“Domestic violence attracts government support, policy and funding but sexual violence does not,” says Ranjit Kaur, director of Rights of Women, a charity offering women free advice on legal rights.
Set up 30 years ago, Rights of Women is the only organisation giving legal advice to women who have been raped or sexually assaulted, according to Kaur. Callers to Rights of Women’s free sexual violence helpline are advised what to expect when seeking justice following rape. The legal process can be bewildering and demeaning.
Kaur does not understand why there is such a lack of government action on tackling sexual violence, when it is so widespread.
Rights of Women is newly crowned as best voluntary sector violence against women project, an award given by the Lilith Project. Lilith, part of the charity Eaves Housing for Women, works to raise awareness of violence against women. Its Lilith awards are for innovative services in the field.
The award is timely. It comes as the new End Violence Against Women campaign coalition – including Amnesty International, Refuge, the TUC and Women’s Aid – launches in parliament this week, calling on the government to work harder to stop violence against women.
Rights of Women has long argued for an awareness-raising campaign about the scale of sexual violence, and women’s lack of confidence in the law.
To complement its helpline the charity publishes From report to court, a free handbook for survivors of sexual violence. It explains what happens following rape or sexual assault, including police and court procedures and facing cross-examination.
“The law is failing women,” says Kaur.
Statistics back up her view. Women who are raped have little faith in the police or courts. Less than six per cent of rapes reported to the police result in a conviction. But up to 90 per cent of rapes are not even reported, according to John Yates, deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, who recently reviewed rape investigations.
Perhaps it is not surprising so few rapes are reported when one in three people in the UK believe a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has behaved flirtatiously, according to a new Amnesty International survey, part of its own Stop Violence against Women campaign, launched last year. One in 12 believe a woman is totally responsible for being raped if she is promiscuous, the same survey revealed.
Rights of Women also offers general legal advice to women over the phone on family law, divorce, relationship breakdown, children and contact issues, domestic violence, discrimination and lesbian parenting.
The charity runs training for professionals including social workers, aiming to make the law transparent, accessible and user friendly. Women who have been sexually attacked may talk to social workers first before (or instead of) going to the police, so it’s important for the profession to be well informed, says Kaur.
She would like to see more training for all professionals involved in sexual violence cases, including judges, police and Crown Prosecution Service staff.