A powerful letter written by a woman who became pregnant after being raped has been read out in the Scottish parliament during an emotional debate about the UK government's child tax credit "rape clause".
The "rape clause" is what campaigners have called part of the UK government's policy of restricting child tax credits to two children, except if a third child is born as a result of rape.
In such a case, the mother of the child will have to fill out a form declaring the child has been born as a result of rape, and her case will then be judged by a third party before she can receive tax credits for the child.
The clause has received strong cross-party condemnation in Scotland – except from the Scottish Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson – and on Tuesday afternoon the Scottish parliament debated a motion criticising the policy.
The most powerful intervention came from Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who read out a letter from a woman who had a child as a result of rape. The woman said having to fill out the "form of shame" could have resulted in her suicide.
Speaking in the debate, Dugdale said: "This heartbreaking letter from a rape victim exposes the reality of the Tory rape clause. Or the 'awful form of shame', as she puts it. 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."
In response, Davidson, who has been attacked by other leaders for supporting the measure, said: "For parents of multiple birth [i.e. twins, triplets, etc], for children who are adopted, and for those rare cases when a birth of a third or subsequent child is the consequence of a rape, the UK government agreed that the two-child restriction should not apply.
"I support these exemptions. Indeed, I can’t imagine that there is a single member of this chamber who does not. There may be many who disagree with capping child tax credits to the first two children, but not – surely – with such exemptions to the cap being put in place."
Here is the full text of the letter read out by the Scottish Labour leader:
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 labelled 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 labelling 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.
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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