Victims of rapist John Worboys made history in the Met v DSD with a landmark judgment. It is the second time this century women have won a significant human right. Readers may have missed it with the headlines being dominated with the Corbyn Spy lie. The dominance of the spy lie is an example of how women are part of structural exclusion and discrimination. The Worboys case itself is another. It shows how sexual violence is not unconnected to state violence and how deeply sexism is entrenched in our institutions. So, women are continually fighting for human rights. The Met v DSD is just another step in women’s quest for human rights. But Theresa May is leading the way to have it all undone.
The Spoils of War
Military forces of all colours, see the raping of women as the spoils of war. The Red Army ‘Raped every German female from eight to eighty’ (1945). In Rwanda, soldiers raped an estimated 250 thousand women and children during the civil war (1990/94). Rape was a mere violation of the customs of war although since 1447 it has been a war crime. Nonetheless, rape has been a feature of warfare that was largely ignored.
But in 2001 the Hague Tribunal elevated systematic rape to a crime against humanity. So, it gave women human rights that they had otherwise been denied. Convictions for rape as a war crime followed (see video below).
Human Rights & The Met
However, women still have to fight for the human right to live free of violence. In Britain on average two women are killed by their partner, ex-partner or family every week. For women of colour, abuse can also include FGM, and ‘honour killings’ amongst others. Daily, women also face sexual violence.
Misogyny allows rape to be treated as a second-rate offence. Therefore, rapists escape with light sentences, if they are convicted at all. Only 7% of rapists (2,689) were convicted despite 23,851 people, the vast majority of them women, suffering the trauma of rape.
Our patriarchal society means that women are not believed. The Met Police did not believe two women raped by Worboys. The Met did not investigate allegations for five years. So, Worboys continued to prey on women. The Police believe he may have attacked more than 100 women.
And so, two victims challenged the police in the Met v DSD. The Met admitted their mistakes. Yet, the Met and the Home Office appealed against the High Court’s ruling. It established that under the Human Rights Act the police have a duty to investigate allegations of serious assault. And human rights laws also protect the individual from unlawful state action.
The Met and the government appealed the decision three times. Despite the fact that meant taking away the right of victims to get a remedy for police failings. The Met and government would have appealed again to the ECHR but the Supreme Court blocked it.
The appeals by the Met and Home Office have taken as long as Worboys has spent in jail. Nor is the landmark judgment perfect, the court awarded paltry compensation. But the judgment has serious repercussions for the police and justice system.
All our all justice institutions, systematically let women down. The evidence shows that violence against women has a poor detection, prosecution and conviction rate. But the Met v DSD makes clear the State has a responsibility to have effective laws on rape and sexual violence which can be enforced. It gives women (and other vulnerable groups) a right to equal protection.
In the wider context, it may help to eliminate society’s victim-blaming attitude around cases of sexual violence.
The future of women’s human rights is at stake globally and at home. Theresa May wants to rip up the Human Rights Act. In the Met v DSD it was May then Amber Rudd who made submissions as home secretaries in support of the police appeals. So, without the Human Rights Act, there is no barrier or government accountability. And so, women’s human rights swing precariously in the political wind.
Remember you can contact the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999 for support for historic as well as recent experiences.
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The Uncondemned – Rape In Rwanda
Murdered For Love? Samia Shahid
Contains very strong language and upsetting scenes.