I’ve just held a Q & A session with Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis. Here is the conversation. I will be posting all links on the I Believe Her page later today. Feel free to circulate this blog post. Thank you to Katie for your time, and some very informative responses.
Frothy: How long has Rape Crisis been running, and what support can it offer rape survivors?
Katie Russell: Rape Crisis (England and Wales), in its current incarnation as a registered charity and national umbrella body supporting and representing a network of member Rape Crisis Centres across the country, has only been going around 6 years…but our movement has been active for around 35. We currently have 49 autonomous member Centres, the first of which was established in 1976. Each Centre offers a range of different services, based on the needs they’ve identified in their area as well as, unfortunately, the level of resource they do or don’t have, but core Rape Crisis services include: telephone helplines; face-to-face emotional support & counselling; advocacy; training and awareness-raising work, including in schools. Rape Crisis services are run by women for women and girls. They are confidential, independent and free at the point of access. Any woman or girl approaching a RCC can expect to be believed, respected, not judged, and not pressured into any course of action she’s not happy with…Rape Crisis services are survivor-led.
Women and girls whose lives have been affected by sexual violence of any kind at any time can find out about the services available nearest to them by visiting our website at www.rapecrisis.org.uk We also run a National Helpline, which is open every day of the year from 12 – 2.30pm and from 7 – 9.30pm. The number is 0808 802 9999.
Frothy: Thank you.
On average, how many calls would you say Rape Crisis deals with in an average month? What would you say the benefits of talking to Rape Crisis following a rape are?
Katie Russell: Because each of our Rape Crisis Centres is autonomous, I don’t have access to their individual stats and don’t have the National Helpline call numbers to hand either right now. I’ll try and find out the latter at least while we’re still online. I know that the National Helpline is extremely busy and worries about callers not being able to get through during our opening hours, even though we have multiple lines and staff. We’d like to extend the National Helpline opening hours but unfortunately this service has never been funded so we don’t currently have the capacity.
[11:18:04] Katie Russell: Every woman or girl’s experience of rape or any act of sexual violence is unique and different survivors benefit from or appreciate different services at different times, we know…which is why many women and girls might not call or seek our services straight after an attack and also why we try to offer a range of ways to get in touch and a range of support services to ensure we’re accessible and meeting women’s needs. Nonetheless, we warmly encourage any woman or girl who’s been through this to get in touch, even if they don’t feel they can tell anyone else in their life right now, because our services are confidential and safe and we have decades of experience of talking to and supporting sexual violence survivors… we get so much positive feedback, from helpline callers telling us simply that it was good to have someone to talk to and the call has calmed them down, helped them sleep, helped them feel less alone etc…right through to some women who tell us that the support of Rape Crisis literally saved their lives. Am I writing too much?! Or the right kind of thing?
Frothy: No, you’re fine. Sorry, was letting you finish. The bit about no funding was a complete shock.
Katie Russell: Be as honest as you like – I’m happy to take instruction.
Frothy: You’re absolutely fine.
OK, one from one of the admin of the I Believe Her page:
Do rape crisis know how many cases of women being prosecuted for falsely alleging rape there are (and what percentage of rape cases that would be?)
Katie Russell: More info about the funding situation and how people can donate, if they want: http://www.mumsnet.com/campaigns/we-believe-you-campaign-rape-crisis-helpline
Frothy: Thank you. Will forward that on to the page later
Katie Russell: I couldn’t tell you the total numbers – it can be tricky to collate these kinds of stats sometimes because different police forces often record and publish data in different ways – but it’s certainly something we’re concerned about and, anecdotally at least, we feel there’s been a rise in such prosecutions in recent years. Similarly worrying, was the case of the woman in Powys who was convicted of falsely retracting her rape claim and whose appeal was recently unsuccessful. What we do know is that, despite disproportionate media coverage that, we believe, gives the general public the distorted impression that false allegations of rape are common, in fact, false reporting of rape is absolutely no different from false reporting rates for other crimes – that is, about 6%. Only around 10% of women and girls using Rape Crisis services have reported to the police and the recent Mumsnet survey of 1,600 women came up with a similar figure – only c. 15% of respondents who’d been raped or sexually assaulted had reported to the police. And, although there is some evidence that reporting rates are gradually increasing, what we know is not increasing is the rape conviction rate, which is still just 6%.One of the big reasons for the conviction rate being so low is what we call ‘attrition’…that is, women dropping out of the criminal justice system after reporting…women have lots and lots of reasons for dropping out and a retraction certainly does not necessarily mean that the original allegation was false. One of the major issues is that it takes so long for cases to reach court – 18 months is about average and over two years is not unheard of. Another thing women tell us is that they felt they weren’t kept informed or supported enough through the process, especially when there were these long periods of waiting.This is why a lot of Rape Crisis Centres have Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) or other types of advocacy service in place – to support women practically, including through the CJS, but unfortunately not all of our member Centres have the capacity or funding for that. Again anecdotally, I believe women supported by an ISVA are less likely to drop out of the CJS but don’t have stats at my fingertips. I’m trying to get those helpline figures for you right now too. I’m sure you will have heard all about this at the time, but this is a link to the story of the Powys woman from back in March for interest: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-17354441
Frothy: Thank you.
