Report of Public Trial:
The rape of justice – who’s guilty?
By Bridget Symonds and Lisa Longstaff, Women Against Rape. Published in Women’s News, Ireland’s feminist magazine, May/June 2009
Photos by Crossroads Women’s Photo Collective
Three judges at the Trial
On Saturday 16th February, rape survivors and their supporters packed a London church to charge those who are supposed to protect us — the police, Crown Prosecution Service, judges, ministers and immigration authorities — with the “rape of justice”.
Nearly 30 rape survivors, several young survivors’ mothers, one husband, and a representative of Iraqi women took the “witness” stand in front of a “prosecutor” and three “judges” from Women Against Rape, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Legal Action for Women, to give their devastating testimonies. The audience acted as jury.
Each witness named who they were putting on trial and then gave their reasons why these individuals and the institutions they represent were responsible for lack of justice and for the despicable conviction rate which stands at less than 6%.
Formal “court summonses” had been sent to the accused, and their faces gazed back at the audience from a projection on the stage: Met Commissioner Ian Blair, Solicitor General Vera Baird, Women and Equality Minister Harriet Harman, notorious immigration judge Warren L. Grant, and a number of local crown prosecutors and police officers. Woman after woman called them to account for being, in the words of former New York prosecutor Alice Vachss, “collaborators” with rapists, leaving them to rape again.
Survivors described how the police had failed to collect evidence, or lost it, and the CPS refused to prosec ute. They described blatant sexism, racism and disability prejudice, and the deep rooted stereotypes women are constantly battling against such as the idea that if a woman is drunk, has a “reputation”, or works in the sex industry then she is “asking for it”. Many detailed how women and girls are put on “on trial”: discouraged from reporting, humiliated in court, and even accused of lying and ending up in prison. Yet by reporting violent men women are performing a public service and preventing further violence. Surely we should be encouraged to come forward and be treated with respect.
One witness who works for the police testified how a male officer had raped her, and the local force had investigated their own colleague. “My MP said he did not want to get involved for fear of ‘upsetting’ the force and the judge eventually threw my case out, calling me a ‘whore’ and saying that my injuries were ‘self-inflicted’.”
A Jamaican mother accused the police of raping her son in a cell. This led to her arrest after she filed charges and eventually she ended up in a removal centre, threatened with deportation.
A mother whose partner had for years raped her daughter was advised to “get counselling, this will never come to court”. Another mother said her daughter’s rapist is still working — as a teacher.
The Iraqi woman indicted the US and British governments for genocide and rape. The sexual assault and other torture exposed at Abu Ghraib was not an exception – under the occupation the rape of women and children in prisons and elsewhere was widespread though largely hidden.
A sex worker who brought the first successful private prosecution for rape with support from WAR, LAW and the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) spoke powerfully about the precedent this had set. Another member of the ECP clarified that consent is always the issue and that feminists who want to criminalise clients are diverting attention and resources from rape and endangering sex workers.
An Iraqi woman indicted the US and British governments for genocide and rape. She alleged that the sexual assault and other torture exposed at Abu Ghraib was not an exception – that under the occupation the rape of women and children in prisons and elsewhere was widespread though largely hidden.
While all the defendants declined to attend, they did get their time on the stand as the organisers performed monologues taken from actual cases. These hard hitting commentaries excellently performed added some comic relief at the expense of the authorities, reinforcing what so many women had been brave enough to t ell.
“His Honour Lord Justice Judge Marquis de Sade” personified the deeply ingrained sexism in court: “You have to remember the likeliest thing is 1) she asked for it; 2) she was too drunk to know what she was doing; or 3) he had a lingering right, since they used to be married.” Solicitor General “Viola Blurred” noted: “People say there’s a double standard in investigations of rape compared to other crimes. Actually I said that myself in Parliament in 2006.”
Painful as it was, many said afterwards how empowering it had been to put their experiences together with others, to name names, and to speak out about exhausting months or years of struggling for justice.
The trial marked the 30th anniversary of Women Against Rape, and referred to what had been won in so many years of campaigning, including the 1991 law recognising rape in marriage as a crime, and a growing acknowledgement that no one deserves to be raped regardless of background, race, job, age, disability, what they are wearing or how much they have drunk.
As addiction specialists say, the first crucial step to change is admitting that you have a problem. Assistant Police Commissioner John Yates is finally beginning to admit that if they investigated promptly and thoroughly, convictions would go up. But Solicitor General Vera Baird still claims that the outrages perpetrated by the CPS are all in the past.
The Trial made such denial unsustainable. The jury found all the accused guilty as charged, and voted that they should be disciplined and if necessary lose their jobs. Until then, nothing will change.
To address the issue of holding to account the people who are supposed to implement the law, a new petition was launched, End the Rape of Justice. SIGN ONLINE www.petitiononline.com/WAR08/petition.html And women were invited to a series of legal workshops, to be held by WAR.
See Anna Sussman’s excellent article about WAR’s Rape Trial and women raped in the military, ‘Avoiding the ‘inevitable’, posted 15 Feb 2008 on The Guardian website http:// commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/anna_sussman/2008/02/avoiding_the_inevitable.html.
Please go online and add your own comments.
"Rape victims go on War path in search of justice", Hampstead & Highgate Express, 7 Feb 2008 (download pdf)
Morning Star, 19 Feb 2008
Taking a stand for late justice
BRITISH REPORT: LOUISE NOUSRATPOUR witnesses rape survivors’ demands for justice.
RAPE survivors charged politicians, police, judges and immigration adjudicators with the "rape of justice" at a mock trial this weekend which exposed the "crummy" conviction rate of sex offenders.
Saturday’s theatrical trial in Lon don, complete with three bewigged "judges" and a witness stand, heard distressing stories from survivors as they sobbed through their testimonies.
Taking the "witness" stand, woman after woman began her speech with: "I put on trial" the British Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, Solicitor General Vera Baird, Women and Equality Minister Harriet Harman, Met Commissioner Ian Blair, to name a few, for failing to deliver justice and demanded action.
The "jury" declared them all guilty of perverting the course of justice, criminal negligence and failing in their duty of care.
Women Against Rape (WAR), which organised the event, sent "court summons" to every authority and individual on trial. Unsurprisingly, they all declined to attend.
Less than 6 per cent of reported rapes result in conviction, despite statistics showing that one in six women in Britain have been raped.
The authorities were accused of falling back on "sexist, racist and other deep-rooted prejudice" when dealing with cases.
Women and children are still put on trial or blamed for being raped, discouraged from reporting, disbelieved and even accused of lying and imprisoned.
One witness, a police officer known only as Ms A, told the "court" how a male colleague had raped her and got away with it.