‘I want to end all forms of violence against women’ said Home Secretary Theresa May at a speech on International Women’s Day 2011. An action plan promising sustainable funding for frontline services such as rape crisis, research and data collection, training for key professionals, government campaigns on awareness of sex offences and the law, was laid on 8th March.
May has continued to be vocal about action, and perhaps one of the most important and positive steps she has taken in this field was to make emotional abuse illegal under new domestic law – announced in 2014, and brought into action late 2015. May said;
“In many cases, dominance over the victim develops and escalates over the years until the perpetrator has complete control.
“The government is committed to protecting the victims of this terrible crime and it is clear that this new offence has the potential to save lives.”
Undoubtedly, this has been an important change, in order to recognise the psychological pain and control that can be inflicted within abusive relationships. It is something campaigners have fought for years to highlight, and the move was welcomed by many mental health and domestic abuse organisations and charities, as well as men & women themselves, whom are now able to identify and buttress the severity of this abuse with support in law. Repeated threats, humiliation, financial or coercive control within intimate relationships, which ‘can be tantamount to torture’ in May’s own words, were now sentenceable in the same manner as physical violence and abuse.
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Coercive control is at the heart of domestic abuse. Perpetrators will usually start abusing their victim by limiting her personal freedoms, monitoring her every move and stripping away her control of her life; physical violence often comes later.’
“Women’s Aid and other organisations campaigned to have this recognised in law, and we are thrilled that this has now happened. It is a landmark moment in the UK’s approach to domestic abuse, and must be accompanied by comprehensive professional training and awareness raising among the public.”
These laws come amidst a time of other attacks on women, who are disproportionately affected by austerity, a warning highlighted by a coalition of charities and many other organisations as a risk to increasing gender inequality. Individuals can be hit many times over through welfare and public service cuts rendering them further from the possibility of escaping dangerous environments.
In November 2014, as the Home Secretary spoke at the 40th anniversary of Women’s Aid, citing the need to change attitudes, with statistics showing 1 in 4 young people thinking it ‘OK for the boyfriend to hit the girlfriend,’ Hestia, a charity providing vital support for domestic abuse victims within London including refuges, day centres, community outreach and housing support, released a statement on the severe and brutal difficulties faced amongst continuing cuts and lack of access to the limited emergency provisions;
“One woman moved into part-furnished rented accommodation without a bed. She made a request to the local discretionary crisis support scheme for a bed – she had physical disabilities and mobility issues. She suffered from bi-polar disorder and was receiving Disability Living Allowance. This woman had spent 12 months in one of our refuges following domestic abuse and had felt excited about her new start – she felt she could assert herself and be independent. Unfortunately this was undermined by the lack of an appropriate place to sleep. She never received a bed via the discretionary crisis support scheme and we understand that she returned to live with her sister who had been the perpetrator of interfamilial abuse.
“One staff member related two specific stories of single women who moved into independent accommodation on leaving one of our domestic abuse refuges. One of the women was pregnant and spent months sleeping on a floor because no bed could be provided; the other had severe health needs and passed away following around 5 months of sleeping on a floor.
“Another service user spent 6 weeks without a bed. As a result her mental and physical health deteriorated to such an extent that she became suicidal and had to be closely monitored by Hestia staff and her GP. These severe setbacks undid much of the progress that had been made during her time at the refuge.
“One woman who was being supported through one of our homelessness and complex needs services, who had a history of homelessness and serious mental and physical health issues, told us that she was given a bed frame but not a mattress to go on it, and a fridge but not a cooker or a microwave.
“We already see that discretionary assistance is inadequate to meet the needs of vulnerable people at a time of crisis. For example, we have seen women who are pregnant or with severe physical health needs being denied a bed to sleep in or a cooker to feed themselves for months on end.”
“One service manager stated that of the 290 tenants she supports, around a quarter had made enquiries for financial and practical assistance – and none of these had been successful under the current provision. These setbacks undo much of our work to rebuild people’s lives. The human and financial costs of not providing these essential necessities are much greater than the financial commitment required to do so.”
“We are also seeing less money being put aside for domestic abuse services and refuges at a time when domestic abuse is on the rise. Last year there was a 6.3% rise in domestic violence in the capital with 52,185 crimes being reported – and it is estimated that fewer than 20% of victims report abuse at all.”