Another one from admin; what do you think changing the hate crimes statutes to include women would do to rape convictions? Would it have a positive effect or make it more difficult to prosecute?
Katie Russell: As far as I’m concerned personally, most rape is a ‘hate crime’ as are other forms of violence against women – misogynistic hate crime on the basis of gender. I don’t know enough about the hate crimes statutes in their current form to know whether changing them to include women would do anything to help rape conviction rates though. I have a suspicion that not enough people, including those who make up juries, appreciate that rape is about power, control, hate and violence and not sex, and similarly I don’t think many people understand it as a form of violence against women, which is in itself a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. And pre-emptively, I should say that, of course, Rape Crisis recognises that men and boys are also raped and subjected to sexual abuse and those crimes are just as horrendous and their survivors just as deserving of specialist support. We just provide gender-specific services, women only services within a women-only safe space, because that is what women and girls tell us that they want and we’re proud to do so. Some of our member Centres also provide services to male survivors, just within a different space or at different times, and any male survivor who contacts any Rape Crisis Centre can expect to be listened to, believed, and then signposted to specific services for them. I digress…going back to what might improve rape conviction rates. We feel that education and awareness-raising, to dispel some of the damaging, victim-blaming myths and ignorance that surrounds sexual violence is the only way to create an environment in which those who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted feel safe and confident to come forward and access the support and justice they deserve. Similarly, juries are made up of the general public and they need a clearer understanding of the issues and realities long before they get to the courtroom. The Rape Crisis movement strives continually to do this educational, awareness-raising and campaigning work, in a range of settings and with a whole host of means, but resources are always a limitation so we’d be delighted to have this work funded and supported by central Government, as it has been in Scotland, for example.
Frothy: The Scottish campaigns were absolutely brilliant. We’ve had a question from another Facebook page, “No means no”, who are asking: If Rape Crisis were given the enough money and the power and creative control to do what ever they wanted, how would rape crisis tackle the epidemic of rape?
Katie Russell: What a great question! I think we’d create a wide-ranging, wide-reaching campaign, similar to the ones linked to above, crucially focussing on the behaviour and responsibility of perpetrators, and dispelling the pervasive myths that a) women routinely or often lie about rape b) that there are any excuses or mitigations for an act of rape/ SV (e.g. men can’t control themselves when they’ve been turned on, they get confused by misleading signals etc…and other such pathetic arguments that are generally pretty insulting to men) and c) that women can be help partly responsible because of how much they drink, what they say, do or wear etc. We already have links to this We Can campaign, in South Asia, and we’d love to be able to roll something similar out here: getting all people, regardless of gender, to join together to pledge to do their part to end violence against women, recognising that it degrades us all and damages society.
We’d do a lot more work in schools and with young people in a diverse range of settings too, looking at consent, what it means, healthy relationships, respect and empathy etc.
Frothy: I hadn’t heard of the We Can campaign before now, so thank you for the link.
Lisa asked: Why do so many rape survivors find it hard to report a rape? And do you believe that some police forces still believe it isn’t rape unless a “no” is expressed?
Katie Russell: There’s no doubt that the way rape and other sexual crimes are approached and handled by the police, Crown Prosecution Service and other professionals has greatly improved over the last 10 years or so. Training and policy are better and the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is much more comprehensive. But there is undoubtedly an enormous way still to go and we all know full well that policy / legislation and even training alone aren’t enough to change ingrained attitudes and practices overnight. We still hear horror stories from women and girls who’ve reported to the police and, at some point during the process, been made to feel like a criminal herself, or like a weakling or fool for not ‘fighting back’ or saying no more firmly, and/or had someone try to persuade her to drop her case ‘for her own good’. I think there are myriad reasons survivors find it hard to report. One thing to remembers is that c. 85% of women who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the attack.. he’s often a neighbour, colleague, friend, acquaintance or, potentially even more problematically, a family member, partner or ex-partner, and in the latter cases perhaps also the father of her children… in those situations there is often a complex interplay of guilt, emotional pressure or manipulation from the perp and/or other mutual ‘friends’, relatives etc., fear of not being believed, shame, self-blame etc, many of which we know of course also play a part in why a woman might not report even if her rapist was a stranger, because society, and the media, tell us, for example, that if we were walking home alone after dark, if we’d drunk alcohol or taken drugs, if we’d failed to get a licensed taxi (or had got in a licensed taxi), if we’d flirted, danced sexily, had sex with anyone before, let alone multiple people, sold sex etc etc…we’re partly to blame for what has happened to us. Which of course is plain not true but is nonetheless very hard to ignore and resist. Interestingly, more of the women from the Mumsnet survey who didn’t report said they felt the media was more unsympathetic towards rape victims than the police. Judges, public figures and even Government ministers expressing ignorance or misinterpretation of the law by implying there are different ‘levels’ of rape, or failing to recognise that having sex with someone too intoxicated to consent is rape, or that the responsibility to prove consent was given is with the rapist, not the other way round etc., doesn’t help… (ranty end to my last answer!)
