Making rape an electoral issue

Jill Saward

You might imagine that anyone suffering the trauma of a sexual attack would seek to remain unknown and heal their wounds, rather than reveal themselves, go on the offensive and campaign for change.

But that is exactly what Jill Saward did when, in 1986 aged just 21, she was raped at her home after her father, a priest, and her boyfriend were beaten nearly to death during what the press called the Ealing Vicarage Rape.

Forfeiting her right to anonymity Saward became the first victim of a sex attack to ‘go public’ when she wrote her story in 1990, and has since supported victims of sexual violence and campaigned for changes to the way the law treats rape victims.

In July, she stood against David Davis in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election in East Yorkshire, flying in the face of the MP’s fears of a ‘big brother’ state by calling for a compulsory national DNA database of all British citizens.

Saward is a resilient woman. The judge at the trial of her three attackers, Justice Leonard, gave harsher sentences to the man who organised the burglary than the two rapists, and said her suffering was “not so very great,” evidently on the performance of the strong-willed young woman giving evidence to the court.

Her Christian faith saw her through hard times including thoughts of suicide, but with characteristic kindness, she didn’t throw herself in front of train for fear of traumatising the driver. And ten years later, she met and forgave Robert Horscroft, the burglar that led the raid but didn’t rape her, when he was released from prison.

Speaking to The Big Issue, Saward, now 43, married with three children, recalled that forfeiting her anonymity was not so big a step to take: “I had little anonymity from the word go. Apart from the name ‘Jill’ – I have an identical twin – everything else they already knew,” she said.

“The policewoman supporting me said I should write a book, and she said it so often in the end I did. In some ways it was cathartic, but in other ways it meant I had to live through things all over again. But that other people were helped by it, I’m glad.”

Her work since then has included direct support to victims, training police officers and media work but it was, she said, the silence from David Davis on the subject of rape during his four years as shadow Home Secretary that made her want to stand.

With a tiny budget and few supporters to help Saward found the campaign trail lonely, with some voters accusing her of being a “Labour stooge.” But she found it worthwhile, with many commentators in the press adding their voices to hers, and voters openly supportive of her highlighting the issue as she did – whether or not they voted for her.

Saward said: “David Davis made no attempt to take me on, didn’t try and address the issues I was talking about. He blanked me. Since the election I’ve written to ask why the Tories couldn’t support the Rape Crisis Centre in Hull, which received no money from the Tory council whatsoever. They just haven’t addressed the issue. I wrote to David Cameron. No response.”

It is such inactivity from politicians that spurs Saward on, but her principle policy of expanding the police national DNA database into a compulsory record of every British citizens’ DNA has far-reaching consequences and few facts to support it.

In a report on the retention policy used by police in England, whose powers to take samples without consent and store them indefinitely are wider than in any other country, a Nuffield Council on Bioethics report stated: “There is very limited evidence indeed that the retention regime of England and Wales is effective in significantly improving detection rates.”

It found the stricter regulations in Scotland, where records are deleted if charges are dropped or the accused is acquitted, have not led to fewer matches between profiles on the database and DNA found at crime scenes – in fact higher in Scotland at 68 per cent than England and Wales with 52 per cent.

Furthermore, a DNA profile of everyone in the country would still not guarantee raising rape conviction rates, for the same reason that rape has historically been a difficult crime to prosecute: it is generally consent, rather than the identity of the attacker, that is the issue – violent stranger rapes as in Saward’s case represent only around 10 per cent of the 11,648 reported rapes last year, with the majority of attackers known to the victim.

Saward recognises this but says: “Even so, that’s 10 per cent of cases – potentially thousands of women – where it could help find an attacker,” she said. “And it’s not just rape, it’s murder and other crimes as well.”

It is a statistical truth that a small minority of the population commit the vast majority of crime. By including everybody on the database, law-abiding or not, the possibility of false matches and miscarriages of justice increases dramatically.

But Saward dismisses this, and other civil liberty objections, saying: “We have miscarriages of justice already. Why would you want to get rid of technologies that could help?”

