Reporting Rape: How the Justice System is Failing Victims of Violence

Photo credit: Reuters

Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prominent and pressing issues of inequality globally, with at least one in three women around the world becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. In the UK, one in five women have experienced some type of sexual assault, according to official analysis of violent crime figures by the Crime Survey for England and Wales. Despite the fact that the UK comes in at 14th on the Gender Inequality Index (1st being most equal), 173 women were killed at the hands of their partners over the last year and more than 85,000 were raped.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of press concerning the experience of victim-survivors reporting instances of sexual assault in the UK as organisations attempt to shine a light on the monumental and often fruitless task of taking to trial crimes of rape and sexual assault. There is little chance of the perpetrator being brought to justice, and time and time again women have described how traumatic navigating this system can be. Of course, there are many who have found closure through this process and have had positive experiences with the police and legal professionals. Last week Cosmopolitan published the article What really happens when you report a rape detailing the experiences of 15 people across the UK, including the testimony of one woman who stated that “I think reporting this crime and going through the justice system has really aided my recovery and I am so pleased that I did it” after her perpetrator received a nine year sentence. However, for many women this is not the case.

Repeatedly, victim-survivors have described instances of inadequate communication from officials, concerns for their personal safety and perceptions of the system being weighed in favour of the accused all as challenges in their own justice journeys. The majority of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities as the legal process can be a lengthy and daunting one. However, systemic failures to reporting victims are at the heart of such low confidence in the current system as one that fairly and adequately represents the interests of women taking the brave step to report.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition, one of the projects funded by The Circle’s Chai Day initiative, is in the process of taking the Crown Prosecution Service to court over the ‘catastrophic’ drop in rape prosecutions (down by 44% since 2014) whilst the increase in the number of rapes reported to the police is up by 173%. The lobbying organisation ‘have heard from many women who have decided to report rape to the police; have endured what can be very gruelling questioning and possibly medical examinations; have had to sacrifice their phone, computer and personal records; endure an agonising wait; to then be told that the case has been dropped’ whilst the Guardian reported last year that a training session at the CPS encouraged prosecutors to take the ‘weak cases out of the system’ to improve its conviction rate.

A culture that discourages victims from speaking up to report their abuse is not one that supports its most vulnerable. Global Feminism is a movement designed to highlight the rampant inequalities across the globe that women and girls still face, drawing attention and encouraging action to the abuses suffered by women globally.

For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, The Circle wanted to examine the process of reporting for victim-survivors around the world and the enforcement of women’s right to be free from harm through The Circle’s projects providing front-line services to victims of violence. Despite the increased our exposure and awareness of the issue of sexual violence in the aftermath of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, victims of rape and sexual assault are still being victimised and consistently let down by the criminal justice system.

Scotland

Rape Crisis Scotland estimates that one in ten women in Scotland has experienced rape and one in five women in Scotland has had someone try to make them have sex against their will. Furthermore, according to Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014 collected evidence to suggest people believe that in certain situations women are at least partly to blame if they are raped. Only 58% said a woman who wore revealing clothing on a night out was ‘not at all to blame’ for being raped and 60% said the same of a woman who was very drunk. The survey found that around a quarter of people agreed that ‘women often lie about being raped’. These findings are shocking and indicate a level of blame put on victims of violence that permeates the processes within the criminal justice system.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Glasgow produced a report on justice journeys and found that while positive experiences were identified, victim-survivors continue to face challenges at each stage of the criminal process. The testimonies described a disparity between survivor expectations and experiences: perceptions of the system being weighted in favour of the accused, that the prosecutor did not adequately represent their interests and a sense of being marginal to the process. None of the victims were given back their personal possessions taken as evidence, an invasive practice in the first place, nor did they know what happened to their items. In addition, some felt that crucial evidence had been overlooked, taken incorrectly, or in some cases not taken at all.

I was made to feel that I was hysterical […] when you’ve been in a domestic abuse situation and these types of men, they tell you you’re hysterical or you’ve got mental health issues or you’re nuts or you’re crazy or you’re a fruitcake. That’s the language they use. So […] when the authorities use it, what does it do? It puts up a brick wall.  – Beth

One could argue that these challenges are not particular to rape cases and that the judiciary system could be confusing and long-winded for those not versed in legal jargon or suffering from anxiety as a result of the crime in question. However, it remains the case that in Scotland and the rest of the UK, courts have consistently low conviction rates for gender-based violence crimes and a system that discourages victim-survivors to come forward. In the instances of the research undergone by University of Glasgow, many have been faced with a lack of respect, information and support within the justice system and under-funded services such as Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis assume must step in and assume responsibility for this support. Overwhelmingly, the services of a counsellor were considered invaluable throughout the judiciary process. The counsellors from services such as Rape Crisis provide emotional support but also detail the process of going to court with victim-survivor in an attempt to prepare them for what can be an intimidating prospect.

