A victim’s experience of the criminal justice system

The following account was sent to me by a woman who was repeatedly raped on a weekly basis by a psychotherapist of whom she was a client. Following her abuse, it transpired that all of his qualifications were bogus. Her account gives a vivid description of the effect the criminal justice system has on survivors of rape. It was originally written in 2002, and I don’t know enough about the topic to know how it compares to the experiences of victims in more recent cases. I suspect the difference is not much.

Copyright of this article remains with the author, who is entitled to remain anonymous.

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Who’s responsibility is child protection? An analysis of the @mwilliamsthomas Twitterstorm

[Trigger warning: sexual assault/exploitation]

Another day, another Twitter pile-on. I love Twitter, but it has its drawbacks. Not least of these is the 140 character limit, which makes it hard to express nuances and complexities. When those complexities have to be squeezed into a tiny little box, misunderstandings happen, and those misunderstandings turn into flaming great rows, particularly on an emotive topic.

This morning the criminologist and TV presenter Mark Williams-Thomas tweeted

The story about the 12yr girl being raped in London in early hours of Sunday morning is horrific. But what was she doing out at that time?

The story he’s referring to is this one, and it does indeed look horrific. A 12 year old girl on the streets of Leyton after midnight, picked up by three older teenagers, taken to a secluded spot and gang-raped. Truly awful.

Williams-Thomas was instantly bombarded with angry tweets. I won’t list any @usernames here, but much of it was from a certain segment of Twitter that tend to have their outrage on a hair-trigger.

Disappointing victim blaming from @mwilliamsthomas…Maybe she was homeless, in care, missing?!

 

Whatever time, 12 yr old girl is out, for whatever reason, rape inexcusable. To say otherwise suggests victim culpability?

 

doesn’t really matter what she was doing out at that time – should be free to walk anytime w/o fear of attack

 

does it not matter at this stage? Questions like that deserve to be raised after any prosecution. Blinkered.

 

Infuriating that @mwilliamsthomas didn’t ask why men think its ok to rape girls & women, and instead blamed the 12yo victim.

The trouble with hair-trigger outrage though, is that sometimes the wrong targets accidentally wind up getting blasted with both barrels. Mark Williams-Thomas has an impressive CV. He’s a former police officer and child protection expert. He’s also the guy who exposed Jimmy Saville, and has presented numerous TV shows about child abuse and protection. If he’s a rape apologist and victim-blamer, the ghost of Jimmy Saville must be feeling rather let down.

Williams-Thomas quickly clarified his previous tweet.

Child was 12yr & therefore an adult had responsibility as to why she was out past midnight. My Q does not in anyway put any blame on child

This didn’t do anything to stop the piling-on.

Children are probably more at risk in their homes, you realise?

 

So you’re blaming her parents/guardians rather than the rapists. Well that’s fine then.

 

Obviously rapes only happen at night, when women/girls shouldn’t be out. Right? Oh wait…

 

but it shifts the blame AWAY from the offender.

And so it went on. 

When these sorts of arguments flame up on Twitter, sometimes its helpful to step away from the 140 character limit to a blog post, where such matters should be thought about more carefully.

So, whose responsibility is it when a child wandering the streets late at night is sexually assaulted by three individuals? And whose responsibility is it to protect children from such assaults?

To start with, and I hope this goes without saying, the first to blame and the worst to blame are the three alleged perpetrators. They have committed an awful crime and need to be subjected to the full force of the law. 

Despite the Twitter outrage, there is a legitimate question of why the child was left unprotected to wander the streets at night. The legal concept of parental responsibility makes it clear

If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to:

  • provide a home for the child

  • protect and maintain the child

Of course that’s assuming the child was at the parental home during the hours before the attack. It’s also possible that she could have been with relatives, or could have been a looked-after child. Whatever her circumstances, somebody had a duty of care to this poor girl, and for some reason, that duty of care has failed catastrophically.

There may be a relatively innocent explanation for this. The parents may have thought a door was locked…it wasn’t…the girl slipped out unnoticed. That’s possible. Another explanation is that she was simply being neglected. and while we don’t know the circumstances right now, it’s a question that needs to be asked.

I tried to remonstrate this point on Twitter, and got some angry replies.

A child is raped by two teenage boys, and the immediate reaction is to question the parenting of the victim.

 

suggesting that implies one caused the other. They’re separate issues.

Are neglect and sexual assault separate issues? Take a look at this list of children most vulnerable to street grooming by those well-known victim-blamers, the NSPCC. Unsurprisingly, it’s a list of the already-vulnerable. Missing or runaway children, looked-after children, kids with mental health conditions or drug problems, or who live in poverty or a marginalised community. The Rochdale trafficking case is a prime example of this, where kids from dysfunctional backgrounds were preyed on by the gang.

