Victim Support NI has been to the fore in protesting against the monstrous ‘rape clause’ element of the two child tax rule which was introduced in the region this month as part of the shake-up of the benefits system. They issues a press release and organised protest protests in Belfast and Derry.
Here is the full text of the press realease:
Victim Support NI, the leading charity for victims of crime, will protest in Belfast and Derry today at the introduction of the two child tax credit ‘rape clause’ rule which became law in Northern Ireland today, 21 September.
The law will mean that tax credits will be limited to two children unless a woman can prove that there was non-consensual sex when the third child was conceived.
The charity is the first in the region to run an Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy Service to provide specialist support to victims of sexual crime as they go through the Criminal Justice System. They have written to the Prime Minister Theresa May, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities and all main political party leaders expressing their concern about this legislation.
Victim Support NI Chief Executive Geraldine Hanna said: “This monstrous legislation serves only to re-traumatise victims of sexual violence putting them in the unconscionable position where they have to choose between financial hardship or disclosing that their child is a victim of sexual crime. For the government to put anyone, let alone a victim of rape, in this position is abhorrent and callous.
“Under the new rule, any disclosure of rape by a woman to Benefits Office staff will be reported to police, which could place the victim at an even greater risk.
“This legislation displays absolute ignorance about the pain and anguish experienced by victims of sexual abuse as victims of sexual crime have to go through an already traumatic process of being believed by the police, by a jury, by friends and family. The introduction of this heinous clause simply adds to that list further exacerbating their suffering.
“The fact that if a woman discloses rape to an agency in order to obtain benefits the agency will be obliged to inform the police which could further place the victim at risk.
“We also have serious concerns about the training and capacity of Social Security Agency staff in dealing with victims of sexual violence. What procedures will be in place to safeguard sensitive information or share information in instances where victims are at risk? Will police statements/court records be available to Social Security Staff? What level of information will be shared with co-workers or other agencies particularly in small, rural communities? Support organisations need to be made aware of these factors so to prepare victims for what they will have to endure during this assessment process. There may also be issues of secondary trauma for staff in Benefits Offices and government must be equipped to deal with these issues.
“Rape is so stigmatised with shame and victim- blaming being commonplace. Forcing victims to disclose this traumatic crime to get an allowance for their child is likely to add to their sense of isolation, PTSD and could negatively impact upon their mental health.
“We have written to the Prime Minister outlining our alarm at the introduction of this ill-thought-out rule and have underlined how Northern Ireland is different to other areas of the UK with historical underreporting of crime in certain areas as a result of the Troubles. We have also written to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities and all political party leaders expressing our concern about this terrible piece of legislation. We will continue to fight for the voice of all victims in our society to be heard and helped.”
In addition, VS NI’s Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) Claire Galluagher and Roisin McCallion, have been shortlisted for the ‘Exceptional ISVA Team Award’ at this year’s Limelight Awards in Manchester. Since their ISVA Service launched last September, the team has provided much needed support to victims of sexual violence across Northern Ireland (a vast geographical area) and both really go above and beyond the call of duty to help their clients. We all have our fingers crossed for the awards!