Frothy: The Mumsnet survey results were very interesting to read, indeed. One thing that struck me was the one in ten women reported in the survey that they’d been raped. However, in the survey published by The Havens in 2010 (I’m not sure if you managed to read the link I sent you) 23% of women reported being made to have sex when they didn’t want it. Do you think there is a large proportion of rape survivors who aren’t identifying what happened to them as rape?
Katie Russell: More like a quarter of the Mumsnet respondents did report having been raped and/or sexually assaulted or abused in some other way though so, yes, I think it could be possible that some women are reluctant to categorise their experience as rape, and again that could be for a range of reasons, including self-blame, and thinking like ‘well, I suppose I only said once that I didn’t want to have sex and I eventually gave in so it’s not really rape etc.’…which is why that education around consent is so important. Again, as well, I think it’s very hard to name or recognise someone you’ve loved or trusted as a rapist, so we try to rationalise and find other explanations. It doesn’t help too when mainstream media celebrates sexually promiscuous men and seems to so easily forgive male public figures violent and abusive behaviour but judge women so harshly…like the woman for whom you set up your FB page.
Frothy: Intriguingly, Joey Barton received unanimous condemnation for assaulting Teves in a recent match. Why do you think people are less willing to condemn a man convicted of rape?
Katie Russell: As I say, thanks to disproportionate media reporting, there seems to be a widespread belief that women routinely or often lie about rape, either because they regret a consensual sexual encounter in hindsight, or in the case of high-profile and wealthy people, like footballers, that they are ‘gold-diggers’ and somehow think they can make money out of the situation. It’s complete and utter nonsense but the tabloid press is full of stories about women ‘crying rape’ and ‘ruining poor innocent men’s lives’. If there was even a basic understanding of how harrowing and traumatic rape is, and how revictimising reporting to the police and going through the long and arduous criminal justice process generally is, I’m sure more people would appreciate what a ridiculous notion it is that a woman would put herself through that because she was frightened her boyfriend might find out she’d cheated or something… All too often the first reaction to a woman who says she’s been raped is to presume she’s lying – to what other victims of crime do we so frequently do that? It could be argued that it’s because rape is less visible, that other violent crimes are more often witnessed, but I suspect good ol’ fashioned misogyny has something to do with it.
Frothy: Indeed. Do you think the “false rape accusation” myth is the most difficult to challenge? Or are there others which are more difficult to challenge?
Katie Russell: Hmmm, it’s hard to pick one… I think some rape myths are more subtle and insidious than they used to be…
Whereas rape apologists’ arguments might once have been cruder and more overt, odious things like ‘well, she was dressed like a slut, she must’ve wanted it’ etc., I think rape cases so often hinge around consent now and the defense is often that the rapist believed the sex was consensual, so we get people talking about ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘miscommunication’ to excuse the rapist’s behaviour, and along with that suggestions that ‘if she’d only been a bit clearer about not wanting it’ etc… Which goes back to the education point and working with boys and girls at a good early age around respect, consent and healthy relationships e.g. why would you want to have sex with someone if you weren’t absolutely sure they wanted to have sex with you?
Frothy: That leads rather well onto the next question I have, from another admin : “If you could reword the law on sexual violence and rape, how would you define it? I’m thinking here of jurisdictions which have removed rape from the legal definition but instead work on categories of sexual violence.”
Katie Russell: I actually think the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is quite well-worded and good and clear on definitions of consent but, as mentioned, has sadly not always been properly applied, even by judges at sentencing and so on… I think what this question is particularly referring to though, is the idea of getting rid of the term ‘rape’ because of the stigma i.e. juries are reluctant to convict of rape because it seems so ‘harsh’ to label someone a rapist and therefore using different categories and definitions might improve conviction rates. We would not be in favour of that though, because justice for survivors isn’t just about seeing the perpetrator go to jail. Often it’s about being believed, respected, vindicated and having your experiences ‘validated’… I’m not convinced that every woman would prefer to see her rapist convicted of some watered down offence than tried and found not guilty of rape, in fact… If anything, my own personal definition of rape might be a little wider than the statutory one, to encompass penetration with body parts and objects other than the penis (the latter is currently separately categorised as ‘sexual assault by penetration’). I completely understand and appreciate that such measure would be well-intentioned to improve conviction rates, but I’d rather see more widespread education and awareness-raising around the current law than avoidance of the word ‘rape’. I hope I’ve understood the question properly?
