In London, at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, rape survivors protest against the UK government’s treatment of women fleeing sexual violence.
On Tuesday 10 June 2014, Angelina Jolie, the actor and Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, opened the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. About 20 rape survivors and supporters, many from the All African Women’s Group, who had escaped rape and murder, protested against the UK government’s hypocrisy. We will be back today (Thursday 12 June) when Home Secretary Theresa May addresses the Summit.
While the Summit claims to support ‘courageous survivors’, women seeking asylum and protection in the UK are detained, abused, including sexually by Serco guards at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and deported back to the very war zones where they were attacked. Some have lost their lives after having been refused health care. So much for the government’s crocodile tears about rape survivors!
G4S security guards tried to block women from entering the conference at Excel London and herd us to a ‘designated area’ some distance from the event. Women refused to move and held a two-hour speak out – in English, Lingalaand French – describing, often for the first time in public, the horrific sexual and other torture they had suffered and the appalling way they were treated in the UK.
A mother from DRC told how both she and her five-year-old daughter had been gang raped; her daughter died as a result of her injuries, and her husband was killed. Rather than getting help in the UK, she was disbelieved, her case closed, and she was then homeless, and still is.
A rape survivor from Sierra Leone spoke of being granted the right to stay only to see the Home Office attempt to overrule the Tribunal’s decision, thereby extending her ordeal. Other women spoke of being fast-tracked for deportation – denied their right to present their case.
Women reporting rape and domestic violence in the UK also face disbelief and injustice. Only 6.7 per cent of rapes in the UK end in conviction, even less when the rape is by a partner or ex-partner. Police often do not gather the evidence, or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decides to drop the case and even prosecutes the women who reported instead of their attackers – a number of women are campaigning to clear their names after being wrongfully imprisoned for a ‘false allegation’.
While the CPS issued an action plan last week claiming that women will be believed, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe spoke of police on rape cases having ‘unconscious bias’. Whistleblower James Patrick was more forthright in his testimony to a Parliamentary Committee: he accused police of widespread corruption for falsifying rape figures and pressuring women to withdraw their allegations.
We call upon Angelina Jolie to come to Yarl’s Wood this Sunday and hear the truth from women who’ve fled rape and murder in conflict zones and are under threat of being forced back to torture. Join us on Sunday 15 June, International day to close detention centres.