Two-Child Tax Credit Rape Clause will ‘devastate victims of domestic and sexual violence’

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Image: Jan Melia, above, the chief executive of Women’s Aid Federation NI

Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland in a statement today said they were deeply concerned about the two-child tax credit limit, which comes into effect across the UK this week, including in Northern Ireland.

The organisation has urged the Government to rethink its plans to introduce this “cruel law”.

The law, which limits child tax credits to two children per family unless the mother can prove she conceived the 3rd child through rape, “shows a breath-taking lack of understanding of sexual violence and callous disregard for the wellbeing of victims”, it said.

Jan Melia, the chief executive of Women’s Aid Federation NI, said: “This policy is tone deaf to the reality of sexual violence. Many victims take years before they are ready to open up and talk about sexual violence that they’ve suffered. Forcing them to do so before they’re ready, in order to access welfare, is profoundly cruel. Forced disclosure can exacerbate PTSD and mental health issues related to sexual assault, and will heighten the sense of shame and isolation felt by victims.

“We already live in a culture where women are not believed when they report sexual assault. This policy will only magnify the worry that rape victims have about being told that they are lying about what’s happened to them.”

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“The ‘rape clause’ also fails to understand that much sexual violence occurs within domestic violence relationships. Many women in abusive relationships experience rape as a daily part of their lives. Rape in this context is often more difficult to prove and more difficult to disclose.

“Other forms of domestic abuse, such as restricting a woman’s access to contraception, and decisions to acquiesce to sex in order to protect oneself from physical violence, further complicate this issue. For many women, the choice of whether or not to have children is out of their hands.

“This law puts women in an unconscionable position of choosing between poverty and stigmatising their child as a ‘rape child’. Women who rely on child tax credits to put food in their children’s mouths will be faced with a Sophie’s Choice of either re-living their trauma and stigmatising their child, or being further impoverished. No mother should be placed in this position. In Northern Ireland, which has a relatively small population, it may be especially difficult to protect women and children from being identified as rape victims and children of rape.”

“Unlike the rest of the UK, all disclosure of serious crimes must be reported to police. This aspect of our legal system remains in place since the Troubles. Therefore any woman who applied for this exemption should expect to have the case reported to the police. Many women do not want to engage with the criminal justice system, or report someone that they are in a relationship with to police. They should not be forced to do so to access welfare.

“In Northern Ireland, this law will have particularly devastating impact on women, as abortion is not available legally except under extremely limited circumstances. This policy will therefore doubly penalise poor women, who can neither afford to travel abroad to access abortion nor afford to lose their child tax credits. They may be forced into a choice between having a child and being forced further into poverty, or procuring medical abortion pills and risking up to life imprisonment. This amounts to criminalisation of poverty.”

“Women’s Aid refuses to collude with this policy. For these reasons, Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland has taken the decision not to collude with this inhumane policy. Along with our sister organisations in Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland, we will not become third party assessors to help the government administer this policy. We have taken this difficult decision because we are ultimately unable to prop up a policy that will do so much damage to women, to children and to victims of rape. The policy goes against our ethos and everything we know about how victims of rape should be supported. We will continue to campaign to have this policy scrapped and to fight for the rights and dignity of women affected by domestic and sexual violence and their children.”

• A 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline is available at 0808 802 1414

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