The public outcries and revelations over child abuse within government institutions, have lead to a positive increase in the number of domestic abuse cases being reported. Between 2013 and 2015, there was a 31% increase in reports to police in England and Wales. But crisis charities require increases in funding to deal appropriately with the requests for help. A previously patchy and unguaranteed method of allocating funding was leading some charities to remain unsure of their future at a time of overwhelming need. For example, Survivors UK – the largest men’s rape crisis charity saw an increase of 120% in people needing their help. Yet in 2014, their funding was slashed to zero, leading them to cut counselling sessions and activities.
May responded with a new plan to tackle Violence against Women and Girls; an £80m strategy to identify offenders by increasing training and awareness within health, housing and other professions, alongside rehabilitation and increases in tracking and surveillance techniques by police with GPS and body cameras. May said the aims were to catch actors early on, before greater offences were committed, citing the ‘step change’ in the number of people reporting issues of domestic abuse;
“As the true scale of these crimes is revealed, we need to strengthen our work to change attitudes, improve prevention and where possible rehabilitate offenders to stop reoffending.
“To do this we need to make tackling violence against women and girls everybody’s business.”
The announcement responded to new evidence revealing domestic abuse victims were twice as likely to attend medical services, though it took an average of five visits before abuse was detected.
May even went as far as to investigate the long-running endemic failures of police in providing support to domestic abuse victims, with an investigation finding that 35 of 43 police forces in England and Wales were providing substandard care when violence was reported.
Not All Women
In the town Bedford, one of England’s smallest counties, renowned for riverside settings and its own Bedford Castle – tucked away across muddy fields, and secured with 10 ft high steel fences lies one of the caveats in May’s search to end all violence against women.
Yarl’s Wood detention centre has become synonymous with physical, mental, sexual and racist abuse of its detainees. Women are placed in a secure jail-like building, referred to as a ‘residential centre’. It deliberately sits removed and tucked away across a field, so that from the windows and views to the outside world, the toll of isolation is increased on the people held here.
The UK has one of the highest rates of detention in Europe. Further still, Theresa May and the home office have fought to maintain indefinite detention provisions, inflicting the kind of psychological torture May brought in laws elsewhere to stop;
“Under the current system, they never know how long they’ll be imprisoned. It could be hours or it could be years. That uncertainty can sometimes drive them mad. It is a uniquely bureaucratic form of mental torture.” – Ian Dunt
The centre has been open since 2001. Serco, the outsource giant favoured alongside the infamous G4S (who’s track record you can read here), has operated the centre since 2007. There have been dramatic increases in the number of private companies given authority in detention and asylum housing across the country, an issue which many organisations such as the Migrants Rights Network say coincides with increases in reports of abuse.
In March, a new complaint surfaced of a woman describing being ‘dragged to solitary confinement by nine officers, stark naked and punched while another member of staff filmed the incident.’
This follows years of further reports and experiences from detainees themselves (you can read some ex-detainees accounts here);
“They’re just nineteen year old kids that are there. People who have come here have lost their children to immigration……. Mothers who are there, who have lost their children so people have become mentally ill. I saw a little girl there, she start harming herself. Her whole body was full of marks.”
Ex-detainee, Shut Down Yarl’s Wood demo, 12 March
A televised investigation by Channel 4 last year showed guards ignoring instances of self-harm and using derogatory and racist language including ‘beasties, ‘black bitch’, ‘animals’ and ‘evil’. One guard in the programme was heard saying ‘They are all slashing their wrists, apparently. Let them slash their wrists…It’s attention seeking.’
The investigation came months after the Home Secretary had renewed the Serco contract for the centre despite the repeated allegations of racist treatment, sexual exploitation, rape, self-harm, violence and suicide attempts.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper slammed the lack of response to the Channel 4 investigation, saying it was a ‘disgrace’ that Theresa May did not attend the House of Commons to answer an urgent question on the treatment of detainees, instead sending a junior minister. ‘This is not news’, added Cooper, highlighting the government had continually refused to set up an independent inquiry into these reports. The Home Secretary who wanted to ‘end all violence against women’ was ensuring ‘state sponsored abuse of women’ in detention was going on unabated and without interference or investigation.
