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Responses to the WRN Hospital Report are no surprise

On Monday 17th April the Women’s Rights Network published our report into the incidence of rapes and sexual assaults in hospital. We knew it would garner a lot of interest. It certainly deserved to. We exposed that there have been more than 6500 rapes and sexual assaults in hospitals over the past almost 4 years. That’s approximately 33 every single week. In an age of hyperbole, it’s hard to find words to describe it adequately.

WRN Hospital Report - When We Are At Our Most Vulnerable - A Report by Professor Jo Phoenix

Have a read – it really is a shocker.

The national newspapers did their job and ran the story. The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Express, The Times, The Sun, all concluded that the numbers were appalling, and somebody really needs to do something. Suzanne Moore’s column was excellent of course.

But not everyone, it seems, agrees.

Our national broadcaster doesn’t think it’s all that important and although Colin Murray’s interview with Jo Phoenix was excellent the BBC’s coverage of the story has been mostly non-existent.

It’s not just us at WRN who noticed either. The Express thinks it’s a significant enough omission to put it on their front page.

WRN Hospital Report - Daily Express Headline Response

Crickets, too, from those right-on bastions of women’s rights, The Guardian and The Independent.

The NHS blessed us with their view that the numbers are “unacceptable”.

A spokesman said:

“All NHS Trusts and organisations must ensure robust measures are in place to ensure immediate action is taken in any cases reported to them and anyone who has experienced any misconduct or violence should come forward, report it and seek help.”

Really? Their focus is on robust reporting of assault and rape? Not robust measures to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place? Perhaps their prevalence shouldn’t surprise us after all.

Forgive me if I am underwhelmed by claims of “robust [reporting] measures”. As Baroness Nicholson explained in the House of Lords a year ago, some women who report rapes are not believed, and must fight even to be heard.

Hospital staff told police that a patient was not raped on one of their wards as the alleged attacker was transgender, despite there being CCTV evidence that shows the assault. … after the assault victim filed a police report, the unnamed hospital was contacted but they insisted “the rape could not have happened” as there was “no male in the hospital". … it has taken nearly a year for the hospital to agree that there was a male on the ward and, yes, this rape happened.

Social media being what it is, there was an interesting range of comments from individuals.

Not least, the disturbing number of women commenting that they, too, had been the victim of a sexual assault in hospital. Depressing, but I doubt many people are surprised.

Times readers for the most part were horrified, but some thought it important to point out that patients aren’t committing these crimes:

Is there any evidence in the report to suggest that it is other patients committing these offences?

What risk are you reducing? There isn't any evidence in the report to suggest that sex offences are being carried out by other patients.

The truth is that we don’t know who the victims or perpetrators are, and it will take a huge amount of effort to find out given the poor data collection by both hospitals and the police. That’s not something a volunteer organisation could commit to. We certainly do need to find out, though, if safeguarding processes are to be put in place.

Even though the data shows that single-sex spaces (wards, toilets, changing rooms) make it harder for predatory men to access women and girls, a surprising number of Times readers disagreed with the report recommendation to ensure that all hospital wards are without exception single-sex wards.

If rapists do not respect the laws on sexual offences they are not going to respect any rules on single sex spaces.

Is there any evidence to suggest this is being done by people who are ill enough to be admitted as an inpatient and self identify as a woman? I would suggest that is very low risk.

I doubt rapists care about self ID rules.

Do you think a rapist respects a same sex safe space area with zero enforcement? You are giving them a lot of credit.

Others are even more pessimistic and think there’s nothing to be done. That we just have to live with it.

Unfortunately you're living in the past if you think the NHS has enough staff to police this. I had the misfortune to be an ill enough to be an inpatient last year. The wards generally have more agency staff who barely know each other.

Men will still be on wards as either staff or visitors. Who is going to do the apprehending and removing? There aren't enough staff to treat people and there aren't enough police to send to patrol hospitals on a regular basis.

And of course, any suggestion that steps could be taken to reduce the risk of male violence on women is taken by some to be an attack on transgender people.

You are right but the tory party has managed to persuade too many women that transgender people are all rapists.

And that a call for single-sex wards means:

These responses ignore or deny that Women’s Rights Network have done something extraordinary. Through citizen journalism and with astonishing professionalism we’ve brought a very serious and concerning situation to media, political and public attention.

But it feels like a Sisyphean ordeal to take this stuff on. Hospitals don’t acknowledge there’s a problem or that anything needs to change. The police don’t record the data in a way that can be analysed and used to take appropriate steps. Too many members of the public think that sexual assaults and rapes are inevitable or too difficult and expensive to prevent. And certain lobby groups are actively working to undermine effective safeguarding interventions.

But we’ll keep on pushing that boulder. What choice do we have?



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