Innocent Until Proven Otherwise: Is Rape Culture enshrined in our criminal justice system?

By Sorcha Dervin

Trigger Warning: Rape

Disclaimer: This article refers to the male as ‘the accused/perpetrator’ of rape. This is based on the definition of rape provided in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, outlining that only men can commit a rape.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

There are profound reasons why the notion of “innocent until proven guilty” is well and truly cemented in our courts. It is the cornerstone of a valuable justice system, allowing the law to be fair and just, and critically punishing the guilty and not the innocent. It has unfolded to be a pretty nifty piece of legislation, especially given the context in 1948: two World Wars had been fought in under 30 years, with human rights violations beyond comprehension inflicted on the Jewish race in Europe, alongside detained prisoners of war in Asia.

However, in the reality of adult sexual assault and rape cases, does the notion of “innocent until proven guilty” restrict a victim’s access to justice? Consider this: approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour, but – and here’s the crucial part – only around 15 per cent of those who experience sexual violence choose to report it to the police. Is our criminal justice system failing victims? And if so, which bit exactly?

There are two approaches to consider when viewing the law in conjunction with the effects it has on peoples’ lives. There is the language of the legislation, and then there is the context, which actually addresses the question – are the police, the media, the courts, “the system”, propagating rape culture?

The Legal Stuff

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines rape by including the usual legal jargon such as “intention”, and the standard of reasonable belief, and that all important word – consent. The law is very clear: section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act explains, “Someone consents if she/he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.

So far so good. Although it you align this piece of legislation with the context of the criminal legal system, as opposed to a civil court, you will find that the burden of proof rests with the complainant to prove (beyond all reasonable doubt) that the defendant is guilty of an alleged rape. If we refer back to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, (and all that it does for fairness and integrity of justice), and balance this against the conviction rate of accused sexual offenders: “justice” seems like a forgotten notion.

Take March 2014, for instance – there were 64,200 reported cases of sexual offences in England and Wales [including, but not solely referring to, rape]. In 1,401 of those cases, the perpetrator was given a “caution”, and only 33, 277 cases made it to formal proceedings. Out of those 33,277 proceedings, a further reduction of only 19,864 cases ended in a conviction. So, out of a total of 64,200 reports, only 19,864 were prosecuted. What is the most likely conclusion – England and Wales have an epidemic of thousands and thousands of women crying “rape”, or…the system is failing them in their pursuit of justice?

The Context – the police, the papers, and the prosecution

I have simplified my analysis of the “system” into three main areas, though I do not assert to understand any in great detail, nor do I deny that there are many shortcomings when it comes to regaining justice for victims of sexual assaults and rape. Broadly speaking, as a society and a legal system, the police fail, the (news)papers fail, and the prosecution fails.

Rape Crisis (England & Wales) have collated data based on reported sexual offences and surveys from those who have experienced some kind of sexual assault. From this, it is shown that only around 15 per cent of those who experience sexual assault choose to report it to be police, and only 28 per cent of reported rapes are referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). If you were a victim of a sexual assault, would you report it to an institution which has a historical record of dismissing allegations, disbelieving complainants, and undermining the seriousness of sexual assault? I think not. But let’s say you were brave enough and determined enough to pursue your allegation, a disproportionate amount of allegations are still dismissed, a small amount of accused sexual offenders are cautioned, and if your case progresses to formal proceedings, there are further hurdles to climb…  

Have you ever heard of Brock Turner? Perhaps not, although you may recall his other titles: “Stanford University swimmer”, “20-year-old, All-American swimmer” or “Stanford student son…”. Although it is an American case, and the US legal system is vastly different to our own, The People v Turner and the media coverage surrounding it, epitomises the callous attitudes to reporting sexual assault cases. Brock Turner was found guilty of rape, and convicted of this offence, however, the media chose to present him in terms of a) his privileged education, b) his athletic abilities, and c) his family connections, rather than as the man who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman.

There are many debates surrounding The People v Turner concerning white privilege, institutionalised racism, and educational elitism, however, for the purpose of the article I am only going to focus on the media’s propagation of rape culture. Some media outlets act as the biggest drivers of victim-blaming, slut-shaming and rape-sympathising. Through cleverly designed headlines, and specific discourse, a newspaper or an article on Facebook can make you empathise with the rapist, rather than the victim.

