Cameron weighs in on rape
by Jon Collins, Senior Policy Officer, Fawcett Society
Conservative leader David Cameron, in a speech to the Conservative Women's Organisation, announced last week a package of measures to tackle rape. The speech gained widespread media coverage not all of which was positive (see The Guardian), but what about the substance?
The proposals covered three main areas – education on consent in schools as part of sex education, three-year funding cycles for rape crisis centres, and a review of sentences for rape. Perhaps most importantly, and largely ignored by the press, Cameron also pledged “to make sure that when we come into government, we have an integrated strategy to tackle all violence against women”. The Conservatives should be congratulated for promising this, a key demand of the End Violence Against Women campaign.
However, while overall the proposals are welcome, inevitably there are some questions to be asked. Firstly, the speech makes no promises for more funding for rape crisis centres. While longer-term funding is necessary, a much higher level of investment is also needed to stabilise and then expand this sector (link). Secondly, education on consent alone is not enough. Change is also needed in broader societal attitudes towards women and towards violence against women, and schools must play a central role in achieving this.
Thirdly, while Cameron identified the shamefully low conviction rate as a central problem in the criminal justice process, he did little to suggest how it can be increased. The focus on sentencing, traditional Conservative ground, is therefore a distraction. While the sentence should of course be proportionate to the crime, it is hardly the most pressing issue when so few rapes lead to a conviction.
Despite these caveats, the speech was a major step forward for the Conservatives and should put pressure on the Government to match their commitments. But what we need to see now is not a game of political point-scoring between the parties. Instead, we need a serious debate on how best to prevent rape and how to address the rape conviction rate and the lack of services available to rape victims.