For women, devolving justice and policing goes beyond politics – we need to fix a broken system
It is five years today since I first shared my story of being raped at the age of 14.
It’s also four years since the #MeToo movement exploded into the public consciousness in the wake of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Can I, hand on heart, claim that anything has really improved in that time?
Well, I think there has been a general improvement in attitudes towards this issue of rape and sexual assault against women and a readiness to discuss what was once taboo. Women in particular have had a gutful of living in fear and are talking about it more openly.
But while attitudes may have improved, it could be argued that outcomes have only gotten worse.
Even the UK Government has been forced to admit that budget cuts have been at least partly to blame for convictions falling to a record low in recent years.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis, said that the “vast majority of victims do not see the crime against them charged and reach a court”.
“These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed,” they wrote. “Victims of rape are being failed.”
However, this contrition feels hollow when rape conviction rates have been utterly abysmal for years and there is no real indication that anything serious is being done about it.
Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men over the age of 16 experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in Wales and England alone every year.
Only 5.7% of reported rape cases end in a conviction for the perpetrator.
And these reported rapes are of course themselves a fraction of the number of rapes that do happen, because most women (85% of the total) don’t tell the police in the first place.
Sue Fish, the ex-chief of Nottinghamshire Police, made clear that she herself would be in two minds about approaching the police if she was raped or sexually assaulted.
And with dinosaur-era attitudes such as those of former North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott, who resigned under pressure after saying raped and murdered Sarah Everard should not have “submitted” to arrest by her killer Wayne Couzens, a serving police officer, who can blame women for being unconvinced that perspectives have really changed?
There is much we can do ourselves in Wales.
Initiatives like Cardiff’s safe places is an excellent one in providing any women who feel intimidated with an accessible network of support.
We also need to reform our education system, not to advise women not to walk home alone at night but to teach men about consent and what is acceptable.
But we need more than this. We need more than an open discussion about subjects like these. We need more than hashtags and slogans. We need more than rape being considered a serious crime, but not in practice treated like one.
We need those in positions of power to act.
If they begin to act now, starting with a culture change in the police and proper funding of the justice system, we might see women’s confidence in the justice and policing system being to build in the next few decades.
However, I think it would be extremely naive of us to put our faith in those who have been in charge of these issues to act after decades of neglect.
We should go a step further in Wales and campaign for the wholesale devolution of justice and policing so that we can begin sorting out these problems for ourselves.
Justice is already devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Even Greater Manchester has powers over policing. There is no good reason to refuse this to Wales apart from political posturing.
If change won’t come from the centre – from Westminster and the London Met – we in Wales will have to take that power into our own hands.