Before you discount the power of the media, ask yourself whether a 20-year-old, unemployed and uneducated African American would have received a 6-month prison sentence (and only required to serve half of it) for a sexual assault which had eye witnesses. The media painted a version of Brock Turner, which pressured or allowed (depending on your perception of the legal system) the judiciary to view Turner as a young, intelligent, athlete with a bright future, simply a victim of “liquor” and circumstance. I would advise anyone interested in deciphering who the real victim was in this case, to read the victim’s statement: “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Prosecuting sexual assault: “raped all over again”

This is a statement made by Frances Andrade, after her experience in the witness box left her feeling violated. Days after, Frances Andrade committed suicide.

These are some extracts from her cross-examination: “That is simply not true…”, “You are indulging fantasy…”, “What you have told this jury is a complete pack of lies”. An (arguably) excellent barrister – defending their client with the upmost rigor, and discrediting the prosecution’s case, but it makes for an uncomfortable read in the light of this woman’s suicide.

Some other examples of cross-examination and courtroom exchanges include:

“What were you wearing at the time of the alleged assault?” “How much alcohol had you consumed?”, “How many sexual partners have you had previously?” Or, and this is extraordinary by any judges’ standards: “Did the victim try closing [their] legs?”

Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders summarises: “For too long society has blamed rape victims for confusing the issue of consent – by drinking or dressing provocatively for example – but it is not they who are confused, it is society itself and we must challenge that. Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area – in law it is clearly defined and must be given “fully and freely”.

It is time for defence barristers, whilst upholding the notion of “innocent until proven guilty”, to actually uphold integrity of justice, and do right by the victims of sexual violence. For a legal battle as sensitive as sexual assault, there is no place for “point-scoring”, or character assassinations. Instead, there should be a candid explanation of the facts, and a serious exploration to uncover the truth (from both sides of the courtroom).

It must be remembered when considering this principled notion, that there is a difference between believing the innocence of the defendant (until proven otherwise), and actively disbelieving the complainant, and the smear tactics which follow. It is one thing for a defence barrister to stand up in court and say “my client is innocent; it is for the prosecution to present evidence to the jury that, beyond all reasonable doubt, my client is guilty of the alleged offence”. But, as we’ve seen in the harsh reality of some cases (such as Frances Andrade), defence counsel often go beyond their role, and diminish the complainant to nothing more than a liar or a fantasist. This entire process goes against the principles of justice.

What next?

There is an urgent need for reform in the way society views sexual assault as a whole. This article has only scratched the surface on a complex and multi-faceted system, which is flawed in many ways. As I have tried to argue, there are layers of institutionalised thought processes, which allow attitudes towards victims of sexual assault to remain negative and unhelpful. The approach to reform, in my view, has to be “top-down”: the criminal justice system needs to review the way it prosecutes sexual assault cases, and the process in which these cases travel from police stations, to the CPS, and then to the courts. If the criminal justice system can send a clear and unequivocal message to victims about how they will be treated, one hopes that the media will shift in their perspectives also. With this in mind, gradually over time, society as a whole should start to view sexual assault as the serious crime that it is, and justice can be regained more readily for victims of sexual abuse.

Gender and the Psych Ward

By Lindsay Riddoch

The psychiatric acute ward is a place that most of us don’t spend much time thinking about, and definitely attempt avoiding ever having to face. As a microcosm simultaneously of society, and of what we deem unacceptable within it, it provides a unique and powerful insight into what we’re getting wrong. We know that more women appear to suffer from mental health problems than men, and that the system incarcerates a disproportionately high number of black men. Both of these topics have lately been often discussed both in the health system and across broadsheet journalism. While we have these discussions in theoretical and philosophical terms, however, real people’s lives are playing out behind the locked doors of psychiatric wards up and down the country.

