Pursuing Justice: sex workers take their rapist to court

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Pursuing Justice: sex workers take their rapist to court


Thu, 04/06/2015 - 10:53


Playwright Professor Lesley Delmenico and Lisa Longstaff of Crossroads Women’s Centre
04 June, 2015

WHEN two sex workers were raped at knifepoint by the same man and the Crown Prosecution Service did not act, the pair made legal history by using a private prosecution to get their attacker before a judge and jury themselves.

Now the transcript of the groundbreaking 1995 legal case has become the basis of a new play, produced by the campaign groups who would not let such a gross injustice simply fade into history.

Called Pursuing Justice, it is written by theatre studies academic Professor Lesley Delmenico and is based on the trial transcripts. It has been produced in conjunction with the English Collective of Prostitutes and Women Against Rape, two campaign groups based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town who worked on the case.

Neither of the victims can be named due to their right to lifelong anonymity – and to ensure the Review does not contain a plot-spoiler for those who see the performance, its outcome will not be revealed here. But the established facts are as follows.

In December 1991, “Miss X” was raped at knifepoint at a house where she had gone to give a massage. She reported it to the police – but was told on two occasions the allegations would not be followed up.

“It meant she did not, at first, make a statement,” says Lisa Longstaff, who works at Crossroads Women’s Centre and was involved in the campaign.

In September the following year, “Miss Y” reported a rape by the same man, at the same property, in almost identical circumstances.

“The police recognised this so they sent the case to the CPS,” says Lisa. “The CPS, however, dropped the charges and said they would not prosecute.”

It was then that Miss X, who had been told by police officers of the second attack, contacted Crossroads. Pressure groups Women Against Rape (WAR) and the English Collective of Prostitutes, based at the Centre, met X and Y. They decided that despite the CPS’s unwillingness to pursue the charges, the man could not be allowed to get away with committing such a crime. The plan to bring a private prosecution was set in motion.

“We met X and discovered that since the rape she was getting threatening phone calls,” recalls Lisa. “The rapist had tracked down her address from taking down her car registration number. He had stolen pictures of her children from her purse and was making violent threats.

“WAR wrote to the CPS to ask why the charges had been dropped. They said there was insufficient evidence.”

The two groups discussed the case with solicitors to see what avenues were open. “We thought: let’s bring this to court,” says Lisa. “We had two strong women who were believable and trustworthy. We had experience of taking cases to court before, and we had contacts within the legal profession.”

It took three years to get the case before a jury.

“We had previously published a dossier of 15 rape cases that should have been prosecuted,” says Lisa. “We took the case on as we believed they were being turned away by the CPS because they were sex workers. But this is not the Victorian era – they should not have been victimised because of their choice of earning a living.”

Witnesses included both the victims’ husbands and the agency they worked for. One husband, who was seriously ill, died soon after the trial concluded. The other husband revealed how they were both unemployed and faced losing their home – so for both the work was a vital way of earning income.

“The husbands made a good impact,” Lisa recalls. “Both knew their wives were sex workers and were absolutely devoted to them.”

Lesley is based at liberal arts university Grinnell College in Iowa, US, and has previously crafted plays from real-life interviews. “But I have not worked with a court transcript before,” she admits.

She was alerted to the story when US-based lawyer Lisa Avalos introduced her to the work of the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

“I wanted to make sure you could get a sense of their characters through their words,” she says.

The transcript revealed a case fraught with tension. “I could not have written this,” she says, “you simply would not be able to imagine some of the language used by the defence.”

As rehearsals got under way, the Centre contacted Miss X, who will be at the one-night performance. However, Miss Y has since disappeared.

The events in their lives sadly still have connotations today. 

“The conviction rate for rape today is 7 per cent,” says Lisa. “There have been changes since 1995, but we are still having to campaign as the CPS still do not bring the cases they should.”

And, as this groundbreaking trial proves, the rights of some groups who should be equal in the eyes of the law sadly do not find that is always the case.

• Pursuing Justice: sex workers take their rapist to court, written and directed by Lesley Delmenico, will be performed on Sunday, June 14, at Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Road, NW1 1TT. Doors open at 6pm for 7pm show. Tickets £15 (£7 conc), 020 7482 2496 www.prostitutescollective.net

• The performance – a fundraiser for the English Collective of Prostitutes and Women Against Rape – will be followed by a Q&A by one of the victims, and the campaigners who helped bring the case to court.

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