We have all heard the cliche that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but in the case of women and girls who survive male violence, nothing could be truer. In today’s climate where rape and sexual assault has almost been decriminalised, with only around 3% of those reported to police in London ending in a conviction, reporting rape takes stamina and courage.
But what about those who are born of rape? What about justice for them? One woman who was conceived of rape is campaigning for a change in the law which would give those born as a result of rape victim status so they can prosecute the men who raped their mothers.
Adopted as a baby, “Vicky” (not her real name) began searching for information regarding her birth mother when she turned 18. Medical and social services records revealed that Vicky’s mother had been raped by a man known to the family when she was 13, and that she consequently became pregnant. Included in the records was the biological father’s full name and address, but he was never brought to task. Vicky’s mother had reported a crime some years earlier but was “let down” and therefore doesn’t wish to go through it a second time. Who can blame her, with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) appearing to find increasing numbers of ways to not prosecute rape?
Vicky, who is in contact with and has the full support of her birth mother, is determined to get justice: “I am living, breathing proof of a child rapist,” said Vicky, “and nobody is interested.”
There will doubtless be criminal lawyers reading this, keen to inform us all of the myriad reasons why allowing the likes of Vicky “victim status” will amount to “bad law” and set a dangerous precedent. But there are good, solid examples of victimless prosecutions, such as where the complainant is reluctant to come forward due to fear of reprisal in extreme domestic violence cases. On occasion, the CPS take these cases forward, considering them to be in the public interest. If child rape isn’t in the public interest, I don’t what is. Besides, Vicky is, it could be argued, as much a victim of rape as her mother.
I have met a number of women who were born as a result of rape, and who have spoken about the profound effect this has had on their lives. This knowledge not only impacts on the individuals, but also on relationships with their mothers, siblings and other family members.
Sammy Woodhouse, one of the survivors of the Rotherham grooming gangs who has long campaigned for justice for the hundreds of girls let down by the entire criminal justice system, recently discovered that a man who raped and got her pregnant had been advised about child contact proceedings by Rotherham council. As Woodhouse says, rapists should never have rights over their victims’ children.
Then there are the rapists that refuse to even acknowledge that they have fathered children. I have visited African nations where men attached to peacekeeping operations have committed acts of sexual violence and exploitation that have led to pregnancies and to children being born. The offspring and their mothers face horrendous challenges, including stigma and banishment from the wider community, as opposed to support and justice.
I have a close friend, of mixed heritage, who spent the first four years of her life in a children’s home, before being adopted by a white family, and raised in an all-white community. Over the years, she has been desperate to trace her roots. But she never has, for fear that she may discover she was born out of rape. The consequences for her have been devastating. She often says she has no sense of belonging, which causes mental ill health.
If we continue to fail the likes of Vicky and her mother, and the countless other women and children that live a legacy of rape and injustice, we will send out a clear message that rapists are afforded protection, and their victims are worthless. I, for one, am not prepared to stand for this.
• Julie Bindel is a journalist and political activist, and a founder of Justice for Women