Much as the psychiatric ward attempts to place ‘madness’ firmly outside the realms of society, there’s something you realise very early on if you ever come to inhabit this micro-world. No individuals ‘madness’ is individual. It did not grow outside of a society, but instead found its very roots in it. The reality of this is constantly played out before your eyes on wards. People express their anger with rampant racism — more uses of the ‘N’ word than you could imagine. People are paranoid that the government is spying on them — using the very real situation of the snoopers charter as evidence. Women are terrified that the doctors are going to rape them. You can track the biggest fears associated with OCD through homosexuality to paedophilia — whatever is given the spotlight as the worst thing someone could be, is what people start to fear. People’s pain takes the form of the society in which it was created. And it was created. Human beings are not born in this level of pain, some sort of interaction between an individuals psyche and the world which they are inhabiting explodes into a cacophony of psychosis, mania and depression.

If madness expresses itself in line with society — or against it — then surely those who are most frequently held in its grips will be those that society pushes to the brink. As a white girl, I will not try to take this argument any further with regards to black men, as it is not my area. However when it comes to women there is a very disconcerting trend. You find a certain kind of women in psychiatric hospitals. Women who have been abused, usually by a vast array of people, and who therefore desperately try and hold onto control in whatever way they can. They are labelled crazy, manipulative, attention seeking. Yet these women are, potentially, reacting in the most sane way possible to the insane circumstances they find themselves in. Yet, they wind up locked in a psychiatric ward while the men that did this to them walk around freely. These women are told they are maladaptive, unsafe, out of control, and once again have their very basic freedoms taken away from them.

There are so many of these lost women who have never found their voice because their reaction to the power that is taken away on a daily basis landed them in locked psychiatric wards. They scream every day for someone to hear their voice, and we as a society either berate or pity them. We either tell them they’re badly behaved, or that they are ill. We don’t stop long enough to hear their stories. We give them therapy to change the way they approach the world but don’t give them the housing or jobs that they need to change the world.

This is all part of placing the root of their emotions squarely inside them — and outside of society. We blame women for their emotional reactions — labelling them over-emotional — when in actual fact our emotions are the expression of the often powerless situations we find ourselves in. This fact is intensified in the volcanic atmosphere of the psychiatric ward. It is terrifying to see so many victims of (much as I hate to use this phrase) the patriarchy be re-assaulted by the controlling power of (predominantly) white male psychiatrists. Constantly screaming to gain one ounce of power back, they have their basic freedoms taken away all over again.

I am not a believer in the fact that the whole psychiatric system is an assault on human rights. It is my opinion that the Mental Health Act and its ability to treat people against their will, is a bastion of our belief in humanity. We will not let people drive themselves to their own death, no matter how much we may dislike their way of being. In accepting this, however, we must also accept the power that our ability to ‘diagnose’ emotion creates. To see ‘mental illness’ and our ability to label emotional suffering within the medical model as part of our forward thinking intersectional liberalism is dangerous. The labelling of emotional reactions is not as simple as validating someone’s suffering. It becomes a way to demean, control and restrain usually the most vulnerable. It is not, therefore, something we should take lightly.

Over the last few months, the micro-world of the psych ward has become my world, and on my journey I have met so many inspiring women. People who have been knocked down time and time again, and yet continue to fight to survive. Their fight for survival looks strange from the outside — it looks like cuts on arms or rageful fits at three in the morning. It looks like shrieks of terror at the mere sight of a doctor or threats to kill oneself yelled at the top of voices. It is, nonetheless, an inspiring fight. Mental illness cannot be a panacea for all of the worlds problems. We must understand that these women are survivors of whatever has happened to them. We must continue to treat them, but we must do so while acknowledging the injustice that has been done to them. If we are so intent on medicalising emotion and behaviour then we should seek to treat the perpetrators before they can create any victims — rather than treating the survivors when it’s already too late.

‘Orange is the New Black’ and My Brother

By Noa Sasson-Brooks

[Contains spoilers for ‘Orange is the New Black’ up to mid season 2]

Caitlin Moran says that sexism is like Meryl Streep: just as you could watch and enjoy a film, and not recognise the actress as Meryl until after the film ends and you’ve had an evening to mull it over, so too with sexism. Sometimes, you can leave the situation, go home, brush your teeth, turn out the light and suddenly realise THAT WAS SEXISM! THAT WAS SOME SEXISM THAT HAPPENED TO ME! (I mean, I don’t know how anyone could not recognise the great Meryl Streep but I understand the analogy).