Karen Bradley, the junior minister sent in place of May, stated that the Home Secretary could not attend because of a summit at No 10 on the child abuse inquiry, and that while they took the investigation ‘very seriously’, they found no evidence that anyone was at risk. The Home Secretary has continued on a mission to enforce strict immigration rules and protect secretive, indefinite detention facilities.
In October of last year, May’s methods were called into question when a senior judge slammed her stance on asylum after ruling that the unlawful detention of a rape torture victim was ‘utterly unreasonable and truly disgraceful.’
The Independent reported that the Sudanese woman had been working as an accountant in Kharthoum in 2004, before surviving and escaping attacks on her family including the murder of her father and fiancee, and the kidnapping of her mother. Despite this, she was captured two years later by ‘state security agents’ and stabbed, beaten and raped. In 2007, she was again captured, detained and raped repeatedly.
She fled to the Republic of Ireland, thinking that she was unable to claim asylum in the UK because of a student visa. When her claim was rejected, she tried to enter England but was told by the Home Office that she should return to Ireland and was detained over December 2013 – January 2014 for 37 days.
There was strong medical evidence of the repeated rape and torture. And five doctors confirmed the woman, now 42, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In January of this year, a further damning verdict finding the UK detention system ‘unethical’, slipped out under little media fanfare.
The report was authored by Stephan Shaw and was forced on the Home Office against the wishes of Theresa May, who fought to stop the reaches of the independent investigation, by requesting that the length of detention not be investigated. Shaw refused to comply stating this was vital to understanding the conditions;
“There is a consistent finding from all the studies carried out across the globe and from different academic viewpoints that immigration detention has a negative impact on detainees’ mental health. The impact on mental health increases the longer detention continues.”
Shaw explains that detention ought to be a last resort. He called for a ban on pregnant women being held and a ‘presumption against detention’ for those escaping sexual violence, FGM, PTSD, learning difficulties and other severe vulnerabilities.
Still, May continues to promote hostile attitudes and actions towards migrants and is renowned for these hardline stances.
While the Home Office ignored medical evidence to block asylum seekers like the Sudanese rape victim, an immigration tribunal ruled the other week that the home office used ‘unscientific hearsay’ to wrongly deport nearly 50,000 students.
The Home Office had contracted US firm ETS for use of their voice recognition software used for English tests for immigrants to prove their language skills were sufficient.
The company claimed to have software that could spot fraudulent methods and cheats. But these methods were unscientific and not legally proven. Still, the Home Office, despite limited understanding of the system itself, pursued dawn raids, detentions and deportations relying entirely on information from ETS.
The Upper Tribunal ruling said the Home Office has ‘multiple frailties and shortcomings’; coupled with no evidence or witnesses provided by ETS itself;
“Apart from the limited hearsay evidence there was no evidence from the protagonist in this saga, the ETS organisation. The Secretary of State has not discharged the legal burden of establishing that either appellant procured his certificate by dishonesty.’
These students could now return and seek compensation.
The Go Home vans of 2013 were trialled in six London boroughs over July and August, and the Home Office reported that just 11 people left the country as a direct result of the message to ‘Go home or face arrest.’
The vans also provoked far more satirical responses than serious. The Guardian reported that; “The evaluation report also reveals that 1,561 text messages were received in response to the advert’s invitation to text for free advice and help with travel documents. But unfortunately for the Home Office, 1,034 of the texts were hoax messages which took 17 hours of staff time to deal with.”
The pilots were enough for the (Go) Home Secretary to back down and announce the campaign would not be further deployed, stating the vans were ‘too much of a blunt instrument.’
Results from a research project devoted to ‘mapping the unfolding controversy of Home Office immigration campaigns’ – part funded by the Economic and Social Research Council – reveal the wayward effects of such campaigns as well as the lack of research and intelligence that created them.
For example, point 1 in their ‘10 Key Findings’ was that they found ‘no evidence that government communications about immigration and enforcement are based on research about ‘what works’ in managing immigration.’
They also found the Go Home vans incited confusing and misrepresentative ideas. Increased fear and anger was felt by all types of migrants with legal status. Many reported ‘harassment for being ‘illegal immigrants; when they had settled status or were British citizens.’ Further, these people felt that injustices would occur as a result of error.