With support from The Circle and Chai Day, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis has been able to extend their drop-in service for survivors and launch The Rosey Project, providing support for young women who are survivors of rape, sexual assault or sexual bullying in response to an increasing demand for services for women aged 13 to 25.

Siyanda and her son, who stayed at the Nonceba Centre after leaving an abusive relationship.

South Africa

The most recent data from the World Health Organisation shows that South Africa’s femicide rate was almost five times higher than the global average in 2016. Despite national outcry from protestors around the country and the #TotalShutdown movement, violence remains high and in recent weeks the media in South Africa has and continues to report stories of victims who have been murdered and attacked. According to the One in Nine Campaign, although 66,000 rapes are reported to the police in South Africa annually, the total number of rapes is much higher and is estimated to be between 600,000-1,650,000; of these, a fraction lead to convictions.

Jackie Nategaal wrote that one of the reasons that the criminal system is ‘failing survivors’ is a pervasive rape culture that still exists. Arguing that victims are often treated dismissively because there is an expectation of, even an inevitability of violence towards women. Amnesty International supports this argument as the Executive Director in South Africa, Shenilla Mohamed, released a statement stating that ‘it is nothing short of a national emergency that femicide and rape rates are increasing countrywide’ and that the first steps for making change would be:

ensuring that police officers are properly trained to sensitively and objectively investigate incidents of gender-based violence … ensure that gender-based violence is taken seriously at every level of the justice system, including by challenging discriminatory stereotypes about victims and survivors.”

Similarly, in a reflection paper from the International Commission of Jurists, it was stressed that although there has been a domestic violence legislation in the country since 1998, there is a lack of implementation of the act in the process of reporting a crime. The paper states that ‘the burden of pursuing a claim falls onto victims who are given documents from the court with the onus to progress these themselves despite their uncertainty in how to do so’.

We see victim-survivors being discouraged at every stage of the process, impeding their access to justice. It is clear that negative attitudes and prejudices are influencing the way that woman are treated in the judiciary system resulting in not only a woefully low number of convictions but also a prevalence of shame placed on the victim.

The Circle supports the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in South Africa, located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The centre has a shelter for women who have survived domestic violence or have been victims of human trafficking. Most women in the shelter are HIV positive, are struggling to access healthcare and have received limited education and training.

India

Violence against women is the most common form of human rights violation in India. Shame, stigma and a lack of support from the police and legal system prevent many women from reporting domestic violence and seeking help.

In 2012, the rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, prompted protests across the country that were demanding huge reform in the criminal justice system to and protect future women across the country. Despite promises by the government to take concrete action, it seems that sexual violence is as common as ever. India’s National Crime Records Bureau reveals that 38,947 cases of rape were registered in 2016 9 increasing by 12.4 from the previous year. World Politics Review has observed that at this rate, ‘a woman is raped in India about every 15 fifteen minutes’ and goes on to state that an estimated 99 percent of rape cases in India go unreported. As in Scotland and South Africa, women do not feel confident and safe in reporting their assault.

Whilst there is a level of shame ascribed to victims of sexual assault in India, for those who do come forward and choose to make an allegation to the police the process can result in further shaming and dismissive responses.

“The doctor said to my daughter ‘If they had forced themselves on you, there should have been marks on your body – but you don’t have any. You must have done this of your own free will.” – Palak’s mother, Palak (name changed to protect her identity), a Dalit woman, was 18 when she reported being kidnapped and raped in Madhya Pradesh, in June 2013.

A number of sources have described demeaning medico-legal care for survivors of sexual violence, including the ‘two finger test’, in which ‘a doctor notes the presence or absence of the hymen and the size and so-called laxity of the vagina of the rape survivor, to access whether girls and women are “virgins” or “habituated to sexual intercourse”’. Although this practice is now punishable under section 166B of the Indian Penal Code, a Human Rights Watch investigation found that treatment and examination such as this was still occurring in recent cases of serious sexual assault. This practice can be traumatic, particularly for those who have recently suffered rape and sexual assault and seeks to dismiss claims based on supposed sexual history, placing blame on the victim themselves.

Human Rights Watch also found that police were often reluctant to file allegations, particularly for victims from a socially and economically marginalised community. Citing that ‘police sometimes pressure the victim’s family to “settle” or “compromise”’. Often, Dalit or other “low-caste” families are encouraged to drop their case if the perpetrator is of a higher caste.

One of the projects funded by last year’s Chai Day was a number of survivor centres in rural communities of Chhattisgrah and Odisha to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. In Chhattisgarh, there has been State-Level Consultation on the State Gender Equality Policy, which had not been revisited for more than a decade. Projects and community building like this are essential to support victim-survivors who feel they are unable to approach or are refused help by the police.

Bina and her son were offered counselling and legal support.