As a CAMHS nurse who has worked on child protection cases, this chimes neatly with my clinical experience. Sexual predators will home in on those children and young people who already have a pre-existing vulnerability. The looked-after child who keeps absconding from foster care…the boy who’s developing a drug habit and needs money…the lonely girl with low self-esteem and a row of self-harm scars on her arm…

…or the 12 year old girl who, for some reason yet unknown, has been left wandering the streets late at night.

So, when there’s a concern that a child may or may not be adequately cared for, who’s business is it? The police? Social services?

The answer to that question is very clear both in law and in policy. Child protection is everybody’s business. Schools, hospitals, police, CAMHS, churches, Scouts and Guides, military cadet forces….everybody who works with children has a responsibility to look out for signs of abuse or neglect, to ask questions and, if necessary, to make a child protection referral to social services.

Does a 12 year wandering the street after midnight sound like grounds to trigger a child protection referral? I suspect I’d be in a lot of trouble at work if I said it doesn’t.

And yes, I know all that “everybody’s business” rhetoric may sound like a Big Brother, nosey-parker Panopticon state. But the brutal truth is that if we don’t all look out for vulnerable children, then there’s other, far nastier people who will.

So, to summarise:

  • Parents and carers have a responsibility to protect their children.
  • Everybody who works with children has a responsibility to be vigilant for abuse or neglect, and to report it where necessary.
  • Twelve year old girls have a responsibility to…well, they don’t have a responsibility to anyone. They’re twelve. Adults have a responsibility to them

 

Outside of certain heated Twitter arguments, I don’t think this a particularly controversial statement.

 

 

The Socialist Workers Party and the Rape Committee: When organisations become cults

[As the title suggests, this post contains possible triggers for rape]

Part of my interest in the (lack of) regulation of psychotherapy is to do with what happens when organisations and ideologies can accountable only to themselves. When the only idea of “correct” and “proper” conduct is that which a closed organisation says it is, then that organisation becomes, for want of a better word, a cult.

A pretty shocking example of an organisation behaving as a cult emerged on the blogosphere in the past couple of days. The Socialist Workers Party has always been a rather strange little organisation, albeit one that has at times punched above its weight politically. If you’ve ever been involved in any kind of protest march or rally, chances are you’ll have spotted them turning up, handing out placards, trying to sell copies of their magazine, the indescribably-boring Socialist Worker, and generally trying to convert the whole shebang into their event. If you were unlucky to have a conversation with any of them, you’d have no doubt been regaled with a Citizen Smith view of the world followed by a look of, “This is what you think, don’t you?”

Yesterday a transcript of an SWP conference was leaked onto the internet. A senior member of their party (referred to only as “Comrade Delta”) had been accused of rape by a female member. Unbelievably, the party’s Central Committee didn’t call the police, but referred it to their “disputes committee”. As the transcript freely admits, several members of this committee were friends of Comrade Delta.

The committee found Comrade Delta not guilty of rape. Admittedly rape is a notoriously difficult crime to prove, often coming down to one person’s word against another, it’s incredible that they set up some kind of kangaroo court to attempt to deal with what is, after all, a very serious crime. One conference attendee even stated, “Comrades, we have to welcome the fact that we have a disputes committee. We have no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice.” And an ad hoc tribunal of his mates could deliver justice? And what exactly did they plan to do if the allegation had been found proven? Build a proletarian prison?

There’s all kinds of allegations in the transcript about the way the complainant (as well as a second woman who made further allegations) were treated by the committee. I don’t feel qualified to comment on the truth or otherwise of these allegations, but their nature is deeply concerning.

While the left has usually allied itself with feminism, this isn’t the first time a far-left group has been the subject of claims of sexual abuse. The Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1980s is a notorious example. It attracted celebrities such as Vanessa Redgrave until their leader Gerry Healey was accused of sexually assaulting up to 26 female members. The allegations blew the party apart.

This contemporary version of that infamous case is currently being hotly debated among the various Trotskyist groupuscules. I notice people are already making statements such as, “As you’re well aware, there’s a serious possibility that such a case could be used by the state to damage the whole organisation.” I suspect that in practice “the state” won’t have to do a thing. They’re already doing a more effective job of destroying themselves than MI5 ever could.

Arguably this case isn’t so much about the far-left as about what happens when a group thinks it is definable by and accountable to only itself. It paves the way for the abuse of power – which ironically is what cults like the SWP claim to be against.

 

 

 

Assange’s Stockholm Syndrome

Over the past couple of days the news that Julian Assange has lost his appeal for extradition to Sweden. As someone who considers himself a progressive, one of the most disappointing aspects of this case for me has been watching a slew of other progressives falling over themselves to embrace the worst kind of crackpot conspiracy theories. In doing so, they mostly demonstrate my view that the most accurate words a conspiracy theorist utters is when they say, “You can’t tell me that…”
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