’t safe, predatory men, an inadequate legal system, but I’ve never said that what I had a personal stake in what I was writing – that I understood, that I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to live with a volatile narcissist who will make you doubt the facts in front of your nose. I know what it’s like to dodge ever-changing emotions. I know what it’s like to fear for your life – a dull practical alertness, not a nerve jangling panic.
Read more On hashtags, secrets and the balance of power, by @abigailrieley ‏

CRIMINAL OR VERY ILL? by @anewselfwritten

Cross-posted from: A New Self Written
Originally published: 28.02.16

Was my abuser a criminal, a very sick man or both?

That is the question I am confronting right now. And while I generally feel I am an expert by experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I don’t instinctively know the answer to this question.

Logic, rationality, the thinking things in life can of course supply an answer straight away – he was probably both. But to jump to that conclusion without truly knowing why is lacking somehow. I need a bit more to go on; my education didn’t include the rigours of studying jurisprudence so I don’t know the questions to ask about criminality. My education also didn’t include any aspects of psychiatry or other clinical disciplines which might help the sickness bit of it (I’m discounting my biology O level here).
Read more CRIMINAL OR VERY ILL? by @anewselfwritten


Cross-posted from: Feimineach
Originally published: 26.06.15

On the 23rd of June, 2015, the PRISON REFORM TRUST LAUNCHED A REVIEW to examine why children aged 10 to 17 who are in care are more likely to offend than children who are not in care. [1] The Trust acknowledges that the majority of young people in care do not offend or come into contact with the youth justice system; however, “children and young people who are, or have been, in care are over five times more likely than other children to get involved in the criminal justice system.” The Trust continues: “In a 2013 survey of 15-18 year olds in young offender institutions, a third of boys and 61% of girls said they had spent time in care. This is despite fewer than 1% of all children in England being in care.”  The review aims to identify why young people in care are disproportionately represented in the youth justice system and, importantly, how to respond to this problem. 

How great is the stigma attached to rape? by @glosswitch

Cross-posted from: Glosswitch
Originally published: 02.02.15

The Home Affairs Select Committee have announced that unlike people accused of any other crime, those accused of sex crimes (including rape) deserve anonymity until charged. It’s a decision that has been made without consulting rape victims or rape support charities, instead appearing to be motivated by sympathy for the DJ Paul Gambacinni, kept on bail for 12 months over an allegation that was eventually dropped. According to Committee chairman Keith Vaz “we have seen how destructive [releasing names] can be to a person’s livelihood, causing irreparable reputational damage and enormous financial burden.” We have also, one would think, seen how damaging rape – which happens to an estimated one in five women – can be, but apparently that’s less measurable (or less important?). In any case, the belief that a “special stigma” attaches to rape, making those accused more in need of protection from publicity, persists.

Personally I find it strange to think that we live in a world so appalled and outraged by rape that those accused of it are social pariahs. If that were the case, surely we wouldn’t be surrounded by men telling women that forced penetration and sexual coercion are perfectly fine. A world in which great stigma is attached to rape itself is not a world in which …

This is not a world in which rape is seen as a truly abhorrent act of violence. It is joked about. It is excused. It is filmed and shared between friends. It is committed time and again, by men who believe it is normal (just don’t say the “r” word, at least not outside your own circle of friends).

The stigma, if there is one, has nothing to do with rape itself. It’s to do with naming it. It’s to do with being accused. An accusation breaks all the rules. You haven’t properly overpowered a victim if she then complains. Her complaint makes you a Rapist with a capital “R,” as opposed to someone who merely “coerces” (every man coerces, doesn’t he? Coercion’s when you get away with it and that’s just fine).

I don’t believe for a minute that the tiny number of men falsely accused of rape suffer more than the tens of thousands of women raped every year who see no justice at all. Only someone who believes men are more human than women – or that forced penetration is no big deal since that’s what women are there for – could dare to think otherwise. If a false accusation of rape is more traumatic than one of, say, burglary or murder, this isn’t because we think rape is more abhorrent. We don’t.  Perhaps men feel pressured put on a show of distancing their behaviour and beliefs from those of someone who’s been “officially” labelled a rapist. Or maybe there’s a particular shame – a form of emasculation – associated in having your socially approved right to take penetrate more vulnerable bodies legally questioned. Whatever it is, it’s not that we think rape is worse than other crimes. We just don’t like having to think of it as a crime at all.

