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Looking into Cameron’s promises to tackle rape

6:06 pm - November 12th 2007

by Jess McCabe    

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Jacky Fleming cartoon

Cartoon by Jacky Fleming

Teach children about consent in schools. Pour money into rape crisis centres. Overhaul sentencing of rapists. David Cameron’s speech today reads like a feminist wish list.

Speaking to the Conservative Women’s Organisation in London, Cameron outlined some statistics that those of us who are involved in feminist activism are all too familiar with:

  • One in 20 women in the UK have been raped
  • 75% of rapes are not reported to the police
  • Of those that are reported, 5.7% result in conviction in England and Wales, (not mentioned by Cameron, this figure falls to 3.9% in Scotland)

This means, says Cameron, that of every 1,000 women raped, only 15 will see their rapist convicted. Or, to flip that around, for every 15 rapists that end up in jail, approximately 985 rapes are committed with absolutely no repercussions – for the rapist, that is.

For women who have been raped, services have been stripped down. The number of rape crisis centres in England and Wales has fallen from 68 in 1984 to 45 in 2007, and those that remain are facing severe funding problems.

So, what does Cameron want to do about it? Some of the ideas the Tories are putting forward are good – and, incidentally, all of them are borrowed straight from what those working on violence against women (generally a feminist, lefty bunch) have been saying for ages.

First off, Cameron wants to change the national curriculum so that kids learn about consent as a compulsory element of their sex education classes. He gets a gold star on this one: rapists are not, generally, creepy looking men hiding in bushes. Much more often, they are average, ‘nice’ guys – boyfriends, acquaintances, friends, who just do not understand or believe that ‘no means no’. Will a couple of lessons in the classroom be able to effectively change the underlying assumptions about women that make this possible? It seems a bit ambitious, but it can’t do any harm to try.

Secondly, Cameron wants to provide greater financial security for rape crisis centres by financing them on a three year basis. Another gold star!

But then we get on to the third proposal: review sentencing for rapists. Now, this is not a bad thing as such. Once a woman has gone through the mammoth task of seeing her rapist convicted, at least don’t insult her by giving him a paltry sentence.

And, fourthly – oh. There is no fourth point. Although Cameron goes to great lengths to set out the problem, there is a massive gap in his list of solutions: never mind about the sentences doled out to rapists, when you only manage to get such a tiny, miniscule proportion of them convicted in the first place!

Cameron has made a good start – but absent here is any real plan on how to cut the number of rapes by men who have already left the school system, or how to hoist up the poor conviction rate. Where are the promises of retraining for judges? Where are the promises of expert witnesses, to explain to juries that not all women behave the same when they are raped, and that rapists are still rapists, even if they attack a woman who has an active sexual life, wears a short skirt, or, horrors of horrors, gets drunk?

Just like with Tory promises to introduce equal pay audits, designed to force companies to confront and close the pay gap, there are also any number of questions about how the proposals they have put forward would be put into practice.

But the larger question is surely: what happened to our Labour government in all of this? Why hasn’t it put in place, at the least, these simple measures? Although the government has made some progessive moves, they just ditched plans to introduce expert witnesses. Why isn’t this issue further up the political agenda? The government is failing, and badly.

Want to do something about it?

Protest at this year’s Reclaim the Night march in London, on Saturday 26 November Saturday 24 November.

Send one of the Truth About Rape postcards, and puncture a rape myth (you could always pop one in the post to your MP)

Volunteer or donate to your local rape crisis centre

Just for men – some handy tips on what you can do to challenge our culture of rape.

Cross posted at The F Word

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About the author
Jess is editor of the online magazine The F-Word.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Crime ,Equality ,Feminism

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Reader comments

Agree wholheartedly…. indeed I’ve just blogged about it myself!

Before getting too caught up in Cameron’s ‘proposals’ its worth pointing out that:

1. Making consent a compulsory element in sex education is only fully worthwhile if sex education, itself, is compulsory – which it isn’t, of course.

2. Under current government policy and the national compact with the voluntary sector, local authorities should be moving all mainstream voluntary sector funding to three year agreements, anyway.

The questions that have to be asked is:

a) why this hasn’t happened already in many areas, and

b) given that rape crisis (and domestic violence) services are often woefully underfunded, just how much money will Cameron be putting up to back up this commitment and where is it coming from?

Three year agreements are only useful if they provide sufficient funding to run services effectively and such service are too often badly underfunded, not to mention the first in line for cuts when things get tight.

3. New sentencing guidelines were only introduced earlier this year – I’ll dig out a link later – so should we (and Cameron) not be seeing how those pan out before jumping in on the question of sentencing.

So far as I can see, Cameron’s offering plenty of rhetoric and nothing of substance here. Even his proposed ‘review’ is likely to be a waste of time as all it’s going to tell us is what we already know, and very well documents, which is that significant investments in specialist investigation/prosecution services is what’s makes all the difference in raising the number of cases that actually get to court and the number of convictions.

(Oh, and btw, the actual conviction rate in cases that do get to trial is about 50% – not as good as it could/should be but yet another indication of where the real problems lies)

The problem with all this, as usual, is that what’s actually needed is both expensive and time-consuming – its needs a long term investment in order to generate significant results which means its not a good bet for a bit of eye-catching rhetoric to grab the headlines.

I’d disagree with the idea that Cameron has ‘made a start’ simply because when you look at the facts, he’s actually brought nothing new whatsoever to the table.

Unity – good points!

On the funding issue, I believe that the problems that rape crisis centres are experiencing are partly to do with the fact they are not funded in a mainstream way. The current crisis, anyway, is because they were getting money from a special ‘victim’s’ pot of money (presumably from central government).

I believe that the problems that rape crisis centres are experiencing are partly to do with the fact they are not funded in a mainstream way. The current crisis, anyway, is because they were getting money from a special ‘victim’s’ pot of money (presumably from central government).

That’s pretty much the current situation, yes.

The Home Office did inject some medium-term funding in RCCs a while back, on the premise that this would build up services that would then be main-streamed by local authorities.

Inevitably, in some areas, the main-streaming of services didn’t happen and we’re back where we were before.

Good piece Jess, but just to back up what Unity is saying… the 3-year funding commitment is something that IDS identified in his social justice report earlier in the year. I haven’t checked today, but I’m pretty sure that this was one of the aspects that Cameron picked up on and agreed to.

It only applies to C&V orgs that are engaged in service level agreements with local (or national) governments. So if a rape crisis centre has been given a contract to run a local service on behalf of the local authority, then they will be helped by this commitment. But:

A. Lots of RCCs will not have such a contract and will still be scrabbling around for funding wherever they can, and

B. This is an old announcement repackaged and re-presented, rather than a new commitment.

Another (new) commitment in Cameron’s speech, which hasn’t received much media attention, is to develop an integrated strategy to tackle all violence against women. This is something that the End Violence Against Women campaign and others, such as the Fawcett Society where I work, have called for in recent years. It is a vital step in tackling violence against women and is very welcome. Hopefully the Government will match it.


I have to say that the more I look at the content of Cameron’s speech, the worse it gets in terms of lack of substance and underlying (poor) assumptions.

You’ll find my detailed views here:

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