Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Current News

Rape prosecutions are already woefully low, let's not make it even harder for women to come forward

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Earlier this week, news emerged that rape victims will have to hand their phones over to the police - or else risk prosecutions not going ahead. Harriet Harman explains why these controversial consent forms must be stopped now.

There’s a long-standing problem in ensuring men don’t get away with rape. It’s a very difficult thing to stand in a witness box and face what the defence will throw at you as a victim in court. What the defence try and do is to turn the tables to make you feel like you’re on trial rather than the rapist. For years, in fact for decades, it has always been the case that it’s difficult to encourage women to report rape - let alone to be prepared to take it all the way to court.

That’s the background. There is a very low percentage of rape reporting and an even lower percentage of women feeling able to support the case in court. There is also a long-standing rule that it’s up to the prosecution to prove their case – somebody is innocent until proven guilty and this is what happens across all cases. The prosecution shouldn’t sit on evidence which would actually help the defence show that a crime hadn’t been committed. The disclosure rule used to involve the odd letter or statement from a witness about something they saw. Now, people leave their whole lives on the line – their relationships with family and friends, their work, all their pictures, all their hopes and fears; it’s all written down online. There have been a couple of cases where the defence have, late in the day, come across text messages which have shown that the man wasn’t guilty. It’s this that’s led to an overreaction from the prosecution and the police, who are now saying that unless you hand over every one of your devices with passwords and allow them to go back five years and look over every single picture, text and whatsapp message, then they won’t go ahead with the prosecution.

"We already have a big problem with rape prosecutions and this could potentially make it even worse"

This is something that makes it much harder to support a prosecution because it involves not only an invasion of the victim’s privacy and every aspect of her private life being scrutinised, but also those of her friends and family because of what they’ve said to her over message or through pictures that they’ve shared. All this will now be in the hands of the police and will be vulnerable to being used in court.

The way to solve this problem is to enable the woman, if she feels that the police are going too widely and on a fishing expedition for information, to be able to challenge it and have the decision to mine her phone scrutinised by an independent person to ensure that it’s not an unwarranted invasion of privacy. A woman contacted me on the morning that this was discussed in the House of Commons to say that she’d been seriously sexual assaulted by someone who was a complete stranger, so there was no question of a relationship that they needed to discover between him and her. They were just asking for information, so they could find anything that might discredit her. She felt that she was being put on trial.

"It goes back to the idea that a woman who has had sex is immoral and a fallen woman"

The defence think that the way to get off a rape or sexual assault charge is to prejudice the jury by saying that she’s the sort of woman who had sex with a lot of people and therefore she wouldn’t have said no to him. Or that she’s the sort of person who, because she’s had sex with lots of different people, has no integrity. It’s about blackening the woman’s character and a way of getting him off. Shamefully, that still goes on in our courts today. Just because a woman has had sex with A and B, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t raped by Mr C. It goes back to the idea that a woman who has had sex is immoral and a fallen woman, therefore not someone whose word should be trusted against a man who’s standing in the dock. We don’t subscribe to that attitude that a woman can’t be believed because she’s morally doubtful on the basis that she’s had sex.

This is a very serious problem. We already have a big problem with rape prosecutions and this could potentially make it even worse, but we have a solution that would protect the victim without subjecting the defendant to the possibility of wrongful conviction. It’s important to remember that rape is often a repeat offence. If a man gets away with doing it to one woman, he’s likely to do it again. We need to get this form withdrawn and a process in place so that a woman can challenge it. We can’t let this be yet another obstacle in securing justice for rape victims.

Why we mustn't demand rape victims hand over their phones - Harpers Bazaar

Rape prosecutions are already woefully low, let's not make it even harder for women to come forward GETTY Earlier this week, news emerged that rape victims will have to hand their...

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Monthly report - March / April 2019

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Important news that Peckham Rye station to get a lift. Locally many have campaigned for years for safety & accessibility for wheelchairs, buggies, elderly, & people with restricted mobility. We need the work done soon.

