Thursday, November 3, 2011

Get out of the "rape mentality"

This is what Tony Porter, a straight-talking New Yorker and father of two is urging other men to do. Stop thinking like a rapist.

It's a shame the powerful talk he delivered was given to an audience of women.

But I hope plenty of men get to listen and take note too.

Here it is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Advice On Avoiding Rape

Have you ever had one of those emails with "Women: Please Read - These Ten Tips Might Save Your Life" drop into your inbox? You know, the ones which tell you to do things like run if someone threatens you with a gun, or kick out the tail lights of a car if you've been kidnapped and bundled into the boot/trunk...?

Various well-meaning female friends have sent these to me, presumably on the assumption that a survival guide will empower me if I'm ever overpowered. The implicit assumption in these emails is that the attacker is likely to be a male stranger with the intention to commit rape.

When it comes down to it, these helpful tips aren't that helpful at all when it comes to women protecting themselves against a rapist. Largely because the type of attack scenario outlined is highly improbable. I'm not saying impossible - but statistically, all women are at far greater risk of rape from someone they already know and trust than someone they don't. As for the business of being set upon while in a late-night car park or some other public place - that's another red herring. A rapist is far more likely to strike in a private or domestic setting.

So, is there anything a woman can do to protect herself against rape? Sadly, not much.  The best thing she could do is avoid associating with any rapists. But rapists don't wear helpful badges identifying themselves. To all intents and purposes they are ordinary men. Keeping clear of all men - just in case -  isn't very practical.

Statistically, alcohol is often a factor in rapes. And given that deliberately causing a woman to become intoxicated and therefore disorientated is a favourite MO of "date" rapists, avoiding inebriation would seem like a good idea on the face of it.

But having said that, alcohol is a factor in many rapes because many rapes occur during or after a social occasion - not because of the presence of booze per se, but because these situations can offer a rapist ideal opportunities to strike. It is very normal for men and women to enjoy a few drinks, flirt together and in some cases, go off and have sex. A rapist can take advantage of this type of harmless expectation and use it to his own ends.

But if avoiding men and foregoing booze actually worked as rape prevention, we could assume that generally speaking, nuns don't get raped. But in fact, they do. Any woman (and indeed, any man) could be a victim of rape. And the belief that they could have somehow done something to prevent it is dangerous nonsense. Only one person could have done something to prevent the rape from happening: the rapist himself.

Which is why my favourite "Ten Ways To Avoid Rape" advisory is the video below.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Wrong Message

I’m the first person to admit that I often find I love a catchy tune, and listen to it over and over, before I actually hear the lyrics. Sometimes I’m amused by them, sometimes I’m impressed by them, and sometimes I’m shocked or upset by them. With some songs, I don’t learn their significance until I am encouraged to watch the music video, either by friends or by a media storm that’s surrounding them, and then I worry about the message that these popular tunes are subliminally transmitting to our children and the population in general. I’m not alone, though - plenty of people like to publicly complain about songs, books and movies that send The Wrong Message.

Take Rihanna’s latest pop video, for instance. I noticed that there was a bit of negative hype about its content, so I decided to go and have a look. Released on 31 May 2011, the music video for Man Down shows Rihanna shooting a man dead in the street. As the video progresses, we learn that he raped her the night before.

The video has been in the news following heavy criticism for the violence portrayed in it. Unfortunately it’s not the fact that she was raped that’s making everyone hot under the collar, but the fact that she shoots her rapist. This made me wonder not about the message the video sends, but what message this sort of reaction sends: murder’s shocking and horrific, but rape? Well…it’s only a woman who gets hurt then, isn’t it? How dare she want to exact revenge! I soon found that I’m not the only person who has been confused by the media’s focus on the murder, rather than the rape, in this video. Lesley Morgan Steiner even goes so far as to suggest that, far from being banned, it should be required viewing!

Her critics say that Rihanna is sending The Wrong Message, and should be encouraging rape survivors to report their rapes, not kill their rapists. Fair enough, I suppose. I don’t think murder is the answer. But do these critics really understand the reality of what happens when a rape is reported by a woman? Of adults who are raped, the 40% who do report it risk a lot when they decide to do so. Only 6% of these reported rapes will actually result in a conviction for rape - from the statistics I can find online, that’s the lowest conviction rate of all reported crimes. Some say that’s because it’s not an easy thing to prove because it’s a he said/she said scenario. However, the rape conviction rate used to be over 35% 25 years ago, so that argument doesn’t make sense. I suggest that one of the reasons could be because juries are being influenced by the over-reporting of false rape allegations in the media, which suggests that it happens far more often than it actually does. The Fawcett Society report on rape facts (this is a download) suggests that only 3% of reported rapes turn out to be false - not a high number, yet false rape claims are reported in newspapers over and over again, making it appear that it’s a far more common occurrence than it really is.

