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Tory policies add insult to injury for rape victims

Writing from personal experience, MEGAN BIRCHALL believes that underfunding of rape victims’ support services, including police investigation, furthers anxiety, pain and fear

THE lack of support for the victims of sexual assault is quite frankly disturbing.

Tory austerity has snatched the funding to even investigate such crimes away from police forces — leaving many victims lost, searching for answers they are unable to find, even in cases with an identified perpetrator — which according to some studies could be as high as 90 per cent.

Without any conclusive physical evidence, many police forces find themselves so cash-strapped that they are unable to investigate, lacking the funding to do so unless certain it would result in a prosecution.

But of course, the major issue with this is that many victims of these disgusting attacks don’t immediately report the crime, meaning that when they eventually do muster the courage to do so, any physical evidence, even if there was any to begin with, is gone.

With the police unable to act, they are turning away those who haven’t immediately reported due to shame, fear or worry that they wouldn’t be believed — telling them that they “aren’t a priority” and that they “can’t afford to investigate.”

Despite reports of rape and other sex crimes consistently rising, the number of cases being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service is dropping.

This is an odd statistic in itself, until you consider that due to the constraints of austerity, prosecutors are being told to abandon “weak cases” to maintain a high conviction rate for those crimes that do reach the courts.

This may sound exaggerated, preposterous even, but this is happening to real people across this nation due to the Conservatives’ sickening apathy towards victims of such crimes.

They can make as many statements as they like claiming to support the many victims of these crimes, but, as the old proverb says, actions speak louder than words and their constant slashing of funding means that victims are unable to seek any sort of closure — often seeing the perpetrator day in day out, paralysed by the fear of meeting them, fearing another attack and the shame that they would face should they come out and talk about their experiences.

I write from experience — the quotes above are what I was told when I reported what happened to me — and I can say for a fact the system isn’t working. It isn’t protecting us.

So many of these offenders will go on to reoffend. I know that I was not the first, nor was I the second or even the third and yet, due to a lack of physical evidence, the police were unable to investigate because of how unlikely a conviction would be, despite warnings that this was not an isolated incident.

The first step to begin working towards ending this crisis is a radical change
in government

I’m not slating the police. Their manner in dealing with me was on the whole sympathetic, despite their questionably too honest choice of words when informing me they were not even willing to investigate.

Due to constant cuts, they are forced to prioritise cases they are able to investigate with limited resources.

Murders, burglaries and other crimes with much more evidence take priority as they are, generally speaking, easier to secure conviction.

As a result of Tory austerity the police are forced to make undoubtedly difficult choices about the few resources they have — I can hardly imagine they want these predators left roaming the streets.

The recent case in Ireland where a victim’s underwear was held up in court also shows us the problematic culture we still live in.

The fact that the length of my pleated school skirt — which was quite frankly rather conservative and none of anyone’s business — seemed to be one of the primary concerns during my interview with the police demonstrates that while we are as a society making progress, it isn’t quick enough.

We are recognising that there is an issue as the outcry from the case in Ireland showed when people spoke out in solidarity against what can only be described as a distasteful show against any victim of such an offence.

The first step towards ending this crisis is a change in government.

The lack of support brought about by austerity is ridiculously detrimental to the thousands of victims of sex crimes every year.

The current policies affect both police and mental health services, as victims can’t begin to move past what has happened to them with no prosecution from the police and flimsy support from mental health services which are needed most hit by cuts.

Of course, a Labour government is the best solution — the funding issues need to be resolved and a Conservative government will not deliver that.

The complete apathy and disregard for victims shown in Conservative policy mean that — as with most current issues — they will make not repair the damage they have caused.

We need a government that will help to restore our police force so they can thoroughly investigate sexual offences without worrying about the constant constraints of funding.

Labour policy states that a new commissioner to enforce minimum standards in tackling sexual violence would be appointed. This will surely be regarded as a welcome move by not only victims but also anyone with a sense of empathy.

This piece of policy alone would be crucial to ensuring victims are no longer disregarded if there isn’t what is currently deemed sufficient evidence.

This is so much larger than party politics, however. A fully funded police force, such as the one proposed by Labour, would ensure that all victims would at least have comfort in the knowledge that a basic investigation had taken place — something that a shamefully large number of victims, including myself — cannot currently say.

Some attacks will never result in a conviction. However, even a proper investigation can help to bring some closure to those who have experienced this kind of crime.

With over 500,000 victims of a sexual assault, according to the Office for National Statistics (year ended March 2017), how many of these have been failed because of Tory austerity?

How many of these have been unable to access further support due to women’s refuges and rape support services closing because of lack of funding? How many more people have to slip through the net before sexual assault is finally taken seriously?

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