Peckham Rye Station: improving accessibility

  Important news that Peckham Rye station to get a lift. Locally many have campaigned for years for safety & accessibility for wheelchairs, buggies, elderly, & people with restricted mobility....

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This week we mark World Autism Awareness Week. It is thanks to vital campaigns like this led by the National Autistic Society and Cheryl Gillan MP as Chair of the APPG on Autism, that there is now a growing understanding of what the NAS describes as a lifelong developmental condition.

It is only recently there has been recognition that people on the autistic spectrum have difficulties with communication and social interaction. While we’ve come a long way with public awareness, there’s much to do to ensure that the support that there is there for people with autism and their families fully meets their needs.

We estimate 1,377 people in Camberwell and Peckham are autistic. Taking account of their families, this means autism is part of 5,508 people’s daily life.

The government cutting Southwark Council’s budget by almost half since 2010 means that they’ve had to cut the services they provide.

Parents I met at Cherry Garden and Tuke Special Schools in Peckham this month told me how they struggle as the cuts hit them. 

It takes longer for their children to get the diagnosis they need. Which means a delay in getting the necessary support - without which they and their family suffer.  One mother told me that the hours of help she gets for her 12 year old child had been cut from 24 to 16. Another mother told me she couldn’t apply for a primary school until her son’s care plan was in place, but this had been delayed so she feared he would miss out on a school place altogether or start the year without the right support. And Tuke School can no longer afford to run their invaluable after-school and summer holiday clubs that parents used to rely on.

I’m full of admiration of how these parents stoically battle for their child with autism and their other children, often struggling through complex systems without support.

Parents have got to be fully included in the key decisions about where their child goes to school and the care and support they get.

For some families care at home proves impossible. As chair of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee I’m leading an inquiry into the Assessment and Treatment Units where some autistic young people are detained. We’ve heard from parents whose children have been sent to units which far from helping them have made them worse. We’ve heard when parents raise concerns they are treated as a nuisance by services. But parents are the people with lifelong commitment to that child so we need to make sure that they can help shape the services that support their family.  We’re also shortly hearing from MPs who’ve spoken passionately of their own experience, including Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP and Jonathan Reynolds MP, who have autistic sons.

There is invaluable expertise in our schools, health and council services but we must never forget that parents are the experts and services must be properly funded.

 

 

Mark World Autism Awareness Week by properly funding support for autistic people and their families #WAAW

This week we mark World Autism Awareness Week. It is thanks to vital campaigns like this led by the National Autistic Society and Cheryl Gillan MP as Chair of the...

Thanks to the 1000+ Camberwell & Peckham people who contacted me ahead of the . 3 years on yet more uncertainty for people, businesses, NHS and security. Bleak. My votes last night, including for Customs Union, & :

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Brexit Indicative Votes

Thanks to the 1000+ Camberwell & Peckham people who contacted me ahead of the #IndicativeVotes. 3 years on yet more uncertainty for people, businesses, NHS and security. Bleak. My votes last...

Over the last 2 weeks there have been lots of important votes. I have voted:

-AGAINST the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, which was defeated by 149 votes.

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-FOR the cross-party amendment to reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances. The Government voted against but we won by 4 votes.

-FOR the Official Labour Opposition amendment to extend article 50 and seek a new Brexit approach. This was lost by 16 votes.

-FOR the Hilary Benn amendment to allow MPs a series of votes on all the different options. The Government voted against this and it was defeated by 4 votes.

Read more here.

 

Key Brexit Votes

Over the last 2 weeks there have been lots of important votes. I have voted: -AGAINST the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, which was defeated by 149 votes. -FOR the cross-party...

GC_Report_Feb_Mar_2019.pub_v7.pub-page-001.jpg

Monthly report - February/March 2019

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Following a stabbing involving 2 young people in February I visited Grosvenor Tenants and Residents Association for a meeting with local T&RA Chair, Chris Lacey, Camberwell Green Ward Cllr Kieron Williams & ward police officers Charlotte and Shane to renew action on the community’s safety concerns.

