Long road to justice for rape survivors in UK

Long road to justice for rape survivors in UK

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London:  As the five men accused of raping the 23-year-old medical student appeared in a Delhi court today, many in India are looking for answers. How can our cities be safe for women? What is it like for victims of rape elsewhere? Are there any lessons from another country? These are questions that refuse to go away.

But does a western democracy, like the United Kingdom really tackle violence against women any better?

There are no easy answers.

Here's how the numbers stack up. Over 3,000 rapes were reported in London alone in the past 12 months and across the UK, the number is in the region of 80,000. Around 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. <a href="http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Statistics2.php" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Read</a>

Compare that to Delhi. According to the Press Trust of India, 635 rape cases were reported between January and November 2012. Of the 754 suspects arrested, just one has so far been convicted.

"Numbers shouldn't confuse the debate. We know that so many cases in India go unreported," says Rahila Gupta, a prominent activist with Southall Black Sisters in the UK.

But these aren't just numbers. Rape is all too real for Sally (not her real name) and her daughter, who was raped when she was a teenager.  They went to the Metropolitan police at the time to report the crime.

"We obviously went in thinking that the police had done their job. We thought they'd interview witnesses. They didn't interview the member of staff who had seen my daughter directly after the rape. They didn't have any phone evidence or forensic evidence."

She continues, "And during the case, when the judge was summing up he said it was a 'disgrace' that the police had made those mistakes and because they had, the jury had to dismiss the evidence and when he was acquitted, I had to pick up my daughter from school who was still 16 and obviously my daughter was traumatised."

She fought a long battle against the police and won 15,000 pounds as compensation in a landmark case against the Metropolitan police.

An internal inquiry concluded about this particular case, "a troubling picture of an inexperienced, over-burdened police officer with inadequate supervision working in an under-resourced unit". (Source: Independent Police Complaints Commission)

The Guardian newspaper in the UK quoted a police spokesperson. "There are points of law and processes that are gone through with any legal claim received by the Metropolitan police service. We are aware of the victim's comments of distress at the legal proceedings, and that some legal arguments may have appeared insensitive to the victim, but that is not the intention of the MPS."

This case has put the spotlight on the Metropolitan police's "Sapphire Unit".

"The primary role of Sapphire is the investigation of rapes and other serious sexual violence, with not only an emphasis to arrest and prosecute the perpetrator and investigate the offence to the satisfaction of victim, but just as importantly, on the care and support of victims of these crimes," reads the website.

In no way is this one case representative of how other rape cases are handled by the police.

"The Met remains committed to tackling rape and serious sexual offences. Sapphire investigate thousands of allegations each year and seek to bring as many offenders to justice as possible, and offer support to the victims of this crime."

But activists argue that the conviction rate for rape in this country remains just 6 per cent. That figure however is hotly debated.

Fullfact.org points out, "If the conviction rate for rape is calculated as a proportion of those cases that reach court, then it rises considerably to 58 per cent."

But if you keep the numbers aside for a moment, what are the realities on the ground?

Lisa Longstaff, who works for Women Against Rape, says, "The obstacles we are up against in London begin with the way the police approach rape, the way they investigate the cases, the way they gather evidence and how decisions are made about which cases are going to go to court and what we face is a lot of sexism and a lot of discrimination."

She thinks that surprisingly, there are many parallels between what women face in the UK, in India and across the world. "if you are poor, you don't get the level of support you should. I know that is true in India and it is certainly true here as well."

But she takes great inspiration from the mass movement in India to raise awareness about this issue.

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