I’m starting this blog with trepidation, but after a conversation this week I’m compelled to write.
I have to set out my stall first. I’m a man. I have never been sexually assaulted. I admire every one of those women who have come forward to report recent and historical assaults and harassment. It has lifted a rock and shown something deeply disturbing in our culture that has been hidden and excused by a powerful warped masculinity. #metoo has been a moment of empowerment for many women who had not previously had confidence that they would be believed and not ridiculed. It has been a moment of profound discomfort for men reassessing their own past actions, and past silence (and yes, #ididthat).
So earlier this week I was in a conversation with some good people, quite matter of factly discussing women here in the West Midlands who had been raped and were in a context where there was a real likelihood of it happening again. ‘Matter of factly’ because we all know it is an ongoing living reality for destitute asylum-seeking women. Women with no home and no income. Women who are routinely disbelieved. Women afraid of the police because they are afraid that if they put their heads above the parapet they will be removed to somewhere worse. Women for whom the official policy response is a hostile environment; where the government actually spends money to take bright, capable women and make them vulnerable. Women who have not been embraced and empowered by #metoo. Women who in the eyes of politicians, media and much of society are not who we mean when we talk of women’s rights. Women who are not really women, not really people, at all
Destitution is corrosive. It damages everyone who comes into contact with it. For women doubly so. It’s obvious. In better words than mine:
“As a woman, destitution means exploitation and opens doors to series of abuses that we often feel ashamed to talk about… The reality is that without Hope Projects, I would have been one of many women forced into prostitution or modern slavery. After all, what choices do we have?”.
It’s not just that destitution, in some unanticipated way correlates with abuse. It fosters abuse. It creates a situation where abuse is inevitable and predictable. It’s not too much to say it is a policy for which abuse is a desired outcome; is an acceptable part of the hostile environment designed to force people to return ‘home’, whatever awaits them. It is cruel, and it is wrong and, like any other abuse of women, those who see it and remain silent are complicit.
Note. Anyone who has been sexually assaulted but is currently not wishing to contact the police can connect the excellent Horizon SARC team who aim to provide information about the options available and will support you in the decisions that you make.
Horizon SARC is a dedicated service available to everyone; women, men, children and adolescents and covers the area of the West Midlands including Birmingham, Solihull, Sandwell, Dudley, Coventry, Walsall, Wolverhampton and their surrounding areas.