Rather than creating ‘official assurance’ about ‘tough action’ on immigration, the vans invoked more fear, with concerns rising as a result rather than being assuaged. The research also found incredulity in some respondents that the vans and messages were coming from government, with some believing they were being pushed by a far right organisation like the EDL, and many noted the language similarities of violent racist groups from the 70s and 80s.
Still, the vans did inspire pro migrant activism to challenge the aggressive narratives pushed by the messaging.
Another misjudgement soon followed in the Home Office social media strategy. In the online world, where you are able to preen your image and promote the most positive aspects, the Home Office chose to chronicle their guards man-handling black and brown people as they bundled them into vans.
After a consistent stream of these images lasting a few days, the account seemed to come to sudden halt, with members of the public complaining and raising awareness of the Home Office’s new marketing plan. The images stopped. The raids did not.
In the wake of the Patriot Act in the US, which forced broad and wide interception powers on the US public following 9/11, the government gave a running tally of the number of arrests they had made with the new powers to demonstrate that something was being done. However, when the arrests reached over a thousand, questions arose of how many of these people were involved with the September 11 attacks. The answer was none of them. In fact, none of the arrestees were charged with anything related to terrorism.
The US government then stopped releasing the figures stating that they were ‘too difficult.’ When the tally benefitted the PR of government, they were distributed. When the tally started to demonstrate that the powers were being misused, they were stopped. As with the images in the Twitter feed of the Home Office, the deciding factor was whether the presentation of the violence and aggression looked favourable to government. The use of these powers continued in or out of mis-judged spotlight.
These sentiments have not gone unoticed overseas. Last month, after visiting the UK in January, the EU rights commissioner Nils Muižnieks accused Cameron and May of ‘scaling up alarmist rhetoric’ on migration, deliberately portraying migrants as a threat to society and fuelling xenophobia in the UK.
The Commissioner advised abandoning the term ‘illegal immigrant’ which implies criminality and threat, adding “People are not illegal. Their legal status may be irregular, but that does not render them beyond humanity.”
But May’s preferences run deep, in her public and personal politics. She has made it her perogative to seek protections for women, for as long as they are not migrant women. And during the biggest refugee crisis since WW2 the Home Secretary is aiming to cut the numbers of those entering. Under the linguistical cover of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, May has said she will only grant temporary help to those she and her department deems in need. Given a look at recent history, at the state of UK detention which is seeing suicide rates at an all time high, at May’s protectiveness over a system deemed ‘unethical’, her understanding of those in need is subject to clear inequalities.
And these preferences run to her own constituency, which has accepted no refugees at all.
Most recently, Theresa May has said that she will strip specifically Asian men of citizenships where they are involved in child abuse – in reference to the abhorrent crimes committed in Rochdale. The announcement came the day after the Savile report which looked into the denial around sexual abuse taking place within the BBC, where predominantly white men were able to procure young bodies at ease whilst being celebrated as celebrities.
Many rightfully wish the strongest lever of law be used against perpetrators. But this should be applied universally. While Theresa May has demonstrated that she will fervently pursue unprecedented measures against the abusers in Rochdale, these actions are not mirrored with investigations of abusers in government, despite May stating that ‘child abuse runs through British society like a stick of Blackpool Rock.’
It was indeed the Home Office that ‘lost or destroyed’ 114 files relating to pedophile cases within government. The permanent Home Secretary Mark Sedwill admitted that May might not have known about this at the outset of the investigation. May later admitted they may have been destroyed as part of a cover up, whilst Cameron stated there was no evidence of this.
It was also Theresa May who twice chose Chairs to the child abuse inquiry with links to the figures in question. The second choice, Fiona Woolf, was forced to resign after it was revealed she lived on the same street as and attended five dinner parties with Conservative Cabinet minister Lord Brittan who was implicated in the inquiry. May was accused of ‘appalling incompetence’ because the Home Office had failed to perform appropriate conflict of interest checks on Woolf and Lady Butler-Schloss before her. However, the Guardian reported that the Home Office and Theresa May helped Woolf re-draft a letter seven times to downplay her relationship with Brittan.
While a Google search could have revealed the connections between Woolf and Brittain, May defended herself at the time ‘It is really going to be hard to find someone with no connections. A hermit?’