Well, I’m going to tell you of an incident of Meryl Streep-ism which didn’t reveal itself to me that same night. This story actually takes me back to a conversation I had with my younger brother in 2014. I had just started watching Orange Is The New Black. I was about halfway through season 2 and we were chatting about the show. I suspected he probably only watched it for the (mostly lesbian) nudity but I decided not to dwell on that. As we chatted about plotlines and characters, I said something along the lines of “I like Morello. She’s funny, she makes me laugh.”  

My brother’s face fell. His eyes got wide and his voice got serious. “She is absolutely terrifying,” he said, and he meant it. The character of Morello left him with a feeling of terror.

Now, if you haven’t seen OITNB, I’m not talking to you until you go off and watch it. I’ll wait. If you have watched it but need reminding, Lorna Morello is in love with her fiancé who she speaks about often, and is constantly making wedding plans for after her release. After 17 episodes of this, it is revealed that Morello has in fact been incarcerated for stalking a man she never had a relationship with, and she has become obsessed with a fantasy.

My brother’s reaction reminded me of my housemates at university, who became so scared when we watched Fatal Attraction that they walked around wide-eyed and jittery for almost a week. They would often point to female characters who relentlessly pursue unrequited love interests and call them ‘crazy’ and shudder. I’m thinking of Meg Griffin from Family Guy, Mel from Flight of the Conchords, there was an Adam Sandler film…these characters are dotted around. On Netflix there is a film actually entitled My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It would seem that this particular brand of stock female character is usually cast in a comedic light and is labelled ‘crazy’, but where the comedy runs dry she crosses over to ‘scary’ and that is what I find interesting. Our screens are so littered with abuse and violence against female characters that these boys almost don’t notice the abusive male characters is the worrying thing. That someone can look at Meg Griffin in the same show as Quagmire and think that she is the scary one is frankly baffling. And it is astounding that my brother thought Morello was more horrifying than the bullying, groping, drug-pushing rapist guards. To go back to Meryl, she said in an interview that men are less empathetic than women when they watch films and TV, as women are forced to empathise with male characters far more than male viewers can with female characters, because there are fewer of them and they tend to be less interesting or multi-faceted.

I’m not letting my brother off the hook that easily. This is what I would like to say to him, over two years later:

Yes, Little Brother, Morello is scary. Being stalked is scary. Being harassed is scary. The object of Morello’s obsession went to the police and she faced justice. This does not happen very often.

Be scared of Morello. Be scared of the rapists and harassers and abusers, in fiction and on screen and in real life. Because they don’t very often face justice, and they are mostly men. Just because you, brother of mine, are also male, and these other stalkers and rapists are not necessarily a direct threat to you does not mean you should not fear them. Fear them on women’s behalf. When you see them on screen, (which, I have to tell you, once you open your eyes to it you will realise they are almost constantly on screen), I want you to realise, and recognise them for what they are. Try to feel that same fear.

You are 18 now. You have three older sisters and a very domineering mother. I think it’s time you picked up the feminist mantle and started fighting for women and equality. Don’t sit back and think that because there are so many strong women in your life feminism doesn’t need you.

And I’m not here to pull an Emma Watson and make a space in feminism for you. Feminism has plenty of space for you. What you need to do is take your space in society as a straight, cis, white, hetero male and make it feminist.

Don’t worry. You can do it. I know you’ll be one fantastic feminist.

Seeing The Light at the End of Divisive Party-Political Tunnel

What the Richmond and North Kingston by-election win means for young Feminists

By Katie Staal

Richmond and North Kingston, London

Richmond and North Kingston; a leafy, affluent area of South West London, comfortably tucked away from the hustle and bustle of more central areas like Wimbledon and Clapham. Kingston and the surrounding area is home to many schools and families, public sector city workers (and indeed in the case of Sarah Olney, accountants) who have retreated slightly from the sprawl of central London.

It’s also where you can find heritage site Richmond Park, heralded for it’s healthy deer population and the video of that guy shouting ‘FENTON’. Altogether, this is an area which seems unlikely to engage in a dramatic politics of collective alliance. Yet on December 1st 2016, a move was made which the national papers have described as ‘a shockwave’.