Canada

ACT Alberta is an anti-trafficking organization in Canada working collaboratively law enforcement, government agencies and non-governmental organisations to identify and respond to human trafficking in Alberta. One of their primary operations is providing victim support services for victims of sexual trafficking, in which they delivery trauma recovery, improve access to the justice system and obstacles within that system for victims. It is important to note here that the service receives funding from the Canadian government for those victims who are willing to go through the judiciary system, however, as we have seen in previous countries, women often feel that this isn’t an option, particularly those from marginalized communities and those whose immigration status may be at risk. Victims who do not have permanent right to live in Canada are often wary of approaching the police for concern that they will be deported, believing that their current situation is preferable to returning to their country of birth.

Indigenous women and girls are widely identified as being at particular risk of experiencing various forms of gender-based violence in Canada, including human trafficking. By comparison, an Independent article from last year states that ‘94 per cent of Native American women living in Seattle say they have been raped or coerced into sex at least once in their lifetime’ and The New York Times indicates that ‘indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of the total female population of Canada but 16 per cent of all female homicides’. According to ACT, this is due ‘in part to the effects of historical and ongoing colonialism, and the legacies of the residential school system, dispossession of identity and culture, violence, racism, and marginalization.’

Not only are the support services few and far between for these women but the judiciary system is also failing them. In the case of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Canada, ‘she was seen by provincial child welfare workers, police officers and healthcare professionals yet within 24 hours she was found dead’. The Times quote her great-aunt Thelma Favel who claimed that “Canada and the system failed Tina at every step”.

In cases across the world, even those women and girls who come forward are being dismissed and let down.

Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt, Thelma Favel showing a photo of the girl. Photo credit: Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times.

Across the globe, attitudes towards victims of rape and a prevailing tolerance for rape and serious sexual assault is resulting in a lack of justice for victim-survivors. Women are reluctant to come forward and when they do, their experiences can be traumatic. Front-line services delivered by our Chai Day projects are so important because the judiciary system is failing women who make the brave decision to come forward and report rape and serious sexual assault.

It falls on projects like Rape Crisis, ACT Alberta and the Nonceba Centre to fill the gaps in services that the judiciary system is failing to provide, to support victim-survivors through their navigation of the criminal justice system and ensure that their rights are being observed. These organisations are woefully underfunded and often receive incredibly limited or no funding from the government.

“I guess, the, kind of, base point for all of that was [local] Rape Crisis believed me. They never questioned me. They never challenged it. They’ve never said, well I don’t know, when the police seem to think different. They’ve always believed me and they have gone from that perspective, and so I knew I could trust them. And that trust has, you know, built and remained … they worked at putting, sort of, coping mechanisms in place for when I couldn’t manage” – Rebecca

Chai Day is about gathering together with friends, family or colleagues to raise funds to support survivors of gender-based violence. November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the sixteen days that follow is your chance to host a Chai Day.

All you have to do is invite a few friends, brew a pot of chai and raise funds to make a difference for women around the globe. Head to The Circle’s website for more information and to download your online resources!

This article was written by Anna Renfrew. Anna is The Circle’s Projects and Communications Officer and has been heading up preparations for our Chai Day campaign. She has written a number of articles for The Circle, taking a particular interest in the global issue of violence against women.


Waves: Interview with Jessie Ayles

Photo credit: Waves

Filmed in Cape Town’s notorious Lavender Hill, Waves explores the perspective of three young girls as they grow up together in South Africa. We spoke to Jessie Ayles about this incredible project and the issue of gender-based violence.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

I’m a documentary filmmaker based in London – I’ve always been motivated by imbalances or injustices in the world, and try to pursue projects that reflect on these types of issues  to create  an impact or some form of change or conversation.

Why did you decide to focus on the issue of gender-based violence for your project?

Women, in all walks of life, often draw the short straw, whether you’re looking at gaps in wages, structures of society, education or more urgent matters like gender based violence. Women in these communities, as we know, suffer huge amounts of gender based violence and attacks, there is still a very strong patriarchy in these communities that place young girls at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ – I was interested in exploring the feelings of young girls there, to translate their point of view, and their own experiences so that people would really be able to empathise and understand the extent that this affects a life.

One of The Circle’s EVAWG projects is located in South Africa, but violence against women is a global issue, why did you decide to focus on this country and community in particular?

My parents are South African and I have dual citizenship, but I actually grew up in London, so i’ve always had a connection to South Africa and interest to understand the country and its complexities.

I think what also really motivated me to work with this community is that most South African’s ordinarily would never really enter these communities due to fear of crime, and in turn never really understand what life is like for the most vulnerable there. It’s a country largely still divided by wealth, and I wanted to create something that would offer an insight from marginalised voices we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to get access to, especially as young girls, and break down these barriers.

What was the experience of filming on such a difficult subject? Particularly with such young women.