These choices have lead to severe delays, frustration and pain for victims who have been determined not to allow the inquiry to start with the first two Chairs.
A writer for Middle East Eye also highlights the need for this universality in what continues to demonstrate a double standard in prosecution of these grave crimes. It seems that where the crimes of child abuse can be fitted into a long running narrative of portraying brown men as predatory, dangerous and sub-human, their crimes will be publicly pawned to increase hostility. Whilst at the same time white Australian celebrities and British leaders are continually protected from equal public prosecution.
“Savile’s friend Rolf Harris, a man once equally beloved in the UK, for his phallic digeridoo, colourful paintings, rubbish songs and care for animals is not of Pakistani descent. Will he be stripped of his citizenship and deported back to the land of racism and Vegemite?
“And whilst such legislation will target dual-nationals which include Rolf Harris, it can be safe to assume that it was drawn up in response to what happened in Rotherham and Rochdale and not what happened at the BBC.”
Police Forces in the UK have experienced more than a 30% cut in funding in real terms since 2010, which May says demonstrates these decisions could be made without falling into chaos.Of the remaining funding, May is working to divert money from cities to Tory run rural boroughs. However, other problems may be lurking beneath the surface, as reports this month show police sick leave for psychological reasons is up a third in five years.
Still, May continues to vouch for herself and her policies as maintaining security and control in the UK, as she now demands drastic new measures of surveillance – currently being rushed through Parliament.
The IP Bill which passed its second reading in March, proposes implementing huge new measures of dragnet surveillance by ISPs, storing every person’s metadata for 12 months, and introducing new powers of state hacking with reduced needs for police warrants. This is at a time when the US is pulling back from such measures, after repeated investigations find they are not leading to intelligence on terrorism.
Attacks across Europe have given May renewed fear to usher in drastic surveillance laws that don’t work against terrorists, but will undoubtedly chew up more citizens it shouldn’t. She has again been able to retreat from mis-judged sentiments changing tack to touting that ‘privacy is hardwired’ into the re-draft of this bill. Quite a difference from her initial stance; ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.’
With the previous investigatory powers bill – RIPA – expiring at the end of the year, May is even more of a rush to get this new bill through. But haste and ambiguity have been fatal legislative components for the privacy of citizens.
The Home Secretary is already keen to normalise the distribution of this information to other government departments including the Food Standards Agency and the Gambling Commission. Whilst espousing that these measures are vital and taken only in the interest of stopping terrorism, the Home Secretary is already advocating the free use and distribution of our records to people who have never asked nor arguably could ever need them. Given the current government’s track record in offering up and selling data to third parties and private companies, including medical and financial records, we are not likely to see any greater respect offered up for the gargantuan new data retention powers May is dreaming of creating at our expense.
But protection and privacy is granted to one lucky company – GCHQ. You may have seen the new video from Cassetteboy with Privacy International taking aim at the IP Bill.
“In 2015, Privacy International accused the UK government of acting unlawfully by quietly bringing in a bill to exempt GCHQ from prosecution – the day before the privacy body was due to bring a case against them.
Privacy International had teamed up with seven other independent communications, internet and service providers to bring a case against GCHQ in light of Snowden’s leaked documents.
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International ‘says his organisation has been over all the documents released by the government whenever they introduce new legislation, such as the impact assessment, the fact sheet, explanatory notes given to parliament and Hansard, the official parliamentary debate transcripts, but nowhere in any of these documents is the relaxing of prosecution against GCHQ or the police for hacking offences mentioned.
“With that, we ask, how was anyone meant to know? This is just one point among many other legal points where we feel the government is acting unlawfully.”
And let’s take a wider look at how government has treated information that could lead to the imprisonment of those who are threat to national security and safety or those who are downright criminal. The Chilcot inquiry is more than a decade long and costing into the tens of millions, with reports suggesting there is now an inquiry into the inquiry. Above we mentioned the 114 destroyed files in connection with the Westminster Pedophile ring.
Elsewhere, prior to his ascension to human with feelings, Iain Duncan Smith was repeatedly reprimanded by the UK stats authority for mis-representing statistics in order to push through severe and devastating welfare cuts on the disabled, which clearly were indefensible with factual information. When Channel 4 asked the 21 members of the Cabinet last week if they had any involvement in the panama leaks only three were able to respond with a firm no, the rest offering a ‘no comment.’
