Rape victims struggle for asylum justice

Women whose claims for asylum includes allegations that they have been raped need greater assurance their cases are being taken seriously, a study states.

Researchers found that several of the problems that can hamper the fair treatment of women’s rape allegations within the criminal justice system may also be present, and sometimes amplified, when made as part of women’s asylum claims.

More appropriate environment needed

The study calls upon the UK asylum system to continue to work towards securing a more appropriate environment within which women applicants will not only be able to disclose incidents of rape but also be confident that such claims will receive a fair and full hearing.

While examples of good practice were evident, the study found that hasty decision-making time scales and rigid processes may cause some applicants to delay reporting alleged experiences of rape in their country of origin. This may result in the Border Agency officials or immigration judges being less likely to believe them.

UK-wide research

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, was conducted by a team of researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Nottingham.

More than 100 individuals involved in processing asylum cases from England, Wales, and Scotland - including judges, border agency personnel, lawyers and interpreters - were ed to gauge how claims of sexual violence made by asylum-seeking women were handled.

Tribunal hearings were also observed in which asylum seeking women, many of whom had disclosed an allegation of sexual assault, appealed to immigration judges against UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) initial refusals to grant them leave to remain.

"Patchy" awareness of guidelines

The study found that, despite special UKBA guidelines on the issue, in some cases the environment within which asylum s were conducted was often inappropriate with limited opportunity for the women to disclose incidents of rape.

The study found a “patchy” awareness of guidelines among UKBA officials and an inconsistent approach towards their application.

Some officials involved in the evaluation of asylum applications displayed an inclination to treat women’s rape claims with suspicion, researchers say.

Case hardened

The study found that some staff avoided questioning women on rape altogether and a notable number of professionals ed in the study also said that claims of rape made by male applicants may be more likely to be believed than those made by female applicants.

Researchers also found evidence of professionals becoming detached and ‘case hardened’.

Asylum Aid research has found that 42% of women’s appeals against Home Office decisions were successful, against an average rate 27% overall. Our findings would tend to support the concerns that this raises over the quality of initial decision-making in women’s cases.

Sharon Cowan

Senior lecturer in Criminal Law