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Local agency condemns Tories’ ‘rape clause’

Linda Gray of Shetland Rape Crisis.

GROUPS working with sexual assault victims and local MP Alistair Carmichael have called for a reversal of the UK Government’s so-called “rape clause” – which compels women to disclose that they have had a child as a result of rape or face missing out on child tax credits.

The latest changes to the welfare system mean child tax credits will only be routinely available for the first two children born in a family. 

To receive the payments for subsequent children conceived as a result of rape, women would be forced to sign a declaration stating: “I believe the non-consensual conception exception applies to my child.”

Shetland Rape Crisis and Northern Isles MP Carmichael have added their names to those of Rape Crisis Scotland, Scotland’s children’s commissioner Tom Baillie and other charities in condemning the policy.

Backed by the Scottish Government, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid have both said they would refuse to collude with the policy, which came into force on Thursday.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael: policy is "indefensible" and unworkable.

Linda Gray of Shetland Rape Crisis said the organisation “will not support the ‘rape clause’ policy due to the significant psychological harm to women forced to disclose details of their history for administrative reasons”.

The two-child family cap for child tax credits was first announced by then chancellor George Osborne in his 2015 budget. It resulted in a chorus of criticism from women’s organisations who said it amounted to state intervention in women’s reproductive decisions.

Carmichael said that “even if it wasn’t utterly objectionable in its confection, which it is, the implementation of this is going to be next to impossible”, and he very much doubts it will even save the government much money.

“It’s also one of those situations where it contradicts what government does in other areas,” he told Shetland News. “At the moment, in the police, the prosecution service, all across the UK, we are trying to make women feel that reporting rape is something which is less intimidating, and which is done on the woman’s own terms.

“Here you have something which is going to take the control away from women who are being raped, and link it to benefit payments. It’s an approach that I think is just indefensible.”

The “rape clause” relies on a third-party reporting system which would put women’s aid and rape crisis groups in a position where they must certify to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that a child was born of rape or coercion in order to receive appropriate benefits.

The charities state that it would “fundamentally change the relationship between vulnerable women and those working to support them”, a risk they are not prepared to take.

Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland said: “It should go without saying that government policy should actively protect women who have experienced violence or abuse, rather than risk re-traumatising victims of rape and coercion by forcing them to disclose in order to receive benefits.

“We have severe concerns both about the direct impact of this policy on rape survivors, and the risk of a fundamentally changed relationship between women and those who work to support them should local centres participate.

“This policy has been dreamt up and developed based on a complete lack of understanding or empathy for rape, domestic abuse and coercion. Consequentially it is absolutely unworkable.

“A choice between potential poverty or being forced to disclose rape is no choice at all, and this is why the rape crisis movement in Scotland is unable to support this policy.”

Last week a Scottish Tory spokesman said the party believed women who have a child as a result of rape “should be granted an exemption from these benefit restrictions” and claimed: “That’s exactly what this measure does in the most sensitive way possible.”

Karen Eunson of the local Citizens Advice Bureau said: “CAB believes that advice on this subject is best given in person and anyone affected should contact the CAB where they will get free confidential advice.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021