I was lucky to be able to really take my time making this film, I spent a lot time just getting to know the girls at surf lessons, and listening, so by the time we started filming we just felt like friends hanging out. I think this really helped them feel comfortable with me, and also meant the filming days were never too intense. It was difficult and shocking for me to hear how these girls felt, but to be honest, for them, I think this type of violence had become quite normal that they were almost used to talking about it.

There was another aspect to filming, and that was that I was able to offer the girls a voice – I think that they felt special by being a part of the film, that their story and feelings were important.

So, despite the subject matter of the film being so sensitive, the girls were at the end of the day still just young girls, they loved getting extra time surfing, playing, laughing, going on trips with me that they normally wouldn’t be able to get access to – and I really loved that experience too.

 

The film is incredibly beautiful and moving, what did you find most challenging about the process?

I think the biggest challenge with this film, and filming in the community was safety and access. The area that the girls live in is Lavender Hill, it’s notorious in Cape Town for gang violence and crime, it’s really not a safe area to drive in, you roll the dice every time you enter. This being said, I couldn’t get any funding to make this film so wasn’t able to hire security or special transportation. So that was very limiting, we would have to work out which days and times would be less of a risk to go into the community and set our self time limits filming on the streets etc I think we got everything we needed for the film, but I would have loved to embed myself a little more into their daily home life if the limitations weren’t there.

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women. Is that motivation something that you feel plays a role in your work?

Yes definitely. I think I spent quite a long time not really honing in on what I care most about – I was making a documentary about a Burmese guerilla fighter about 5 years ago, someone who had rebelled against the Burmese military and gone into exile in Chiang Mai, he had given up everything for what he believed in. He kept on asking me why I was interested in making a film about him, he couldn’t quite understand – I told him it was because he was fascinating, but he was still confused, he kept on telling me ‘Jessie, you’ve got to find your people’. At the time it didn’t register, I just thought ‘What people…I don’t have the same sort of authoritarian government to overthrow like you did, ’. But then it clicked, by highlighting women’s stories and voices – whose injustices I can personally relate to – I feel more like I have found ‘my people’ to fight for.

What would you encourage those watching the film to do in order to support women and girls across the globe who are survivors of gender-based violence?

The scale of this issue is so large that it can feel a little daunting sometimes at where to start or what can be done to help. But in my experience working with NGOs on the ground, I see how much of a difference these organisations can make to someone’s life. The surfing that offers these girls an outlet in the film was organised by an NGO called Waves for Change – a small thing like a surfing lesson once a week can make all the difference to someones life – it can give them that breath of air they need or support to keep going.

So my advice would be to do some research on NGOs, like The Circle’s EVAWG projects, and donate whatever you can to help keep them going. You could also volunteer at NGOs if you live near one that’s making a difference to women’s lives, or even keep spreading the message and raising awareness to keep the conversation going.

What is the situation in South Africa like now? 

Unfortunately since the filming of Waves the situation in South Africa has become even more volatile for women. A spate of recent sexual assaults, murders and kidnappings of young girls and women caused outrage and saw country-wide protests – demanding the government to effectively tackle the issue. While some policies have been amended, like the retraction of bail for rape suspects, there is still a huge space for work needed to help support victims, prevent violence and create gender equality and awareness. This is why I believe NGOs are so important right now for those South Africans who have to live through this on a daily  basis.

You can watch Jessie’s award-winning short film here: 

One of our Chai Day projects is located in Khayelitsha, a township just outside Cape Town. Khayelitsha is the largest township in the Western Cape province and has a high level of overcrowding and poverty. For years, unemployment and crime rates have been high, particularly around violence against women and children with little services and support for the victims. The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre offers survivors offers a place to stay, individual and family counselling, legal support, access to healthcare, educational programmes and victim empowerment groups. Find out more about hosting a Chai Day to support women and girls across the globe here.

 

Jessie is a South African and British filmmaker. Her work shines a light on female-centred stories and marginalised voices, bringing a cinematic and fresh perspective to socially conscious stories. She studied Film & Literature at Warwick University, then went onto a Masters in Screen Documentary at Goldsmiths University where she won a One World Media Bursary.

Jessie’s interest in impact and stories that highlight morals or human rights, with her distinctive style, led her to work with the social impact arm of many brands and NGOs, creating poignant film campaigns for clients such as Nike, Google, M&C Saatchi & Always.


Chai Day with Shana

Image: Shana and her family

The Circle is an organisation of women empowering women and through our Chai Day campaign, Shana wants to support survivors of gender-based violence. Shana and family are survivors of honour-based domestic violence and we asked her to share our moving story ahead of her Chai Day event …

“I am hosting a Chai Day event because I know first-hand how much it hurts when you feel trapped in the abuse. I know how lost you feel, how you begin to justify the perpetrators actions and how trapped you are because you have nowhere to go and your children only know their home; even though that home is hell.