For a little context, this area has been traditionally a moderate Liberal Democrat stronghold. But in 2010 the tables turned, as newly-elected conservative MP Zac Goldsmith rocked-up; pretty-Eton-boy incarnate. Zac is the product of his own legacy: the millionaire son of James Goldsmith, a French member of the European Parliament until 1997. Despite being an MEP, Zac’s dad founded a ‘referendum’ party which campaigned for Brexit throughout the 1990s.

Visiting the House of Commons one day with a few school friends in 2012, I spotted the shock of golden hair and my MP strolling past us in the lobby. Frankly, the idea of approaching him to talk about my local area made me feel vom.

The Mayoral Election 2016

As a young person growing up in Kingston, I’ve often felt disassociated with local politics for this very reason. Zac Goldsmith didn’t speak to me, he didn’t represent me, despite his efforts to emphasise environmental policy and play up our local love of leafy green spaces like Richmond park.

He was our MP, and yet I made a habit of shooting daggers at the lovely big houses near the park gates, persistently plastered with posters brigade Zac’s shiny blonde head. At a summer BBQ one year, the activity of choice was vehemently roasting Zac’s flyers over the hot coals.

My axniety intensified leading up to the London mayoral election in early 2016. I sank at the thought of Zac becoming the Mayor of London. Yet another smarmy party politician, the mirror of national joke Boris, at the driver’s seat of our capital city. During this time, Zac represented an altogether less silly candidate than Boris, which had the double edge of a more serious conservative threat. Of course now Boris is the UK’s foreign minister (why, WHY?)

However, Sadiq Khan, MP for nearby South London constituency Tooting, won the mayoral election race in May 2016 in a landslide, crushing Zac into little smarmy pieces. Voting for Sadiq was the first time as a twenty-two-year-old feminist that I truly felt excited to vote. When the announcement came that Sadiq had won, I felt a physical un-clenching in my stomach. Zac’s frankly shady race-motivated election tactics had been defeated by the people of London, the popular vote. Goldsmith’s own sister Jemima criticised him publicly on twitter:

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Source: Twitter.com Tweets from Jemima Goldsmith criticising her brother’s divisive campaigning.

May 2015 – November 2016

But then May 2015 came. The Tories gained majority in Parliament. June 2016: Brexit. David Cameron resigned. Theresa May took his place. A flood of sexist journalism followed from the media. Confusion ensued for young feminists. We were once again represented by a woman, a strong and powerful party politician. However, it was for the wrong party, the ‘nasty’ party, and not the right kind of ‘nasty’ (ala Clinton). 

Theresa May has not been elected to her position, she is not accountable to the people, but yet again my stomach churned chunks as I saw the flood of news articles picking on her nail colour, skirt length, husband and hair. Why exactly it has only been UK Conservative women who have managed to claw their way through a traditionally sexist parliament to the top seats of our government? I’m still not quite sure.

The 2016 Financial Statement from the Tories came in a few days ago at the end of November. The big stand-out for me was May’s new money pot for Grammar schools – a recipe for a more elitist and divisive society.

Furthermore, if you scroll to the very bottom of the document, past the graphs showing our ‘economic growth’, you’ll find a table of caps on Welfare which will harm the very poorest people in our society. Cuts and restrictions are coming to Disability Living Allowance or DLA, a tax that has been provided to members of my family who I love. Tax on free childcare, which will have a negative impact on women most of all.

These are only a couple of examples from the many listed as ‘in scope’ for the Tory government to knock or destroy, and in its wake shred up everything that intersectional feminists, and of course that bloody includes men, hold close to their hearts.

You can read the Autumn statement on the DirectGov website here.

Now, December 2016

However, the first wind that Richmond and Kingston, my home, was changing political climate to something altogether more left, came a few short months after the Brexit decision. This was mere weeks after the disastrous election of Donald Trump to the US presidency and days after the Autumn financial statement was released by the Conservative Government.

Zac Goldsmith, following in the footsteps of fellow Etonian David Cameron, had resigned! The reasons for this were cited: ‘he had pledged to the people of Richmond to prevent the expansion of Heathrow Airport.’ Kingston and Richmond being positioned slap-bang in the middle of the LHR flight path of course was, and continues to be, an issue of great importance to Richmond and Kingston constituents.

