Joan Smith: One law for abused women, another for their male abusers...

I'd like to know what the hell is going on at the Home Office
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The Independent Online

If you had to decide which constitutes the greater danger to society, a convicted rapist or a terrified woman who has been forced to work as a sex slave, I don't suppose you'd think there was much of a contest. Neither does the Home Office, which is quick off the mark when it comes to getting young women from Eastern Europe and South-east Asia out of the country. Such women - raped, beaten and forced to have sex with 30 or 40 men a day - are clearly very dangerous, for immigration officials hustle them to detention centres where they can be put on the next available flight home. Ministers haven't even signed a Council of Europe convention that would give limited rights to these victims of horrendous crimes.

Compare and contrast this attitude with the breathtakingly casual way the Home Office has handled the cases of 79 foreign offenders - convicted of murder, rape, child sex offences and manslaughter - who should have been considered for deportation when they completed their sentences. On Friday, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said deportation proceedings had finally begun in 63 cases, but he admitted that only six had actually been detained. He also revealed that five (so far) had been reconvicted of offences involving drugs, violent disorder and bodily harm.

I accept that not all of the 1,023 foreign prisoners released instead of being deported since 1999 should have been expelled from this country. But nine were imprisoned for rape at a time when the conviction rate has been in free fall, ensuring that only the most brutal assaults result in a conviction. It is reasonable to assume that they, and some of the other 39 sex offenders on the list, had committed pretty dreadful crimes. What the hell is going on at the Home Office? Do ministers really think it is their job to rush abused women back to countries where they are at risk of being retrafficked while ignoring judges' recommendations to deport men who pose a serious threat to public safety?

If I were to take any comfort from this astounding state of affairs, it would be that the scandal has exposed the yawning chasm between ministerial rhetoric and reality. "Be afraid, be very afraid," successive Home Secretaries have told us, warning of suicide-bombers on every corner and organised crime on such a scale that a new agency, Soca, has been set up to tackle it. Ordinary citizens have to play a part in combating such wickedness by putting up with otherwise intolerable restrictions on our civil liberties: all offences are now arrestable, our DNA can be held on file indefinitely even if we haven't been convicted of any offence, and the Government intends to enforce a "voluntary" identity card scheme by preventing us from travelling abroad if we refuse to carry them. Then there are Asbos, control orders, and Clarke's astonishingly ill-judged attempt to pass a law that would have sent critics of religion to prison for up to seven years.

Is he mad? I don't live in a particularly violent part of London but in the past couple of years a man has been murdered by a burglar in a nearby street, someone was shot dead at the top of my road, and a hi-jacked ambulance demolished a neighbour's car; a couple of weeks ago, a man who complained when he was attacked by two dogs had his arm almost severed by a meat cleaver. This kind of random violence, much of it drug-related, worries me much more than the prospect of terrorist attacks or the presence in this country of some dreadfully exploited foreign women. Do I trust the Home Office, under its present leadership, to make sensible decisions about who we need to be protected from? You have got to be joking.