She suggests other technologies targeted by Davis such as CCTV could be better used in rape investigations, especially where alcohol is involved or there are concerns drinks have been spiked.

“If a girl says, I had two glasses of wine and two glasses doesn’t usually affect me like this, then police have more to go on, not least if it can be seen on CCTV that the drinks have been spiked,” Saward adds.

“I think there’s a lot of spiking going on in pubs and clubs, but police don’t take blood tests from the girls to see if what’s in their bloodstream corresponds to what they’ve thought they’d drunk.”

Despite much recent public hand-wringing, government support for the victims of sexual abuse is sparse. There are only 38 centres of the locally-run Rape Crisis network in England, and only 20 of the new government-run Sexual Assault Referral Centres, each set up on a shoe-string budget. Funding comes from many different sources, each with different, usually onerous statistical or reporting requirements that pull staff away from the work of supporting victims.

“The picture is dismal and getting worse,” Saward said. “There are groups closing – eight Rape Crisis centres in the last five years – and funding is geared towards domestic violence rather than sexual violence.”

In truth, there are no easy answers. The nature of the crime makes the requirements of the police investigation difficult for the victim, with up to a quarter dropping out early on. But with more female officers and specialist training this is improving.

Saward says: “I think we have to look more to educating juries, and their attitudes towards sexual violence. Cases judged by judges alone might be better – but only if they understand the complexities and consequences of rape.”

She points out that jurors generally don’t realise that, for the case to have come to trial at all, the CPS must already have been convinced of the possibility of a conviction on the strength of the evidence.

And she has a point. It is worth noting an Amnesty International survey from 2005 that showed 25 per cent of Britons believed that how a woman dressed or her number of previous sexual partners made her partially or even totally responsible for being raped, and nearly a third blamed the woman if she was drunk, because it is this British public that as jurors convict or acquit rapists.

 

[This article originally appeared in The Big Issue, August 2008]

 

Soulwax: still tearing up the musical landscape

Stephen & David Dewaele - Soulwax/2ManyDJs

Two brothers whose musical prowess fuels three different live shows return to Britain for a festival-fuelled summer as their two alter-egos, 2ManyDJs and Soulwax.

Stephen and David Dewaele hit the radar after being largely responsible for reinventing the remix when, as 2ManyDJs, they dismantled over 40 records and rebuilt them by mixing riffs and vocals from different tracks. Their triple-gold 2002 album As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt 2 neatly vaults across decades and genres, from Peaches to the Velvet Underground, from The Stooges to Salt ‘n’ Pepa, from Lil Louis’ house classic French Kiss to Belgian ravers the Lords of Acid.

These days such musical mashups appear every other week on bootlegged white labels, but the brothers spent two years embroiled in what must be the world’s most dedicated act of licence clearing. From 114 chosen recordings, 62 of the owners refused permission and 11 could not be traced. Even the cover artwork caused a legal wrangle after the owner complained of his photograph being mashed up along with the music on the record.

Speaking from his hometown of Ghent in Belgium, Stephen says: “I don’t think we could ever make a record like that again. It was pretty special, at a musical level and on a clearing level, it’s something no one had ever done before.

“Musically it was at the right time, a lot of dance music was still house music, very anal about itself in my opinion. We were just rock kids, going hey, this is fun, but we just don’t want to groove out for 12 minutes, we want to rock for one minute and then move on to something else.”

But even before their 2ManyDJs radio shows, albums and DJ sets, the brothers had been working hard at Soulwax, their bluesy sometimes almost psychedelic rock band whose sound has become gradually more infected with dirty electronic sounds and dancefloor beats, from their 1996 debut Leave the Story Untold, to 1999s breakthrough album Much Against Everyone’s Advice followed by Any Minute Now in 2005.

It’s a combination popular enough to have found favour with most indie rockers over the last decade, from Franz Ferdinand to Interpol.

How did a Belgium rock act end up spearheading an invasion of electronic dance rhythms into tight-trousered guitar music worldwide?