Frothy: I think you have, yes.
Dittany has asked “What can women do to support Rape Crisis? Can you tell us a bit about what volunteering might involve, and the sort of training volunteers receive.”
Katie Russell: Brilliant, yes.
Each Rape Crisis Centre is different and use volunteers to greater or lesser degrees so you need to go to our website to get the contact details for your local one and contact them directly. But many have a range of volunteering roles available, from admin and fundraising, to providing specialist listening and support over a telephone helpline, sometimes face to face, and occasionally via text and e-mail as well, depending on the services they offer. All our member Rape Crisis Centres are working towards our National Service Standards, which means they strive for best practice in terms of policy, procedure, service provision and training. If you were going to be working directly with service users, over the helpline, for example, you would receive full training, there would be an induction period, and there will be support systems in place, including ‘peer support’ from your fellow volunteers. Anyone is welcome to fundraise for us in any way and at any time that they like. There’s the Mumsnet campaign to raise money for our national helpline, which I’ve sent you the link to already, and we have a JustGiving page at: http://www.justgiving.com/rapecrisisengland-wales
Frothy: That sounds brilliant. Thank you.
Catriona asked: “How many areas in the country do not have any rape crisis cover?”
Katie Russell: Provision is certainly still a bit patchy, although we’ve just received Ministry of Justice funding to support the development of 4 more of our ‘new and emerging’ Centres in Leeds, Suffolk, Northumberland and Southend over the next three years. ‘How many areas’ is difficult, because it depends how you define an area but we only currently have one member Centre in Wales, which is a big gap, and none in Lancashire.
Frothy: Crikey, so quite a gap in some areas. I’m also aware there’s none in my local county, something which surprised me when I first discovered it.
Katie Russell: Yes, because Rape Crisis Centres received no central Government funding until really very recently, provision has historically really just been down to which areas have had groups of grassroots activists with the energy and time to start something and the good fortune and knowledge / connections to gain local support and funding. As a result, we’re really concerned about the current Government drive towards ‘localism’ in terms of funding, because we think it could adversely affect many of our Centres. See our full statement here: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/news_show.php?id=73
Frothy: Lucy asked: do the government currently have any plans to educate young people/people about rape and sexual assault? If not are you planning to lobby for it?
Katie Russell: The Government has been running a campaign since last Autumn (I think) called This is Abuse, which is aimed at young people and tackles issues around healthy relationships etc. We think it’s been quite powerful and effective and has included TV ads etc., although more can obviously always be done. As part of the campaign, they ran an advert a couple of months ago specifically looking at consent, which is very hard-hitting and actually drew some complaints, as I understand it, because it could be deemed traumatic for some survivors. So it should carry a trigger-warning really but it does send a strong message, which we support.
Frothy: The This Is Abuse campaign has been quite a strong one in terms of getting people talking about it. Like you say though, it lacks the trigger warning which I did find problematic.
OK, Claire asked : “should juries in rape trials be screened for belief in rape myths, on grounds that they would prejudice a fair trial?”
Katie Russell: This is an interesting proposal but I’m not sure how effective / practical it would be to implement, just because rape myths are so prevalent and ingrained and many of those who uphold and believe the myths would so vehemently oppose it! More important, long-term and practical, I think, is to have more Government-funded, wide-reaching campaigns and education initiatives as discussed, and perhaps to make more use of tools already available such as judicial instruction. Some judges would need to be better educated about both myths and the law in order for the latter to work properly though unfortunately.
Frothy: Thank you. Last question. How do you feel the Ched Evans case has impacted rape survivors contacting you so far?
Katie Russell: Our services are obviously completely confidential but we can say that we have been contacted by a number of women concerned for their own safety and anonymity since the naming of Ched Evans’ victim on Twitter and elsewhere and the awful abuse she’s received. We have a very real concern that the prospect of this repeat vicitimisation, this ‘trial by Twitter’ will put some survivors off from coming forward, either to report to the police or, more importantly, to seek the support they might want. We are really pleased that North Wales police and the CPS seem to have taken this case really seriously though and we’re hopeful that the message is getting out there that naming, even reTweeting, a rape victim is a criminal offence and that you can and will be prosecuted if you do it. We don’t want this to become a precedent.
Frothy: The response from North Wales Police and the CPS has been excellent so far.
That’s the end of my questions. If there’s anything else you’d like to add, feel free. Thank you so much for your time today.
Again, thank you to Katie for her time with the Q & A. It’s been much appreciated.