Once you look for help, you must struggle through a system that isn’t fit for purpose, relying on complete strangers and constantly repeating yourself to different organisations, being sign posted from here to there.  All you know is pain and trauma and the only thing that kept me going was faith. For me, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I am hosting the event because my family and I were nearly killed by the perpetrator. I was so lost and confused due to the fear of cultural and societal pressures that I put myself and my family at danger. We would have been killed if I didn’t leave when we did and we were left with nothing.

I want to raise awareness because domestic violence and those who encounter it, end up normalising it and this attitude can be passed down for generations. I grew up witnessing domestic abuse and this was normal in my community, finally I entered a relationship that was also abusive. I never want my daughter be in a relationship like that and I want to teach my sons to understand that the only thing they need to control is themselves, not others. I would like all the other women suffering in silence to break the silence. I want our story to be the story of hope. It’s everyone’s duty because it effects all of society. It’s time to break the cycle.

I can’t do it alone and I want to empower others to take collective and collaborative action.”

Shana and her family have recently won an award at the Pride of St Helens Awards for their bravery and determination not to give up after fleeing domestic violence. They will continue to do what they can to support other survivors within their community. Shana is very clear that “we are not victims, but survivors and our story is something to be proud of, we believe our circumstances do not define us. We are now a campaigning family trying to bring positive changes.”

Shana’s Chai Day is happening on Monday 25th November from 12.30-2.30pm at Park Farm ACYP Community Centre, 54 Kentmere Avenue, Carr Mill, St Helens, WA11 7PG. Join her and her family to support survivors of violence across the globe.

For more information on Chai Day, please follow this link.


The Circle’s Living Wage Symposium

Photo credit: Nader Elgadi

On 8 November, we continued our work to ensure a Living Wage for the millions of women working in the garment industry by convening a symposium to bring together those with the same aim. We were joined at Pinsent Masons by incredible change-makers and enjoyed discussions from the legal, investment, corporate and NGO sectors as well as academics, and policy makers including Jessica Simor QC, ASOS, Continental Clothing, BMO Global Asset management, ASN Bank, Kempen, ACT Coalition, Fair Wear and Clean Clothes Campaign amongst others.

 

We began the day hearing from our keynote speaker, the inspirational Anannya Bhaattacharjee, founder and President of the Garment and Allied workers union in Northern India. Anannya encouraged the room to push forward ‘the theme of solutions’ on the urgent issue of a living wage. She also took the opportunity to remind us of the abuse that happens throughout supply chains that is facilitated by the lack of a living wage and the fact that many consumers are unaware of the true cost of garments. The need for increased transparency was a key theme throughout the day and came up again and again across all of our panels.

“Fashion brands are the drivers of the supply chain” – Anannya Bhaattacharjee

Jessica Simor QC, the legal driving force behind our second report, used her opening speech as an opportunity to remind us that the industry is an uneven playing field. This environment is one that works against brands that want to do better in their supply chains and began the conversation of what structural changes need to be made to allow retailers, investors and individuals to introduce a living wage within their supply chains without losing their competitive edge.

 

Our different panels spoke from positions of experience across many difference fields and with a varied wealth of knowledge. However, many of our speakers spoke about how important legislation that the report outlines will be in achieving the living wage, how transparency for the consumer but also for regulatory boards is vital, and discussed different methodologies on how to implement legislation with ‘teeth’.

“The poorer you are the more vulnerable you are and the more vulnerable you are the more exploited you are …. so a living wage makes a real difference from the ground up” – Adil Rehman

 

Melanie Hall, QC, Ambassador for The Circle, and Livia Firth, Founder of Eco-Age and Ambassador for The Circle closed the day with some incredibly poignant speeches. Livia quoted lecturer and author, Naomi Tyrell, “nothing will ever change unless there is a transnational agreement on wages, otherwise the companies will keep hopping from one country to the other, in pursuit of the cheapest bargain.” This is the argument outlined in our report launched at the event wage changes must be made simultaneously and region-wide to ensure that brands cannot continue to the “race to the bottom” in countries that simply cannot turn down the employment provided by the fashion industry.

 

All those involved in this report understand that there will be obstacles and there will be resistance, but as our Ambassador Melanie Hall closed with:

“Everyone has a part to play, everyone in this room today is a consumer”

A huge thank you to all of our speakers and to JJ Charitable Trust and Pinsent Mason for their support in making this symposium happen.

Download the full report here: Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework For a Living Wage

You can also use the link below:

You can read more about our living wage work, and donate to support this project, at our Living Wage Project hub.


International Law: Supporting or Ignoring Survivors of Gender-Based Violence?