“Out of boredom, really,” he says. “When you’re in a band you play live but waste so much time before and after just hanging around. We’d support other bands and we’d be free so we’d ask the DJ, who most of the time would be playing house music, if we could play, and most of the time they’d be happy. We wanted to hear something different. We need the chaos.”

It is Soulwax’s standout remixes of the likes of Justice, Klaxons, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and The Gossip that has put them in such high demand.

Stephen says: “The electronic sound has always been in us, from the very first Soulwax record. We grew up on stoner rock, but even then we were interested in using electronics. We just never have imagined 2ManyDJs would have become so big, or that our remixes would become so big.”

In fact, their native Ghent hosts I Love Techno, a massive technofest every year in November for 35,000 ravers, and is the home to pioneering techno label R&S records, so their love of dark electronic noises and pulsing rhythms comes with a good pedigree.

“That Frank de Wulf [leading Euro techno DJ], he’s a friend of mine,” recalled Stephen. “I lent him all my Kraftwerk records when I was 15 when he had a radio show. I bumped into him the other day, and realised I keep forgetting my hometown is at the heart of techno.”

He adds: “For us, I really love DJing, playing music live, writing music and producing music for other people too. I’m very lucky that we’re able to do all these things with a fair amount of success,” he laughs, “because we never planned on it.”

And the chance to see the before and after effects of their treatment has not been missed – “We used to play the original Gossip track [Standing In The Way Of Control] before anyone else, we’d DJ and see everyone go nuts on it. We thought, this is a rock track with a dance feeling to it, but it just needs to get beefed up. We remixed it for no money and when you see the result it’s really gratifying.”

This month sees the release of Part of the Weekend Never Dies, a “film-slash-documentary” of the last three years touring around the world, part live show and part behind-the-scenes footage featuring some of the bands Soulwax gigged with: Erol Alkan, Tiga, Justice, Busy P, So-Me, Peaches, Kitsuné and Klaxons.

The full Radio Soulwax tour sees Stephen on guitar and vocals and David on keyboards play alongside Stefaan Van Leuven and Steve Slingeneyer as the Soulwax live band. They belt out not just own rock tracks but also their many successful remixes of other artists and the work they have done remixing themselves, Nite Versions.

Released in 2005, Nite Versions is a dancefloor-friendly re-imagining of their third album Any Minute Now with a hat-tip to the 12” mixes of the 1980s, which bands like Duran Duran called their “night versions.”

“It’s hard to remix your own music,” Stephen says, “it’s a bit of an exercise, but we managed it in two weeks after we just got our head round the fact that you can’t be too precious about it.”

How do you feel about other people taking the cutters’ knife to Soulwax records as you do to theirs?

“I’ve got no problem with people remixing our records, but nothing has made me stand up and go, wow. But, no problem, they can do whatever they want,” laughs Stephen.

“We’ve been bootlegged so much, there are whole record labels full of radio DJ sets that we’ve been doing. It’s so easy with modern technology, who am I to stop them?”

With talk in Britain of the government implementing a tax on internet users to cover illegal music downloads, it’s clear that the music industry is experiencing a seismic shift that Stephen acknowledges is pulling in different directions.

“I think the revenue for bands is shifting to live gigs, things are changing and we have to go with it not try and fight it. I mean, a lot of publishing contracts are not the best in the world, they’re based on old ideas and ideals. But I have no problem with people taking music, fucking it up and making something new—unless they get a number one with it!”

Soulwax play at Get Loaded in the Park on Clapham Common, Bank Holiday Sunday August 24. www.getloadedinthepark.com

 

[This article originally appeared in The Big Issue]

 

Editorial: Balfron, Trellick and Glenkerry

I made two visits to Erno Goldfinger’s brutalist architectural masterpieces. The first was for an article for The Big Issue examining the effects of modern high-rise architecture on the people that live in these often-hated tower blocks. The second, again for The Big Issue, looked at alternatives to leasehold/freehold, rent/buy, social/private dichotomies and their part in fuelling the repossessions crisis when the bubble burst in 2008. Glenkerry House, part of the Balfron Estate, has been run as a housing cooperative for decades.

 

[nggallery id=6]