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Grosvenor Estate Tenant & Resident Association Meeting

Following a stabbing involving 2 young people in February I visited Grosvenor Tenants and Residents Association for a meeting with local T&RA Chair, Chris Lacey, Camberwell Green Ward Cllr Kieron Williams...

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Too often I’ve sat with grieving mothers of knife crime victims in Camberwell and Peckham. They have said goodbye to their son in the morning before school or work and they’ve never returned. 

11 people have tragically lost their lives to knife crime in Southwark since April 2018. That’s one every month. For families and communities torn apart this is not just a newspaper headline, this is their lives and it’s every mother's worst nightmare.

One mother from East Dulwich told me she is too scared to let her 11 year old son walk to and from school on his own. Another mother living in Camberwell told me that during the last school summer holidays her 14 year old son stayed in their flat alone all day everyday while she went to work, because youth centre provision had been cut back and he didn’t feel safe out alone on their estate –their home.

The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated. Since 2012 there has been a 93% rise in the number of young people stabbed. Last year 285 people in the UK lost their lives to knife crime, the highest level since records began.

All of us watching the news are outraged and mystified that after 5 people were murdered in just one week in London last week the Government has refused the Met Police’s request for extra money to tackle knife crime. The Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, says the Prime Minister can no longer deny that cuts to police numbers have had no effect on rising crime. Under the Tories the Met has lost £1 billion and they are at full stretch. Southwark alone has lost 200 police officers and Police Community Support Officers since 2010.  

That’s why on 10th March every London Labour MP - including shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott; Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, and Rosena Allin-Khan the MP for Tooting who is playing a leading role on tackling knife crime in parliament and I – wrote to the Chancellor to redouble our demands that the Government give the police the resources they need to fight the rise in violent crime.

Police numbers are one important part of the picture, but the causes of this worrying rise in violence are complex and have been developing over a number of years. Cuts have hit every service, from child and adolescent mental health, to A & Es, GPs, schools and youth centres, and hampered the ability of agencies to step in when they suspect a youngster is getting involved in crime before a problem develops into a crisis.

No one single department or service can deal with this crisis.

Back in the early 2000s when there was a rise in violent street crime and robberies when Labour were in government we brought together an emergency cross-government COBRA committee and established a target for bringing this crime under control. It was run from Downing Street at the centre of government, with the Prime Minister regularly personally involved, and it worked. Within 6 months there was a 10% reduction in street robberies.

It is time for Theresa May to step up and give this crisis focus and leadership. Labour are calling for an emergency committee, backed up with the money it needs, to come out with a clear vision from all parts of government and to lay down clear actions for the police, prevention programmes, youth centres, schools, councils and mental health services.

South London is a great place to live.  But too many people are dying violent deaths.  We need leadership and more resources from government, and an end to the cuts. We can not let any more mothers go through the agony of waving their children off to school and work, not knowing whether they will return home.

 

Article published in South London Press, 14th March 2019

It’s time for the Prime Minister to take the lead on knife crime and set up a cross-government emergency response

Too often I’ve sat with grieving mothers of knife crime victims in Camberwell and Peckham. They have said goodbye to their son in the morning before school or work and...

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Thanks to Executive Principal Chris Everitt and Principal Peter Groves for giving Cllr Jasmine Ali, Cabinet Member for Schools, local Cllr Jon Hartley & I a tour of the school. Good to see the Year 8 biology class learning about child birth and C-sections! I reiterated my offer to students to do work experience in my office.

 

Harris Boys’ Academy - East Dulwich

Thanks to Executive Principal Chris Everitt and Principal Peter Groves for giving Cllr Jasmine Ali, Cabinet Member for Schools, local Cllr Jon Hartley & I a tour of the school....

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