Gender, Violence and Asylum: A Troubling Trilogy?

Cowan, S. (Invited speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


During 2013–2014, the Refugee Law Initiative hosted special practice-based evening workshops on contemporary challenges in refugee protection. These two-hour workshops are designed to update practitioners and academics through stimulating discussion on new research and legal and policy developments. Although there are no official statistics available, experience and research suggest that a large proportion of women seeking asylum in the UK (claim to) have experienced rape in their country of origin. The role and relevance of this sexual violation within their asylum claim will vary, of course, but for many it will form a key part of the narrative as to why the woman fled and why she fears return. Despite this, there has been little dedicated attention afforded to the ways in which claims of rape emerge within the asylum process, of the barriers that might prevent disclosure, or of the difficulties which decision-makers might face in responding to and evaluating the credibility of such claims. In a context in which concerns have been expressed regarding the handling of women’s asylum claims and there is a wealth of pre-existing research in the criminal justice system pointing to the tenacity of dubious expectations regarding ‘normal’ rape victim’s behaviour during and post-assault, the researchers set out to subject these factors to more rigorous scrutiny. In this paper, we provide a brief overview of the key findings of this study, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and conducted across 4 key geographical regions in the UK between 2009 and2012. More specifically, we will identify 3 thematic areas – namely, the disclosure and handling of rape allegations within the asylum process; the evaluation of credibility of rape claims (and by extension the broader claims of which the rape allegation forms a part); and the challenges to justice posed by decision-makers’ efforts to cope with the emotional demands of their work in such asylum contexts.
Period28 Oct 2013
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United Kingdom