Content warning: sexual assault
On 6th April, new government legislation will come into effect that promises to finally solve the country’s financial problems. By targeting the biggest drain on our society – sexually assaulted mothers – the government hopes to reduce public spending, at the small cost of women’s wellbeing.
In less than a month, the so-called ‘rape clause’ will see mothers who were raped and conceived their third child as a result having to prove their rape before being granted tax credits. Those who cannot claim that their child was born of rape will be denied financial assistance.
While the world was distracted by the hysteria of the Trump inauguration, the government chose to sneak through this crucial piece of legislation without so much as a parliamentary vote. As all eyes were trained on Donald Trump’s infringements of human rights, our own government was proving that their own grasp of human compassion fares hardly any better.
The move proves that yet again, under the Tory government and the guise of austerity, it is women who are bearing the brunt of current cutbacks. It appears the irony of exploiting women who have already been violated is lost on the government, who have claimed they will treat the issue in ‘The most effective, compassionate way’.
Let’s be clear, there is no compassionate way to penalise a woman for being raped. The move fits into the toxic larger narrative of victim blaming and promotes further suspicion around reports of assault. Many survivors will undoubtedly be dissuaded from applying for the exemption due to the archaic guidelines which dictate that a woman must ‘prove’ her rape.
How exactly a woman can prove she was raped remains to be seen, given that just 5.7% of rape trials end in conviction and 85% choose not to report their rape at all. Once again, the government prove that cutbacks are more important to them than women’s wellbeing.
We are used to claims of benefit fraud being routinely overblown and trotted out by the Tory government as a way to reduce the deficit, but this new measure is really scraping the barrel. It is completely ridiculous that as while move towards lower corporation tax, we ask sexually assaulted and underprivileged women to prove their position in order to get the financial assistance they need.
Furthermore, withholding benefits from women who cannot prove their rape not only affects the mother, but endangers the child in question. When the government turns its back on these women, it also willfully neglects the needs of a child, who regardless of their parent’s situation, deserves at least a basic level of care.
It is important to remember the position of children in all of this and the reason for benefits in the first place. To deny benefits to mothers is to deny children food, shelter and safety.
Our only hope is that such a blatant attack on vulnerable women will reveal the callousness of the austerity system at large and signal the arbitrariness to these cut backs.
The rape clause is undemocratic, undignified and should be repealed immediately.