The government constantly with-holds information in the public interest, or manipulates it, or controls it, or is able to escape questions through a simple ‘no comment,’ when it comes to their own criminality. Yet, May now fights to have a monopoly on your everyday actions and vows to do this with your protection in mind.
At the same time, other Home Office strategy is at work, ensuring our focus is retained on the official ‘enemy.’
Prevent strategy encourages teachers to spy on Muslim children from the age of three, under an obligation to report them to a deradicalisation programme if they show ‘signs’ of ‘extremism’, which is described as amongst other things, an aversion to British values. Other vague ‘signs’ include bring withdrawn, left out, sudden change of appearance, switching off computers when teachers come by.
The strategy claimed its first British nursery child a few weeks ago when he mis-spelled cucumber In the US, a viral story of a 14 year old who took a home made clock into school and was referred to authorities when his teachers mis-took it for a bomb, demonstrates the kind of public humiliation and insidious suspicion policies like Prevent are enabling.
The teachers did not evacuate the school or take other such measures when confronted with the invention. In fact the ‘bomb’ was kept with the English teacher for several hours, without notifying any ‘bomb squad.’ The invention was then taken in a police car. Buzzfeed reported;
The 14-year-old said he was questioned for nearly an hour and a half.
Mohamed also recalled during the interview that one of the officers sat down in what he called “the interrogation room” at the school, looked at him and said, “That’s who I thought it was.”
“It made me feel like I wasn’t human,” he said to The Dallas Morning News. “It made me feel like a criminal.”
Nafeez Ahmed reported on the strategy when it was first proposed;
Prevent funding was originally allocated to 30 areas in England and Wales based purely on the size of their respective Muslim populations: the potential for terrorism, in other words, was considered proportional to the number of Muslims, as opposed to any other criteria.
CAMPACC thus criticised the Prevent agenda for manufacturing “a rationale for systematic surveillance of ‘non-violent extremism,’” which in effect “treats Muslims as a suspect community which must undergo pervasive surveillance and demonstrate its allegiance to ‘British values’ — which are contradicted by UK foreign policy especially in relation to Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.”
The government’s blanket equation of criticisms of government policy in the Muslim world with a propensity to violent extremism, leads experts to raise concerns about the unwarranted demonisation and criminalisation of political dissent. The Orwellian implication is that Britons who are critical of Britain’s policies in the ‘war on terror’ are extremists who must be shut down and deradicalised.
The Prevent strategy, whilst on the surface portrayed as action that must be taken to prohibit extremism, actually has some of its greatest effects on nationwide dissent against the government.
This government has attacked protest rights throughout its time in Parliament, with attempts to enforce charges and stricter legislation for when and where protests are allowed to take place. Absurd use of joint enterprise law saw a woman arrested because someone else on the same protest put a sticker on a window.
These attacks have extended to the dissent of certain professions. Recent changes mean charities are unable to lobby the government when they are given funding. Conservative Minister Matthew Hancock assured that to focus spending on charity work. No changes have been made to the fossil fuel lobby’s rules whom outstrip charity lobbying and continue to receive increasing subsidies from government.
Scientists are also feeling gagged with new proposals to prohibit them from contradicting the government’s policy. So a climate scientist working for the government who finds a new energy method to be dangerous, is unable to publicly state these findings nor lobby for change.
And yet, while Prevent ensures our attention is placed on Muslims in the UK, the business of terrorism continues out of public gaze.
In March, the Security and Policing trade fair which sells all the equipment needed for violent policing, detention centres and border controls tool place in Farnsborough. The Home Office hosted the event inviting international delegations including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to come and view and buy equipment and learn police and security tactics used here. Sarah Reader, an anti arms trade activist who protested the event said in a previous interview with Real Media;
“If you look at the government’s response to terrorist attacks in Paris, or the migrant crisis, the response is militarised policing, stronger borders, armoured police on the streets but then what you also see is while all that is happening through the government and through the media, you’ve got big exhibitions happening like Security and Policing in March, these big commercial ventures that bring it all together – none of this is conducive to more security.”