However, May’s Tory government quickly steamrollered Zac’s plans to remain an elected representative, as the Heathrow expansion was given the government go-ahead in October. This triggered Zac’s resignation, and the by-election that took place on December 1st was born.

Goldsmith was caught between a rock and a hard place: the racist overtones of his disastrous mayoral campaign had (thank god) distanced him somewhat from the Tories. The once-popular Eton boy of the inner circle had lost his mandate after his mayoral defeat, as well as respect from the part. Therefore, Goldsmith made the dicey political move to run as an independent candidate: a poor attempt to see if the hangover from his previous popularity would see him through another election.

Particularly outspoken during Zac’s mayoral campaign was Mohammed Amin, a senior Tory party figure, read more about his Tory Forum here

Enter Sarah Olney, an female accountant from Surrey. Sarah Olney with a BA in English Literature like me. Sarah Olney who, like me, was horrified by the events of last year’s election and this year’s Brexit. Sarah Olney, a Liberal Democrat. A Liberal Democrat reminiscent of the liberal stronghold that was for so long entrenched by the people of Richmond and North Kingston.

The Liberal Democrat coalition with the Tories party in 2010 was, as we know, a massive cock up. Nick Clegg failed to effectively balance out the right-wing policies of David Cameron. Clegg as deputy Prime Minister was squashed under the foot of Cameron’s Tory vigour. He wasn’t even allowed to meet Obama when he came for tea.

However, Clegg has recently been popping up again on Channel 4 News, and bizarrely, Twitter. These morsels include his leading a cross-party conference with representatives from Labour and the Conservatives – they discussed the idea that everyone (across parties) thought that Brexit was, in practice, a very bad idea.

Read more about the ‘Open Britain’ conference here.

But what spoke to me as the by-election campaign was in full swing, wasn’t the Lib Dems as a party, but Sarah as a candidate and everything she stands for. Another woman with a husband like Theresa May, but this time on the left-leaning side of liberal. Despite her lack of experience, reading news about Olney and seeing Liberal Democrat boards scattered around houses on my commute to work made my pulse throb with hope.

The by-election in Kingston on the December 1st 2016 was one of those rare occasions that all parties, except for the Liberal Democrats and Bumsmith, sorry, Goldsmith, decided to take a step back. For better or for worse, The Green Party and Women’s Equality Party had endorsed Sarah Olney, and there was a limited campaign by Labour . UKIP, who had previously campaigned and won votes in the 2015 general election (ugh), endorsed Goldsmith. 

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Source: Twitter.com Sarah Olney tweeting the Women’s Equality Party, in thanks of their support.

I woke up early, voted, went to work. Waited. On the morning of Friday 2nd I was woken up by a WhatsApp from a girlfriend.

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Source: Author’s own

This highlights how meaningful this result is for young people and young women, whether they identify as feminists or not. If we share the stories of Sarah Olney’s win, we could finally tap into what the government has politely neglected for so long:

  • The voices of people passionate about the environment and the planet, as we live our lives trying to protect the resources that our predecessors have depleted.
  • The voices of those who strive to be represented by politicians who are recognisable, and who will actually represent us, and who are inherently empathetic and inclusive of minority voices.
  • Those who are still fighting to challenge perceptions towards the Brexit vote, and who want to work together across party lines to negotiate and communicate.
  • Those who are sick to the stomach of being force-fed the politics of fear displayed in some commercial media.

The UK, and indeed the so called ‘progressive’ Western World, has become sucked into in a dark and increasingly right-wing political hole, a tunnel if you like, which in turn emotionally has a knock-on effect on voter apathy. But if we bring our perspectives together, we too can elect those who represent as Sarah so eloquently delivered in her acceptance speech:

‘The Britain we love, [that we will] stand up for. The open, tolerant, united Britain we believe in’.

And maybe then, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

***

You can watch Sarah’s who acceptance speech on YouTube here.