Image: Victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo, 2007. James Akena/Reuters

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times.” – Susan Brownmiller, 1975[1]

In conflicts ranging from the 18th century Scottish Highland Clearances to the Rape of Nanking in the 1930s, sexual violence has been a lurid, ceaseless feature. The rationale is that sexual violence is an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of the breakdown of the rule of law and the militarised, masculine culture of conflict zones. Until recently, victims of the violence are seen as ‘spoils of war’ – rewards for the conquering army – and the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ was used to justify heinous, violent acts of sexual assault during conquest[2]. Thankfully this began to change with the development of the ‘weapon of war’ narrative, which emerged in the 1990s. This was based on a recognition that rape is not an unfortunate byproduct of war – it is a strategic and systematic act used to undermine the enemy by demoralising and humiliating, instilling terror and devastating communities. The very deliberate nature of this widespread sexual violence was revealed and could no longer be sidelined by international legal institutions.

This development in the interpretation of wartime sexual violence had positive implications for increasing accountability and prosecution of perpetrators. On the 26th April 1995, in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the case of Duško Tadić marked the first international criminal trial to include charges of sexual violence. This was based on evidence that systematic sexual violence had been employed for the purposes of ethnic cleansing – defined by the UN as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group”[3]. It was recognised that in the context of the former Yugoslavia sexual violence had been used in order to present the Bosnian nation as inferior and humiliated, ordered by superiors as a strategy of war. A second landmark case for the prosecution of sexual violence took place in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in September 1998. Jean Paul Akayesu’s guilty verdict for employing rape as a tool of genocide, defined by the UN as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”[4], marked the first time sexual violence had been considered to be a crime of genocide. This judgement was based on a recognition that acts such as forced sterilisation, abortion and forced pregnancy could be strategically used to affect the ethnic composition of a group. The weapon of war narrative, which recognises the deliberate and systematic nature of wartime sexual violence, has therefore been vital in drawing attention to the extent of this violence, and has been celebrated as a key achievement in feminist literature on the subject.

“This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women”

The prosecution of wartime sexual violence in international law is something to be celebrated, the weapon of war narrative is not. This rhetoric serves to enforce gendered stereotypes and excludes the vast majority of the women it claims to serve. I make this statement based on two claims: the weapon of war narrative has institutionalised a notion that women are only worth protecting when the violence is aimed against men; and it fails to acknowledge and challenge the role of misogynistic societal norms which justify and provide the logic for wartime sexual violence. There were a mere 34 convictions of sexual violence across all of the UN special courts, including the ICTY and the ICTR, despite the fact that the UN estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda alone in the time frame of 3 months. International law failed the victims of sexual violence in these conflicts by stating that their case was only worth pursuing if they could prove the intention of their rapist – that they were acting with the purpose of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Clearly the outcome is the same for the victim whatever the intent of the attacker. It established strict victim narratives that dictated the ethnicity of the victim, the time frame of the assault, and the level of violence which was deemed sufficient. Further it was regarded as a weapon against only the men in society, attempting to make them seem weak and humiliated for being unable to protect ‘their’ women, resulting in the breakdown of communities. The societal norms which sustain this potential for breakdown are also rendered invisible by the weapon of war narrative – the belief that women are the property of the men in their community and that women are somehow ‘tainted’ if they are victims of rape. Sexual violence can only be weaponised because of these norms, existing on a continuum with peacetime sexual violence, but this is obscured by the notion that sexual violence is merely a strategy of conflict. This is succinctly summarised by Inger Skjelsbaek, who states that “women are raped not because they are enemies, but because they are the objects of fundamental hatred that characterises the cultural unconscious and is actualised in times of crisis.”[5]

Binaifer Nowrojee writes that “of the prosecutions of rape at the ICTR, there were more acquittals than convictions. So there has been a miswriting of history where those responsible for the genocide are absolved of rape.” What accounts for this rewriting? One explanation is that the international community failed to acknowledge the inherently patriarchal nature of the societies themselves. Gendered practices such as giving men exclusive control of family assets, recognising only male heads of households and requiring grooms to pay for brides denigrate and objectify women during peacetime, and have the potential to be translated into the weaponisation of women during conflict. Rape is an effective weapon because of these gendered norms – women are seen as property and therefore by assaulting them military groups undermine the community as a whole. These patriarchal norms also served to silence victims – Maxine Marcus, an investigating attorney at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, found that for many women their trauma was not recognised by the communities because rape was not considered to be a grievous crime. International legal responses failed to dislodge these patriarchal norms, as they reinforced the notion that this was purely a problem during wartime and so failed to expose the magnitude of the violence and ensure that victims voices were heard. In order for international law to prove its genuine commitment to combating sexual violence, there must be a recognition that women’s rights do not warrant protection because their violation threatens national security, but because they are human rights in themselves.

It is not yet time to celebrate the mere acknowledgement of wartime sexual violence in international law. Greater emphasis on breaking down institutional socio-economic gender inequality in peacetime society is vital and support must be provided for victims of such violence regardless of the broader circumstances. To do so, we can support initiatives such as GAPS, which provides consultations on how governments and organisations can fulfil their gender equality commitments. We must increase accountability for governments, and support groups such as End Violence Against Women Coalition, which lobbies the UK government to improve policy around violence against women. International law has the potential to be a powerful force for punishing perpetrators of wartime sexual violence, but it must work in tandem with other initiatives. Regardless of whether the abuser is held to account in a court of law, victims still suffer long-term physical and psychological consequences such as PTSD, depression and the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Hosting a Chai Day is a way that you can take part in efforts to raise funds to support projects working to end violence against women and ensure that survivors are provided with the services and support they may require.

