In the Bleak Mid-Winter: Rape survivors seeking asylum in the UK face Christmas in destitution

A survey by Women Against Rape (WAR) of asylum-seeking women using their services has found that two-thirds are destitute. All suffered rape or other sexual violence in their country of origin yet only one-third had been able to report the rape when claiming asylum. Those women who have reported faced hostility, stigma and discrimination, for example being disbelieved despite compelling evidence of the violence they suffered. Once they were turned down, they were left destitute and vulnerable to further violence.

Findings

52 women were interviewed about their experience. All were victims of sexual violence.

34 (65%) were rape survivors

40 (77%) were destitute at the time they came to WAR for help

24 (46%) are still destitute now

40 (77%) had not reported rape/sexual violence when they came to WAR for help.

21 (40%) were helped to report rape as grounds for asylum by WAR

17 (33%) won their case

1 woman was deported

Their ages ranged from women in their twenties to one woman in her seventies.

Women came from a range of countries including from Africa (2/3), South Asia, South America, Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Sian Evans from WAR commented:

“The hostility and discrimination met by rape survivors who claim asylum in the UK are so bad that most women don’t dare to even report. Some are warned by their lawyer not to mention their rape because they won’t be believed. Even when women do report, the Home Office routinely disbelieves them, and they’re denied legal aid, proper representation and expert evidence to appeal. Women’s claims are closed without the rape they’ve suffered and its devastating impact being considered. They are made destitute as a result. Without any means to survive, a number of women we surveyed described being raped in the UK because they were forced to depend on people who abused and exploited them. One woman reported to us that she had been raped by a lawyer she went to for help.”

Lagina from the All African Women’s Group, an organisation of asylum seekers based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre where WAR is also based, described the horror of being left destitute:

Me and my son stayed with a man who tried to rape me. I fought him and he tried to pour boiling water on me. I called the police but I was refused help. They wanted me to leave my son in care. I refused. That is why it is harder for women because we are destitute but we are hidden, and we are mothers and other people depend on us for their protection.”

Sacha commented.

“I came here because I was beaten nearly to death by my husband and the police did nothing. My claim for asylum was refused but I can’t go back because my son and I would be killed. The only contact from the Home Office was to try to bully me into returning voluntarily. WAR helped me stand up to them and make a new claim.”

There is a growing outcry against escalating levels of destitution in the UK but its particular impact on women remains largely hidden, and that of asylum-seeking women even more so. For example, 2018 research on destitution in the UK provides much needed statistics but doesn’t distinguish between women and men’s situations and doesn’t include rape and abuse as one of its key impacts.

These preliminary results from our survey, which is due to be published in the New Year, show that government policies of deliberate destitution are causing widespread desperation and misery. In the run up to the General Election we urge people to use their vote against destitution so that women are not left at risk of rape and other violence.

For further information please contact:

Women Against Rape | 0207 482 2496 | asylumfromrape@womenagainstrape.net

Note for editors:

Women Against Rape was founded in 1976 and provides support, legal information and advocacy to survivors. WAR’s Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaign has been running since 2017 to publicise the injustice victims face in the asylum system, make visible the rape and abuse they suffer as a result of destitution, and to campaign for an end to both.

WAR is part of Global Women Against Deportations (GWAD) with All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Legal Action for Women and Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. GWAD runs regular collective self-help sessions against detention and deportation. It is asking that people contribute to Legal Action for Women’s Christmas Appeal for Destitute Women and Children.

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