By Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland and Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid.
THE Rape Clause. Yep, it’s as bad as it sounds.
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From today, across the UK, Child Tax Credits will only be available for the first and second child. Third or subsequent children won’t get a look in. That is – of course – unless the child is a result of rape.
The Department of Work and Pensions claim that this rape exemption or “rape clause” will only be applied in the most “compassionate” way, but the question is, can forcing a woman to disclose rape to receive welfare ever really be compassionate? For us – Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid – the answer is a flat-out no.
We should make no mistake: rape is a horrific trauma. Healing from rape is painful and difficult, and a huge part of healing is having control over who and how you tell people about your experience. Despite the myths, rape isn’t usually a stranger jumping from out behind a bush in the dead of night as a woman walks home alone. Often it’s someone you know – a friend, a partner, a spouse. Some people who are raped might never tell anyone what happened to them. Rape and sexual violence are amongst the most underreported, under-convicted crimes there are, and certainly among the most abhorrent.
And yet despite knowing all of this we have a policy launching today that could literally make women choose between poverty and telling someone – possibly for the first time ever – that they were raped. Hingeing benefits on proving trauma isn’t a choice, it’s a disgrace and one which may well re-traumatise women.
The DWP wanted us to take part. They wanted local Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis workers to sit down with women, do some math to work out whether the date of conception matched the date of the rape and tick a box to say as much. The idea was that we’d then tell them whether or not a woman’s experience could be trusted enough to give her £7.62 a day; enough money to put food on the table, to put towards the electricity bill, maybe to buy a pair of child’s school shoes.
The thing is, we do trust women. When women access our services they know that we believe them. We trust what they tell us, we recognise their experience and we support them to come to terms with their trauma in whatever way we can. For more than 40 years, in a world where attitudes and institutions frequently blame and shame victims, our stance has been revolutionary and it has been necessary. For a policy then to ask that we gate-keep a woman’s access to welfare would fundamentally change the relationship between women and those who work with them, and it would change the service that we provide. We are just not willing to take part in something that we consider to be ethically unjustifiable.
As Megan, a local Rape Crisis worker, said: “To collude in this policy would compromise the trust that survivors put in our services. Beyond this, the idea that a third party is required to verify what women are telling the government about their own lives feeds into a number of harmful rape myths – not least that women lie about rape.
“If survivors do choose to access our support it should be a free and positive choice, not one borne out of fear of poverty or destitution.”
We’ve been asked why – if the policy is going ahead – we aren’t willing to help those women who need it and play our part. We hope that to make clear that in doing so we would be jeopardising the most critical relationship we have, the one we share with women who have experienced violence or abuse. The risk is far too great.
It’s telling that there is not a single third-party reporter who has agreed to take part in this policy in Scotland or in Northern Ireland. The policy has been widely condemned elsewhere. With this in mind it would be reckless for the DWP to go ahead. They must halt implementation of the policy.
Our view is clear: the problem is not that organisations are unwilling to change their service to help operate the family cap and rape clause, a policy that so clearly violates women’s human rights.
The problem is the policy, and this is what must change.