This article was written by Iona Cable. Iona is currently doing an MSc in Human Rights at the LSE, with a specific interest in gender and international law. She has experience in human rights organisations and undertook a project this summer researching how NGOs in the field work to tackle gender-based violence and post-conflict reconstruction. She also works for a London-based charity which seeks to improve social mobility by teaching key employability skills in schools.

 

[1] Brownmiller, Susan “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape”, Bantam Books (1975), p15

[2] Crawford, Kelly “From Spoils to Weapons: Framing Wartime Sexual Violence” in Gender and Development Vol 31 No 3 (2013), p511

[3] United Nations, Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to SCR 780 S/25274 (1992), p16

[4] United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II (1951)

[5] Skjelsbaek, Inger “The Elephant in the Room: An Overview of How Sexual Violence Came to be Seen as a Weapon of War” Report to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010), p2


The Circle Sets Out the First Steps Towards a Legal Solution to End Poverty Wages in the Fashion Industry

Today at our Living Wage Symposium in London we launched our second report – Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework For a Living Wage – with the purpose of providing a basis for a new proposal on living wage regulation.

Based on legal research conducted by members of The Lawyers Circle and Milbank, we draw on 11 diverse areas of existing EU regulation with extra-territorial effect to evidence potential parallels and precedents for EU Living Wage Legislation – and to provide arguments for the EU to look beyond its own borders in its regulation.

These existing regulations demonstrate key principles that underpin EU legislative action:

a) that the EU should not cause harm
b) that the EU should be protected from anti-competitive behaviour cause by lower standards outside the EU
c) that the EU acts to address abuses of power
d) that the EU support the sustainable development goals
e) that the EU seeks to ensure compliance with international law

All of these provisions are met within the arena of wages:

a) Low (some say poverty) wages in the production countries that the fashion industry often sources from cause significant harm in the way that they limit workers’ life choices and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.
b) Global labour arbitrage has a significant effect on the internal labour market of the EU – many find it impossible to compete with the cheap labour market abroad.
c) The current system involves a power imbalance whereby production country Governments cannot raise wages to fair levels for fear of losing business that is core to their GDP (read more about this dynamic in our first report).
d) SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 5 (Gender Equality), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) can be seen to speak to this issue (alongside others)
e) As demonstrated in our first report a living wage is an internationally recognised fundamental human right.

Our research leads us to consider that the EU may have reached a stage where it is willing to consider approaches to correct this issue. Further evidence from the European Parliament suggests that they would welcome a legislative proposal that combines wage level obligations and due diligence standards.

Working within the boundaries set by WTO rules, we therefore propose a regulatory system that will actively encourage importers to the EU – through the mechanisms of mandatory due diligence, reporting and sanctions – to ensure their garments are only made by workers paid a living wage.

At this point we are fully aware that this is the BEGINNING of a legal solution. Every significant change has to start somewhere – we are placing our proposal on the table to start discussion; in the expectation that it will be pulled apart – so that we can engage in a robust solution focussed debate. It is widely recognised that current wage dynamics within the industry are a hugely complex problem – but equally that we need a resolution. We hope that stakeholders from within the industry, and without, will join us in seeking a resolution that truly works for the benefit of garment workers globally.

Download the full report here: Fashion Focus: Towards a Legal Framework For a Living Wage

You can also use the link below:

You can read more about our living wage work, and donate to support this project, at our Living Wage Project hub.


Global Feminist Calendar November 2019

Photo: Angela Davis. Join the Left Book Club for a discussion of her remarkable autobiography.
There are many fantastic events happening across the country so get inspired!

1 November – She Grrrowls: Feminist Arts Night (London)

She Grrrowls is a feminist arts night featuring “poetry, comedy, music and everything in between”. Running since 2013, the night has featured hundreds of poets, musicians, writers and more.

4 November – Left Book Club – An Autobiography by Angela Davis (London)

Join the Left Book Club for a discussion on Angela Davis’s remarkable autobiography. The book is a powerful call for the universality of struggles against oppression as Davis reflects on her intellectual journey, her activism in the Communist Party and her fight for Black liberation.

The discussion will be facilitated by cultural and intellectual historian, Dr Sara Marzagora. Sara teaches critical theory, global theories of modernity, and the history of colonial and anticolonial political thought at SOAS. Participation in the conversation is very much encouraged!

6 November – The Healthcare Circle Launch (London)

Join us for the launch of The Healthcare Circle at The Canal Café Theatre! The Healthcare Circle is committed to hosting events that inspire and inform communities about important healthcare injustices facing some of the most disempowered women and girls globally. In support of The Circle’s key objective to end violence against women and girls, our first official event is to raise awareness of FGM/C.