The current call for those accused of sex crimes to remain anonymous until charged harms victims several times over. It suggests rape is less acceptable than other forms of criminal behaviour (the opposite is true). It suggests accusers are more likely to lie (false accusation rates are no different than for other crimes). It suggests the chance that publicity could help other victims to come forward isn’t important (it is). It blurs the lines between “not charged” and “falsely accused” (not charging men accused of rape is common; charges and convictions for making false accusations are rare). Above all, it suggests being raped isn’t as bad as being accused of rape, making the convictions of serial rapists such as John Worboys much less likely in order to spare a handful of men the pain of being accused of a crime they didn’t commit (meanwhile any one of us could get accused of a crime we didn’t commit, but clearly only some of us matter).

Rape accusations are socially disruptive, but only because we live in a world that is perfectly fine with rape itself. That is the problem. Anyone who cared about victims and about the handful of men falsely accused would work on changing this.

(For help emailing your MP on this issue, click here.)


Victoria Smith  Humourless Mummy, Cuddly Feminist [@glosswitch]


JURIES: Campaign for Mandatory Training on Rape Myths for Juries!



“It happened to me. I didn’t fit the portrayed stereotype. It was my neighbour. Not guilty in court. Yet the impact on my life is far reaching”

This is just one of the comments from someone who has signed our petition about JURIES. Yet we have lots more, examples of comments from those whose cases jumped all the hurdles to get into court, only to be let down by the myths and stereotypes that so many people have.

The JURIES Campaign wants things to change, we are challenging the Government to introduce a pre-trial briefing, that would be mandatory; to be played in court, that would challenge the pre-conceived myths and stereotypes, prior to a trial beginning. Myths and Stereotypes can already be challenged at the end of the trial, but that is too late. Some judges also may advise the jury, but there is no prescribed text, not all judges do, and no-one knows just what is said or when.

Read more JURIES: Campaign for Mandatory Training on Rape Myths for Juries!

Why it is time for a criminal offence of Domestic Abuse by @rachelhorman

(Cross-Posted with permission from Rachel Horman)

On the 1st April 2013 the Government amended the definition of domestic violence to include “coercive control”.  This was an issue that I have spoken about previously on the BBC website in September – and is an initiative that I very much welcome.

Changing the definition of domestic violence however is useless without there being a corresponding change in the law.  It sounds fantastic to say that domestic violence now includes coercive control but how on earth are abusers going to be prosecuted for it?

The only tools the police have to fight this type of behaviour are the laws against harassment and stalking.  These laws are massively under-utilised as it is and require repeated patterns of behaviour.  These laws were not devised to deal with coercive control within the setting of a couple living together and would be very difficult to use in many of the cases I deal with on a daily basis.

The Government has already committed itself to creating a criminal offence of forced marriage later this year so why not domestic abuse which is a far more common occurrence?

Coercive control can be just as terrifying as physical violence and there are very few cases of physical abuse where coercive control is not also present.  Coercive control is often the precursor to physical abuse so surely it makes sense to have the means to bring a criminal prosecution before the abuse becomes physical?  A woman is murdered by a current or former partner in the UK every 3 days so this is a huge problem we are dealing with.

Coercive control is often used to grind down the spirit and confidence of a victim until they are so submissive that they do not fight back or dare leave when the violence begins.  I have many clients who will say that this cycle of coercive control followed by violence is a constant feature of their relationship and that the psychological terrorism is so terrifying that they are often relieved when the violence eventually comes. Worse still the cycle will usually begin again in an increasingly short space of time.

I have heard people object to a criminal offence of coercive control on the basis that they might find themselves “being arrested for arguing with my wife”.

