Home Office blames girls for their sexual exploitation in new guidelines.
We've been reading the new Home Office guidance Injunctions to Prevent Gang-Related Violence and Gang-Related Drug Dealing. Some of it comes under the 'stating the obvious' rubric, particularly in relation to ensure that injunctions do not put people at further risk and protecting anonymity of witnesses and even those being served with the injunction when applicable. At least, we'd like to assume these constitute stating the obvious but they aren't as evidenced by a conference a member of our team attended on domestic violence where a police officer gave the names and all other identifying information of women living with domestic violence. His theory was that everyone in the room knew about domestic violence so breaking data protection wasn't a big deal. This isn't a uncommon situation.
We are pleased that the Home Office guidance references the particular vulnerability of all teenagers and suggests steps to engage in early prevention work. Far too often we see the criminal justice system used when early intervention in education and social work would have prevented a vulnerable person from being criminalised.
The guidelines also acknowledge the particular vulnerabilities of women and girls, however this section worries us:
Applicants may be likely to apply for an injunction against a female respondent for ‘encouraging’ or ‘assisting’ gang-related violence or gang-related drug dealing, rather than for ‘engaging’ in such violence directly. Female respondents may not, therefore, immediately recognise that they are doing anything wrong because they themselves may not be committing acts of gang-related violence or gang-related drug dealing. They may also be being coerced by a partner, friend, or relative to engage or assist in such violence. Before these women and girls are faced with an injunction, it is important that efforts are made to educate them about the harm that their involvement in gangs is causing, including risk to themselves via such association, and to raise awareness of or refer them to appropriate support services in their local area.
What are the ''appropriate services"? Will the girls be referred to their local rape crisis or other specialist organisation who are trained to work with girls who have experienced sexual violence due to their association with gangs? Or, will they simply be referred to the local child protection team who are not required to have specialist training and, as we've seen time and time again, involve social workers who believe rape myths and engage in victim blaming?
"Appropriate services" for girls experiencing sexual exploitation MUST involve a gendered analysis. This also holds true for girls and women associated with gangs who are living with domestic violence. Failure to recognise the gendered nature of gang culture puts women and girls who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence and abuse at risk of criminalisation simply for being a victim. It will not prevent sexual exploitation or support women and girls who have experienced sexual exploitation.
We're also concerned about this paragraph:
There may be cases where the respondent is using, or has in the past used, the internet to encourage or assist gang-related violence or gang-related drug dealing. This may include posting videos that promote their gang or threaten rival gangs on video-sharing websites, or uploading details of gang ‘meet-ups’ on social networking websites. In such cases, it may be appropriate for the injunction to impose a prohibition restricting the use of the internet for gang-related purposes such as, for example, the uploading of gang-related videos or social networking. If such a condition is to be included in the injunction, the applicant will need to be able to satisfy the court that the prohibition is proportionate and can be effectively monitored.
There is no analysis here of how exactly a respondent (which includes girls who are experiencing sexual exploitation) may be coerced into using social media or how the injunction may lead to further social isolation. The suggestion that a girl or woman being sexually exploited by a gang by banned from social media because of the actions of gang members IS blaming the victim for a criminal act. It is holding victims accountable for the behaviour of a perpetrator and it completely erases perpetrator responsibility.
We support limiting social media for perpetrators but it cannot be used to sanction victims. Supporting young people on how to use social media in a manner which does not put them at risk is entirely different to banning them from using it. In fact, we would suggest that banning people at risk from using social media puts them at risk when the ban is lifted. We need young people to learn how to utilise privacy settings, how to block people and how to report abusive behaviour online. Banning victims won't give young people the skills to negotiate an online culture.