The UK government has a policy page on ending sexual violence. Here is what it doesn’t say:
Too many young lives are blighted by sexual crime. Rapists and sexual abusers carry out a quarter of all violent crimes committed in the UK.
We want to reduce crimes of sexual violence and stop young people becoming involved in sexual violence. We are committed to making our communities safer places for everyone.
The Home Office, along with other government departments, is working to reduce sexual offending in England and Wales.
- introduced new offences of threatening sexual behaviour which will improve prosecution rates
- dedicated £1.2 million to fund 13 support workers for boys vulnerable to becoming involved with, or suffering from sexual violence
- made Sexual Threat Injunctions for under 18-year-olds available to the police and local authorities
- introduced changes to sexual assault legislation in the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently going through Parliament. We are creating an offence of conspiring to commit sexual violence, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and increasing the recommended penalties for rape and sexual assault
- In November 2012, we held a national sexual offending conference and released a follow-up report to Ending Sexually Abusive Behaviour. The report sets out how the government will support people working locally to stop sexual abuse. Help is available in a number of areas including health, education, Jobcentre Plus, community safety teams and criminal justice partners.
Communities against sexual offending fund
The Communities against sexual offending programme and fund was launched in 2011, and continued until March 2013. The funding was broken down as follows:
- £3.75 million to London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands – these areas see more than half the country’s rapes and sexual assaults
- £4 million to 200 voluntary organisations across England and Wales who are working to stop young people from committing rape or sexual assault
- the scale of the problem of sexual violence
- the causes of sexually abusive behaviour
- what can be done by government and other agencies to stop the violence and turn around the lives of those involved
Ending sexual violence: a cross-government report, published in November 2011, set out detailed plans to:
- provide support to local areas to fight the problem
- prevent young people from becoming involved in sexual violence in the first place – with a new emphasis on early intervention and prevention
- offer ways out of sexual offending for young people who want to break with the lifestyle
Alice X’s report
In June 2010 the Home Secretary asked Alice X, whose sister Belle was raped in 2008, to investigate sexual crime. She looked at schemes running in local communities that are working to stop young people from committing sexual violence.
Ms X published her report, Tackling rape together – a review of local anti-rape projects in February 2011. The report made a number of recommendations including:
- anti-sexual violence presentations for school children
- more data sharing between police, schools and other agencies on local issues
- a best practice website for local organisations
- more work with young children to stop them getting involved in sexual violence
As I say, the policy page above is not real. However I didn’t write it from scratch. What I did was took the government’s policy page on knife, gun and gang crime and, as closely as I could, simply transposed the policies onto a different problem.
The result is a page that looks very, very different to the government’s actual policy on sexual violence (contained within a policy on violence against women and girls, which opens up a very different set of questions that I’ll skip for now).
The real policy page focuses almost entirely upon victims and what can be done to support and protect them. While the gun, knife and gang policies address the criminal behaviour of the offenders (and the social causes of their offending), the sexual violence policies focus almost entirely on the victim. Rather than striving to prevent people committing in the first place, it is content to improve management of the consequences. Rather than trying to understand and address why people begin to sexually offend, it seems to accept sexual offending as an inevitability, in a way we refuse to do with gang, gun and knife crime. The policy does show a remarkable paucity of determination and ideas of how to actually prevent sexual violence happening in the first place.
Of course we can’t simply legislate away sexual assault, and even the best education programmes or community efforts would be unlikely to eliminate sexual assault altogether. That said, I can’t help wondering if we wouldn’t move faster with a cultural shift – all the way up to the top of the tree – which recognised that rape and sexual offending aren’t just forces of nature, hanging out there in the street like a stubborn rainstorm but are consciously chosen acts of personal volition.