Coercive control involves humiliation, degradation and intimidation which is not something that can happen – even during arguments – within a loving relationship.

I deal with women being subjected to the psychological terrorism of coercive control on a daily basis, let me give you an idea of what this is like.  Alison was woken in the middle of the night by her partner Stephen, who had been out drinking, and ordered by him to go to the local garage to buy cigarettes for him.  He gave her the money to pay for the cigarettes as she was not allowed to have her own money or bank account.  She was told by him that as usual he would be timing her as he didn’t trust her not to have sex with other men ’on her way to the garage’.  She knew that there would be violence if she was more than a second longer than the agreed time.  When she returned he immediately demanded the change from her and the receipt.  In the rush to get back within the time limit she forgot to pick up the receipt.  Stephen began shouting sexual obscenities about her in her face with his forehead almost touching hers.  He then ordered her to get down on her knees in front of him to beg for forgiveness which she did straight away knowing that it was the only way to try to avoid violence and in the terror of the ordeal wet herself in fear.

Most people would immediately agree that the above example is abhorrent and could not be confused for a “normal argument”.  It would however be very difficult to fit this type of behaviour into the current range of criminal offences as the law stands and therefore the abuser would not be prosecuted.

A fair and humane society surely cannot tolerate this type of behaviour of itself and deserves to be punished in its own right but when you then consider that this type of behaviour often builds up to physical violence and sometimes murder it is imperative that action is taken to stamp this out before it escalates.  I am confident that if this was to become the case dozens of women’s lives would be saved in the UK each year.

(Cross-Posted with permission from Rachel Horman)

Rachel HormanFeminist legal blog by family legal aid lawyer of the year Rachel Horman. Mainly domestic abuse /forced marriage and violence against women. Sometimes ranty but always right…..

Victims of Domestic Abuse and the English Criminal Justice System

First Published by Donna Navarro

What has happened to a victim centred approach in cases of domestic abuse in the English criminal justice system?

A domestic violence review comes after a number of high profile cases where protection for victims fell below expected standards.

Why has it taken Home Secretary, Theresa May so long to commission Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to carry out an inspection into how police forces are responding to domestic violence? Domestic violence is not a new offence. The fact is two women on average die each week at the hands of their abusive partners. That’s 104 women a year, murdered by their partners. Children left without mothers. 104 women denied futures.

Why has it taken a number of high profile cases before Theresa May has commissioned this inspection? What about all the other women that haven’t made the headlines? The women that haven’t made it into the tabloids or on to the local or national news? Are their deaths not important? That’s certainly the impression the government has given by failing to put female victims of violence at the top of their agenda until now.

I suspect it’s just that Theresa May doesn’t know about those ones in the same way the rest of us don’t, because simply put, they don’t get reported by the media. To do so would be to admit failure. A failure to keep these women safe. Something we take for granted because we think we live in a society with an effective and efficient police service.

The Guardian reports today how poor Daniel Pelka was failed by multiple agencies in the lead up to his tragic murder by his mother and her partner:

‘Teachers, health professionals, social workers and police officers treated four-year-old Daniel Pelka as if he was invisible, failing to prevent his mother and stepfather from murdering him after a campaign of torture and starvation

‘Daniel’s mother, Magdelena Luczak, 27, and her partner, Mariusz Krezolek, 34, both Polish nationals, will serve at least 30 years in prison for Daniel’s murder. During a harrowing trial a jury heard that Daniel looked like a concentration camp victim when he died in March 2012. The court was told that he was subjected to torture including having his head held under water until he passed out and being force-fed salt. He was kept locked in a filthy box room at home in Coventry and was systematically denied food before dying after receiving a blow to his head.’

It appears not a single person involved with Daniel ever asked him about his home life. His voice was not heard.

The police attended Daniel’s home 30 times in response to reports of domestic abuse – thirty missed opportunities for the police to adopt a child-centred approach.  Afterall, women are not the only victims of domestic abuse.

The police failed to enact an inquiring mind, something which happens all too often in cases involving domestic abuse. Maybe the police were short staffed, maybe they weren’t sufficiently trained to recognise the risks. Maybe they felt domestic abuse was something best left to the couple to resolve.

