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.