Rebekah Wershbale speech, Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Saturday 12th November 2022

Hi everyone, I’m Rebekah. Thank you all for coming, and thanks to Kate for inviting me today.

I’d like to begin with a universally recognised truth, which is that MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT.

We all know this, it isn’t news. Now let’s consider some of these differences as regards male and female prison populations. The women’s estate represents just 4-5% of the entire prison population in the UK at any time and women are imprisoned overwhelmingly for non violent offences. Over half of all prosecutions are for motoring offences. TV licence evasion and shoplifting are the 2nd and 3rd most common crimes women serve custodial sentences for. Women in prison are there because they’ve committed crimes as a result of poverty, destitution and desperation. We steal to feed and clothe our children. We push TV licensing down huge lists of priorities and we are penalised incredibly harshly for it.

Women are not drawn to crime – we represent just under 15% of all arrests. We tend to like order, stability and safety, so when crimes ARE committed and we’re sent down it’s inevitable that the significant factors leading to those crimes will involve untreated mental illness, health issues, substance misuse and financial difficulties. The demographic of female prisoners paints a woeful picture of marginalised, vulnerable women that have been pushed past their limits. I know this because I was one of those women, and called others friends while I was housed with them.

We know that 95% of violent crime is committed by men, so what of that 5% of female violent offenders? In my experience of serving some of my sentence on a lifer’s wing I met women serving life sentences for murder. I can’t speak for every murderer in the prison system of course but every last one of those women – who again, I counted as my friends – were there because they’d killed their male abusers, after months and years of rape, torment and violence. Every. Last. One.

On the unusual occasions that women kill, it’s out of stark desperation to not be killed ourselves. Our offence is our defence. I never felt in the least bit scared for my safety around these women. I admired their courage and my heart wept for their circumstances and the hideous limits they’d been pushed to. They paid the highest penalty and will likely die behind bars for retaliating against male violence. They had no proclivity to kill, nor did they enjoy it. It was purely for survival. I’m telling you this to highlight again that MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT.

Contrast this with male patterns of offending. One of the MOST common reasons men are incarcerated is violent crime, 40% of which are offences against women. Men rape, maim and kill for sport. They enjoy doing it. Tied up in this already atrocious statistic is that a full 18% of men in prison in the UK are there for serious sex offences. We know that the conviction rate is 1-2% of all reported rapes, so we must consider these men to be extremely dangerous, calculating and remorseless predators. Just these 2 examples of crimes shows HOW different men and women are. Of this 18% of rapists and paedophiles, guess what? Half of them say they’re women, and they’re routinely moved to the women’s estate, penis and all.

Beginning in 1989 with the admission of serial sex offender Stephanie Booth to Askham Grange, and reaching critical mass today with men like Sally Dixon, a repeat child sex offender placed in a mother and baby unit, this dangerous and callous policy of housing violent rapists with vulnerable women has rightly drawn ire and challenges on behalf of the women subjected to this affront. It’s hard to imagine how exhausting it must be for these women to be constantly on guard in an environment already fraught with stressors, poor health and scant privacy. Even if these abominable circumstances didn’t feature assault, fear is corrosive and predators thrive in these conditions.

However, assaults can and have happened. Of course they have because men do not change their behaviour. Unlike women, men continue their patterns of offence both inside and out of prison.

So WHY should a woman serving a short sentence for failure to pay parking tickets have to accept intimidation and terror as part of her already disproportionate punishment? WHY should an 18 year old girl on remand for shoplifting expect the potential for rape and assault by a man in a wig during her stint? WHY do these questions even need to be asked, and WHY after multiple instances of exactly this happening is this policy still being enacted? Is it simply a fear of being called transphobic? You would have thought after Karen White that ship might have sailed, but apparently that’s still a worse prospect than deliberately endangering women and girls.

Well we say fuck that. Enabling these men to get access to victims is the result of cowering behind ‘social justice’ and the disgraceful policy of self ID. The Ministry of Justice and every other organisation complicit in implementing these policies has a lot of apologies and reparations to make. We have sex segregated prisons because MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT and women have a right to be kept safe from men. The ease with which men claiming transgender status has steamrollered basic safeguarding principles should alarm all of us. Violence in the male estate is not women’s problem to solve. Women are NOT human shields and the prison system is failing its charges every time they green light a man being moved to their spaces on the spurious claim that he’s actually a woman, and that the horrendous crimes he’s committed are actually women’s crimes. They aren’t, because MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT, and no amount of craven pandering or brazen pretence changes that.

Women cannot rape. We rarely kill. We do not commit violent crime at the prolific, industrial scale that men do, and we are having our reputations dragged through the mire by the men who would wear our skin. These are not our crimes, and our prisons are no place for these revolting, duplicitous men. We will not stop shouting about this until every last one of these deviants is identified and returned back to the male estate WHERE THEY BELONG.

Written by Rebekah Wershbale