Voices were not heard, for whatever reason. In Daniel’s case, his voice was not heard because no one bothered to ask him.

Domestic abuse has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other offence – on average a woman is assaulted 35 times before she has the courage to contact the police and ask for help. But police will often visit the home when the abusive partner is in the house. What woman, terrified of the consequences will ask the police for help when her abusive partner is hovering in the background, giving her that ‘don’t you dare’ look?

In 90 per cent of domestic violence incidents in family households, children are in the same room or the room next door, watching and listening, trying to hide from the terrifying events unfolding in front of them.

In over 50 per cent of known domestic abuse cases, children are also directly abused – the NSPCC, in 1997, found a 55 per cent overlap. Not only are women being failed by front line staff, but children are too – had the police acted during one of their 30 attendances to Daniel’s home, it’s possible they could have rescued him from a horrible fate.

The importance of multi-agency working in cases of domestic abuse and child abuse is vital. If staff dealing directly with the victims of these crimes do not share the information they hold, the risks to these victims are unthinkable. But what if front line agencies are not sufficiently trained to recognise the risks, to deal with the risks, to understand the risks – and incredibly that seems to be exactly what we’re dealing with here in the UK.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

This government is serious about keeping women and girls safe. We have seen improvements over the past year – domestic violence, rape and sexual offence prosecutions have reached their highest ever conviction rate for the second year running – so the systems in place to protect women are working better.

But sadly there are still too many cases, like those of Clare Wood and Maria Stubbings, where victims have lost their lives because warning signs were missed.

We have a duty to provide vulnerable people with the best possible protection which is why I have commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to review current practices and recommend where further improvements can be made.

To Theresa May, to our government, I say there are far too many cases where women are failed because warning signs are missed, far too many cases involving children where people in authority are afraid to ask intrusive questions. I say the government simply isn’t serious enough about protecting women and children.

The government may have a specific policy on ending violence against women and girls:

We are determined to support victims in reporting these crimes, and to make sure perpetrators are brought to justice. We all need to do more to prevent violence against women and girls happening at all.

We can’t argue with that, but what is the government actually doing?

In November 2012, new legislation was introduced making stalking and harassment a specific offence. Nearly one year on and the number of prosecutions under this law is minimal despite its simplicity.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) 1997, amended by Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 it is necessary to prove a course of conduct on at least two occasions, where the conduct amounts to harassment, stalking or fear of violence, or stalking which causes serious alarm or distress.

A list of example behaviours include following, contacting/attempting to contact, publishing statements or material about the victim, monitoring the victim (including online), loitering in a public or private place, interfering with property, watching or spying. This is a non exhaustive list which means that behaviour which is not described above may also be seen as stalking.

Let’s not forget that stalking and harassment, both offline and online, are linked significantly to domestic abuse.

Since November 2012, it is estimated 80,000 offences of stalking and harassment have been committed, yet only 327 suspects have been arrested, only 190 suspects charged, 33 convicted and 6 jailed. The reason: front line staff, police staff, CPS staff those dealing directly with victims of such offences, those making the decisions to prosecute, have not been trained on the new legislation.

So to Theresa May, I’d say the government needs to practice what it preaches. Perhaps providing front line police and CPS staff with training on legislation before it comes into force would be a helpful tool in ensuring victims receive the support they need.  What happened to a victim-centred approach? By not providing training to front line staff the government is not supporting victims, it is not encouraging them to come forward and report crimes.

The system is failing victims of abuse. When those dealing with cases of violence against women do not have the knowledge, the training and the necessary skills to deal sympathetically with victims, to believe them, to protect them, to effectively assess the risk of harm they face, then victims will continue to lose faith in the British criminal justice system. They will fail to report crimes. They will feel unable to ask for help, and more and more women and children will be killed at the hands of their abusers.


Donna Navarro : Writer, campaigner, former offender manager; passionate about social justice and women’s rights. Opinionated. Sarcastic. More fun than I sound… [@lexiconlane]