Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland is deeply concerned about the 2-child tax credit limit, which comes into effect across the UK this week, including in Northern Ireland. We strongly urge the Government to rethink its plans and #ScrapTheRapeClause.

Impact on victims of rape

The law, which limits child tax credits to 2 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.

Speaking about the ‘rape clause’, CEO of Women’s Aid Federation NI Jan Melia 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.”

The ‘rape clause’ also fails to understand that much sexual violence occurs within domestic abuse 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.

Impact on children

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.

Impact on Northern Ireland

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, under Section 5(1) of the Criminal Law Act. 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.

For these reasons, Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland is joining with our sister organisations across the UK, and the wider women’s and children’s sector, to call on the government to scrap the 2-child tax credit rule and the rape clause.

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