This has happened before: the mixing of areas and subjects that i guess the world at large considers ridiculously unmixable. So after last night’s foray into the world of jam-making and ceramic painting, it was out early this morning to head down to London to lend my voice briefly in support of Women Against Rape and the English Collective of Prostitutes who are currently involved in a little local argument with the Crown Prosecution Service.
At base, whilst WAR would argue – rightly i think – that the legal procedures can get in the way of reporting and dealing with rape, the ECP has an even bigger beef: to wit, on several occasions now, when sex workers have rung to complain to the police of violence, intimidation and yes, sexual violence too, the police have turned up promptly and…promptly arrested the sex workers.
Now, i can half see the point. After all, the police would argue that they cannot give caret blanche to law-breakers and if a sex worker is breaking the law in some respect, they will intervene. Like, if you phoned to report a burglary and the police arrived to find you sat in the middle of your living room, spliff in hand, that probably is NOT going to be ignored.
Being victim of a crime is not a get out of jail free card.
BUT…and its a big but…this isn’t just police going: right, we’ll bust the perpetrator, then we’ll have words about your local domestic arrangements. Nah.
In an increasingly lengthy string of high profile cases now, the police appear to have turned up, taken statements in respect of the threats and violence – and promptly booked the sex workers.
Not just booked the sex worker(s) involved – but failed to take action against the perpetrators of violence. Now this is both puzzling and exceedingly worrying.
Puzzling because you might expect the police to get a bit antsy about violence going down on their patch. Apparently not, though.
And worrying on a whole series of levels. Because one part of government is supposedly trying to help people out of sex work. And the fact that i write about it here and elsewhere is not because i am a particularly strong advocate for it: but because i recognise that in a world where sometimes the choices available for individuals are not good, sex work can be one of the least bad choices.
Yet criminalising those who take part in it, putting them on lists, getting them a criminal record…all that sort of means that their ability to get out of sex work in future is markedly reduced.
Add to that the fact that if it becomes obvious that in a given area, the police will not act against those who deliver threats: will, instead, take action against the complainant, the message given out is appalling. It is pretty much a green light to violent extortion and blackmail – by the police and CPS.
Meanwhile, there is the wider issue of rape. I do think that there are legal difficulties with the crime as currently constituted in law. The law, as written, possibly raises expectations in victims that it cannot fulfil. But there is a second issue here: and that is the extent to which those who report the crime are treated sympathetically and with respect.
No surprise, i guess. Half my life is spent berating large organisations for failing to treat people with dignity. Even when organisations are getting things right, policy-wise, they still manage to mishandle and humiliate.
So with the CPS. I arrived late, because something uintoward had happened to the signals on the East Coast line. Still, i was in time to hear a couple of harrowing speeches from individuals who had suffered once through rape – and then suffered again because of the jobsworth attitude of the police and CPS.
OK. Don’t get me wrong: there are people in both those services who are brilliant. But there are some time-servers, too: and women deserve a lot better than that.