In the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale read aloud a woman’s letter about her rape and resulting pregnancy in a powerful push against the “rape clause,” a controversial feature of the UK’s child tax credit policy. Earlier this month, the UK instituted a policy that allows parents on welfare to claim tax credits for their first two children only. There are a few exceptions to the rule, one of which is children who were conceived as a result of rape. In order to claim tax credits for these children, however, the "rape clause" requires that mothers complete a form attesting to the fact that they were raped; a third party (such as a social worker or healthcare provider) must verify the mother’s story. Many critics have argued that the “rape clause” is cruel, requiring victims of assault to jump through unnecessary hoops in order to receive aid. The letter read in the Scottish Parliament today testifies to the fact that such requirements shame and potentially traumatize victims of abuse.
The two-child welfare policy is, in itself, quite controversial, but the “rape clause” has sparked particularly intense outrage. The clause requires that women on welfare whose third child (or child thereafter) was conceived through rape apply for the tax credit by filling out an 8-page form. The form requires that they give their personal information, as well as the name of the child in question. The form also has the mother “confirm that [she] is not living with the other parent of this child,” a condition that seems to ignore the fact that women can be raped by people with whom they are in relationships or to whom they are married, and that leaving abusive relationships is not always easy or safe. A third party must then assess whether or not the mother is telling the truth.
In March, the two-child policy, with the “rape clause,” was passed in the UK without a parliamentary debate or vote. In a Tuesday debate in the Scottish Parliament, multiple political parties, with the exception of the Conservatives, condemned the two-child policy and the “rape clause.” “No woman anywhere should have to prove she's been raped in order to get tax credits for their child,” argued First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “I can't believe in 2017 that I'm having to stand up in the Scottish Parliament and make that argument.”
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale made a very powerful statement by reading an email she had received from a woman who was raped by a friend and became pregnant. The anonymous woman describes using much-needed tax credits to get through the traumatizing aftermath of her rape and pregnancy, and insists that being forced to fill out “that awful form of shame” — the form required under the “rape clause” — could have been “the thing that tipped me completely over the edge.”
You can see Dugdale read the letter in the video below. (Skip ahead to the 29:30 mark to get to the letter.)
Read the letter in full: (Dugdale removed references to the child’s gender and age.)
Four years ago, one of my closest friends — someone I trusted — raped me.
It happened once. I used emergency contraception but still fell pregnant.
For lots of reasons I decided I couldn’t terminate the pregnancy and went on to have a baby.
The speculation about the father was awful. I accepted that I would be labeled sexually promiscuous as a result. I was prepared for that.
I expected — and received — horrendous treatment from my husband’s family; I was prepared for that.
I was prepared for the financial hardship having just been made redundant; I was as prepared as I could be for life as a single parent.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the impact the labeling would have on my three existing children, born into wedlock and bought up in a stable family home.
I wasn’t prepared for the shame I would feel.
I wasn’t prepared for the fear of anyone finding out and refusing to believe me.
I wasn’t prepared for the feeling that suicide was the only way out.
I certainly wasn’t prepared for the amount of hatred and resentment I would have for my own child.
Years on and I have a happy, healthy child. They are worshipped; not just by me but by my extended family and even better my husband; a brave and loving man.
My child doesn’t know where they came from and if I have anything to do with it they never will.
Nobody knows; aside from me, my husband and the mental health nurse who helped me through this living hell.
Though far from perfect and with challenges of its own; I hope the secrecy will give them the chance to live as close to as normal life as possible.
There have been so many pleas to take legal action or to widen the circle of trust to allow those who love me to provide support during the difficult times, but this is a risk I could never take; my need to protect my children from the truth came above all other considerations.
The wider the circle of midwives, consultants, family — the less chance I had of protecting myself and my children from the permanent and damaging stigma attached to rape.
I claimed tax credits from birth to eleven months old; the hand up I needed when I was at my most vulnerable to allow me to re-stabilise my family.
Tax credits kept our heads above water, a buffer between us and the food bank, for that I am eternally grateful.
There is no way I could complete that awful form of shame, no matter what the consequences.
Looking back, that really could have been the thing that tipped me completely over the edge; the difference between surviving to tell the tale and not.
“This heart-breaking letter from a rape victim exposes the reality of the Tory rape clause. Or the 'awful form of shame', as she puts it,” Dugdale concluded. “That is the burden this Tory government wants to put on victims of rape because it doesn't want to pay for more than two children in a poor family. It is an absolutely sickening state of affairs.”