I recently started volunteering at Crossroads Women's Centre in London, and they put on this inspiring conference in honour of International Women's day. Despite harrowing stories of women's personal experience of rape and domestic violence, as well as racist attacks, I felt that this event was very positive. There was a genuine sense of support for the brave women (and men) who stood up to talk about their experiences. It was interesting also to see the links between rape, race and prostitution, and the ways in which women are particularly disadvantaged in these fields.
I think we have got a serious problem in this country. The police are not taking rape seriously enough, putting pressure on victims to withdraw their accusations, 'no-criming' cases, and failing to investigate others fully, which means that the CPS is then unable to take these cases to court and win. We are not protecting women. It is difficult to know what the solutions are, but I think that we need to start making a really big fuss about the statistic that there is a rape conviction rate of 5.3% here. As women, we have to start standing up for our right to be able to walk around alone, late at night, drunk and wearing a short skirt, and not fear rape, or if the unimaginable were to happen, we should not doubt that the police would work their hardest to find our attacker.
As for racism and prostitution, these are simply not talked about enough. We like to live in a fantasy world where racism doesn't exist, and if it were to happen, the police would 'deal with it'. The reality is somewhat different. A brave asylum seeker from Somalia told us her story of being violently attacked by her neighbour, who called her all sorts of horrendous names, and smashed her nose in. When she called the police to her house, they arrested her husband, and let her attacker get away. If this doesn't prove the institutional racism in the police, then I don't know what does.
I think that the most revealing thing that can be said about our attitudes towards prostitution is that it is still the prostitute who is criminalised, rather than the punters who perpetuate this cycle of abuse and humiliation (as it is for the vast majority of prostitutes in this country, who have a history of childhood abuse, drug addiction, or who have been trafficked.)
I can't claim to have any solutions to these problems, but I feel that the first course of action for us all should be to accept that these are still problems, which particularly women face, and are impeding their ability to contribute fully to society as they are fully entitled to do.