OPINION: Women will only report sexual harassment when we prove it’s worthwhile to do so - Kogonuso

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Sep 28, 2019

OPINION: Women will only report sexual harassment when we prove it’s worthwhile to do so

This week the Conservative Mayoral candidate for London, Shaun Bailey, posted a video to social media as part of the launch of his ‘Tube safety campaign’.

In the video he says, quite rightly, that ‘we all have the right to feel safe on public transport.’ He also rightly points out that tens of thousands of incidents go unreported every year.

The campaign’s central aim is to encourage more women to report by providing permanent space for TfL’s ‘Report It To Stop It’ campaign. This is a worthy aim but it does not go nearly far enough.

Because here’s the thing: women do report. They report harassment, they report assault, they report rape. They report and report and report and yet for so many of them, they get to the end of that gruelling and potentially traumatising process of reporting only to find that nothing is done.

So of course, women should be encouraged to report unwanted sexual behaviour and of course more data on when and where incidents occur would be useful. But at a time when reporting of sexual offences nationwide is up and yet conviction rates are down, another campaign which puts the onus on women to report without addressing the wider issues feels pretty futile.

In the last year alone, London saw a 20 per cent increase in reported rapes. Nationwide, the number of reports has more than doubled since 2013-14 and increased by nine per cent in just the last year. And yet conviction rates are now at their lowest since records began, with only just over three per cent of reported rapes ending in a conviction.

Just take a second to imagine that. Rape is one of the most violating things that can happen to a person, and reporting it takes that violation and makes it public property while an investigation takes place.

Our focus should not be on asking women to report. It should be on proving to them that reporting is worthwhile.

Victims are subjected to ‘digital strip searches’ in which their messages, their social media accounts, their medical notes and even their primary school records are laid open for inspection. They are advised not to seek counselling at this most emotionally punishing time, because those notes too would be available to a court. They are made to feel like suspects.

And yet, despite all of these barriers, so many women take the brave step of reporting because they want justice for what happened to them. Because they know that holding the man who assaulted them to account is important. Because by doing so they may be protecting future potential victims.

But out of every one hundred women who take that step, 97 are denied the justice they sought. And those 97 women become the example that other women hear about when they consider whether to report what has been done to them. The rapes, the assaults, the daily harassment on the Tube. When they sit on the underground and see posters imply that reporting will ‘stop it’.

Initiatives like ‘Report It To Stop It’ do work in the narrow sense. Following the 2015 launch of the campaign there was significant rise in reports of assault and harassment, which have soared by 42 per cent in the last four years. Meanwhile, a March survey by the transport workers’ union RMT found that one in ten Tube staff have themselves reported sexual harassment. But collecting reports means little if nothing is then done to hold perpetrators to account.

At the Women’s Equality Party we are campaigning for an end to end review of how the criminal justice system handles rape and sexual violence cases, to do the work that is needed to ensure victims are no longer put on trial.

Shaun Bailey’s campaign misses this wider point about how our society deals with sexual offences. His Conservative Government has demonstrably failed to take meaningful action both in terms of supporting survivors and challenging offenders.

So, while conviction rates remain through the floor, while survivors of sexual harassment, assault and rape are routinely treated as suspects and denied the services that they desperately need, our focus should not be on asking women to report. It should be on proving to them that reporting is worthwhile.https://www.geezgo.com/sps/60449


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