Results table from the 2016 Richmond and North Kingston By-Election
Sarah Olney (LD) 20,510 (49.68%, +30.41%)
Zac Goldsmith (Ind) 18,638 (45.15%)
Christian Wolmar (Lab) 1,515 (3.67%, -8.68%)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 184 (0.45%)
Fiona Syms (Ind) 173 (0.42%)
Dominic Stockford (CPA) 164 (0.40%)
Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir (Love) 67 (0.16%)
David Powell (ND) 32 (0.08%)

***

About the Author

Katie is a young musician, postgraduate and publishing worm who hates Zac Goldsmith.

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50:50 Parliament: #AskHerToStand

By Apolline Parel, an ambassador for 50:50 Parliament

This article was originally published by 50:50 Parliament here

“Women are the world’s most under-used resource”  – Hillary Clinton

With a female head of state in the United Kingdom and Germany and a nearly elected President of the United States, has the western world achieved equality of representation? The short answer is no. Far from it. Theresa May and Angela Merkel  prove to be the exception, not the rule, as the 50:50 Parliament outlined in its submission to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. There are more men in the UK Parliament today than have ever been female MPs and at the current pace of change, it would be decades before we see equality of representation. In business, the lack of representation and progress for women is equally worrying but campaigns, including the 30% Club, have focused on making the business case for diversity and perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt in achieving a quicker rate of progress in politics.

Evidence suggests that increasing diversity in business leadership is not just about fairness, it is about business success.  According to a report commissioned by Credit Suisse, studying long-term economic and social development, greater inclusion of women in Executive Management positions increases productivity. The report states:

“With regards to business performance, we find clear evidence that companies with a higher participation of women in decision-making roles continue to generate higher returns on equity while running more conservative balance sheets. In fact, where women account for the majority in the top management, the businesses show superior sales growth, high cash flow returns on investments and lower leverage”

The report highlights that current rates of progress are too slow; while diversity in the boardroom has increased by 54% throughout the world since 2010, the proportion of women in senior management roles (among a sample size of 3,000 companies) only reached 14.7% in 2015.

If equality is our goal, there is a long way to go. However, by making a financial case, companies have begun to make active change. The 30% Club, which champions diversity in making business sense, was launched in the UK in 2010 with a goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 Boards; the current figure stands at 26%, up from 12.5% in 2010, and the campaign counts the majority of FTSE 100 CEOs among its supporters. Proving that gender diversity supports business objectives has been vital to achieving progress towards equality.

This is something that politicians agree on. The Tory MP and Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller, pointed out that, “This is not about political correctness, it’s about good business sense”, while former Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable sought to ensure better female inclusion during his time in government, suggesting quotas in order of making 25% of FTSE 100 board members women by 2015.

Not only are women’s skills in business beneficial but diversity in itself is useful. A more diverse and inclusive society boosts the economy of the country by bringing innovation and new ideas. After all, by neglecting half of the population, we are not doing ourselves any favours. Around 50% of UK university graduates and 60% of Law graduates are women. As Vivian Hunt, Director of McKinsey UK, affirmed, “the talent pipeline is there.” It is in the interests of society to use the potential of all of its citizens. If not, society is depriving itself of talented people, an economic nonsense.

The same principles apply in politics. Women are good in business and women are good in government. With more women in Parliament, more diverse issues could be discussed as women bring new perspectives. In 2014 Ed Miliband stated that, “Increasing the number of women in Parliament has played a role in ensuring that important issues such as domestic violence, discrimination and childcare have risen to the top of the political agenda, greatly improving the lives of millions of women across the country.” Currently, Parliament is not representative of the skills and experience that this country has to offer.

Politics, like business, is still not as accessible for women as it is for men. Of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, men hold 458 seats while women only 192 which means that 3 out of 10 MPs are women. Miliband recognised the difficulties ahead: “achieving a more representative Parliament is a job that is still far from complete.” With a lack of female representation at Parliament, certain issues cannot be championed as they should be. Parliament needs better gender balance in order to introduce and shape new policies to defend everyone’s rights. We need a Parliament representative of all of society.

Equal representation in Parliament is overdue. If you believe in diversity, if you believe that we need the best of everyone, men and women, and if you believe that we need a better gender balance in Parliament, please support 50:50 Parliament by signing our petition now at https://www.change.org/p/of-our-650-mps-only-192-are-women-and-458-are-men-sign-our-petition-asking-for-solutions-to-get-better-gender-balance-in-parliament-5050parliament