We are delighted to welcome an expert panel if speakers from various specialisms and expertise from the healthcare sector, including FGM/C specialist midwives Joy Clarke and Huda Mohamed, Obstetrician Dr Brenda Kelly, Psychotherapist and Activist Leyla Hussein and Co-Founder of Vavengers Mabel Evans. Panel Discussion topic is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: How can we best support women and girls? 

As members of The Circle we are committed to raising funds for The Circle’s project partners working to support victims of gender based violence. To be part of this important discussion we kindly ask for a ticket donation of £15, all proceeds will go to the projects supported by The Circle’s Chai Day Campaign for 2019.

6 November – The Circle Connects Online: Maternal Health (Online)

To round of our month’s focus on maternal health rights, we will be hosting an online panel discussion with Karis McLarty and guests to discuss The Circle’s maternal health project in Tanzania and the wider issue.

Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, Tanzania has experienced a substantial reduction in child mortality rates. However, avoidable maternal mortality remains high. Women die due to pregnancy or birth-related causes at a ratio of 398 per 100,000. The main direct causes of maternal death are haemorrhages, infections, unsafe abortions, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labours. The presence of these causes is exacerbated by the prevalence of HIV and of malaria, Tanzania’s number one killer.

Attend to find out more about The Circle’s commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying international conventions on maternal health rights and how you can help.

6 November – Building a Feminist Data Set: Workshop (Leeds)

Can data collection itself function as an artwork? Can it act as a form of protest? The first workshop focuses on collecting feminist data beginning with an introduction to machine learning, data, and design thinking, and leading into a collaborative and facilitated process with the objective of building a feminist data set from the ground up.

The Feminist Data Set project will result in a large scale data set, a re-imagining of a mechanical turk system to create a feminist mechanical turk, then creating an algorithm. All of this will then be a part of the Feminist AI system. But to get there, you need data. The majority of AI and chatbot projects think of the AI component and the algorithms used as the entire project, but Feminist Data Set focuses equally on creating a data set that’s never existed before, and then using that data set to create Feminist AI.

6 November – Fighting political backlash: creative ways to resist, survive and thrive (Birmingham)

The phenomenon of political backlash is not new. Across social media, toxic voices are blaming feminists, immigrants, people of colour and other marginalised groups for today’s problems in society. It is important to understand how we can resist, survive and thrive in hostile environments both online and offline.

This event will provide a platform for an informed and respectful dialogue through a roundtable discussion and the opportunity to explore supportive and productive responses on this topic. Following the discussion, there will be a reception and exhibition of Dr Saara Särmä’s installation, Underbelly, which explores the nature and volume of online hate mail and abuse experienced by feminist activists.

9 November – Black Feminist Transference: On Pleasure & Power(lessness) (London)

Poet, essayist and former Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri presents a new essay on the slipperiness of female power, agency and identification.

Touching on the affective and communal pleasures Black womxn wring from cultural/political juggernauts such as Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Oprah – and the limitations of representational over-identification, as pleasurable as it may be, with power –Mehri interrogates the joys and critical failures of these moments, and their relation to the lack of agency that characterises the lives of so many working-class Black womxn.

13 November – Be on a Feminist Board (Edinburgh)

Would you like to contribute to the work of women’s organisations, but don’t know how?

Have you ever looked at an advert for board members and thought ‘I’d like to be involved, but that’s not for people like me‘?

If so, attend this event to explore what it takes to be on a feminist board, and how you can utilise your skills to advance women’s equality. Hear from board members of women’s organisations, and discussing what organisations can do to make it easier for you to join their board.

16 November – Feminism in Schools Conference 2019 (London)

An inspiring list of speakers and workshops lined up!

WomenEd; National Education Union; Women’s Equality Party; UKFeminista; Gender Action; Feminist Library; 50:50 Parliament; Be Her Lead; She Is Clothed; The Heroine Chronicles; Fullham Cross Girls School; The Great Men Project; Birmingham University. 

Enjoy panel discussions, ‘How to be a teenage activist’, ‘Getting political’, and teacher-focused workshops on develoing your own leadership ambition (WomenEd) and supporting girls in your school to lead (Be Her Lead)

23 November – Men Supporting Women’s Rights (Glasgow)

Men’s violence against women is a men’s problem that has traditionally been left for women to tackle. This can’t go on.

A group of men in Glasgow and encouraging you to meet and discuss how to resist and lessen the restrictive influences of masculinity, making life better – in the process – for women, girls and other men.

This meeting will have a specific emphasis on practical ways that men can support women in their various current political struggles to secure and further their rights – rights that men, as a sex-class, consciously seek to erode or carelessly jeopardise by under-valuing them.

Watch out for our Chai Day Calendar next week!