Which brings me to Plan B and his alter-ego Strickland Banks. Plan B’s latest album is called a ‘concept album’, which basically means the songs and the videos for those songs tell a story, and The Defamation of Strickland Banks tells the story of a singer who is approached by an amorous fan. He rejects her and she tells the police that he raped her…well, that’s what’s implied. The most famous and arguably the most catchy song in the series is She Said, the video of which shows the court case where Banks is found guilty.

And I think that this sends a far more damaging message than Rihanna’s video does. It says that when women get pissed off with a man, they might accuse him of rape and he might get put in prison. So beware of women, men! And juries, bear this in mind when you’re sitting on a rape case - women who are alleged to have been scorned before the alleged rape took place are probably lying.

But has this damaging message been picked up by the media? No. Google ‘Rihanna criticism’ and you get at least a whole page of hits bemoaning the violence in the video of Man Down (although it’s not actually that violent or graphic - she shoots, he falls, people scream. I’d rather see that than a load of men in gold jewellery molesting a girl in a bikini, but that’s a subject for another post!). Google ‘Plan B criticism’ or ‘Strickland Banks criticism’ and all you get is a bit of moaning about the lack of depth in his ‘concept’. This is just one more example of how skewed things are in our culture: where it’s ok to perpetuate the myth that women falsely accusing men of rape is common leading to shockingly low conviction rates, but it’s not ok to suggest that rape survivors might be angry and hurt enough to find their own way of doing justice because they know the law is highly unlikely to do it for them.

by Clare Kirkpatrick

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The "Unstoppable" Force

What is is about the penis that makes it so powerful, mere men can't be expected to control it? According to the popular imagination, one glance at a woman wearing a short skirt; and/or inebriated after one-too-many rum and cokes; and/or walking on her own in a secluded area; and/or lying in a bed; and/or any number of other scenarios supposedly suggesting sexual availability....and the penis turns into an unstoppable penetrative missile. Its hapless owner can do nothing to prevent himself from being launched full-tilt into the woman who was unlucky enough to catch his eye.

Written like that, the idea seems absurd. Yet it's an idea that holds sway among hoards of the population when they believe something a rape victim did somehow made her complicit in her attack. She wore revealing clothes. She was drunk. She was unguarded. She was in a bed. My goodness, she was easy pickings for any passing penis. Men couldn't possibly be expected to resist the temptation of having sex with her in those circumstances, could they?

Er, yes they could. Countless numbers of men seem to manage it just fine. Penis and testosterone together may be a strong combination, but believe it or not, they can be efficiently overridden by that other redoubtable human organ, the brain. But what do I know, I'm only a woman? Luckily for me, a man called Martin Robbins has recently made the exact same point when examining the excuses given by philandering husbands for their adultery. Dear oh dear, those men's penises simply wouldn't let them have a say in the matter, poor things... Well, Martin Robbins doesn't buy that and neither do I.

And neither should you. Especially when it comes to rape. No man is so risibly weak he can't prevent himself from assaulting a woman because his sexual organs happened to be aroused at the time. It's an excuse that should be treated with the contempt it deserves. What terrible thing would happen if a man actually refused to allow himself to be penis-led? Would his nether regions spontaneously combust or something?

The hospitals would be overcrowded with poor males seeking attention for serious genital burns if that were the case. Seeing as they're not - and there doesn't seem to be any other medical evidence of harm to those who can exercise some command over their members, let's assume that all men - even rapists - actually make conscious decisions regarding the insertion of their penises into other human beings.

With this in mind, a public service announcement offering advice on how to avoid rape doesn't lecture women on what they should wear, where they should go or how they should behave, no. Instead, it appeals to the owners of both the penises and the brains. And the message is very simple:

"Don't rape her."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Confidence in Confidants

Given all the shame, doubt and blame that is meted out to victims of rape, is it any wonder so few of them want to talk about what happened to them? No one knows for sure how many rapes are never reported to the authorities, but expert opinion, such as that collated by Baroness Stern in her review, believes the figure to be around 90%.

The fear of being called a liar and of being re-victimised by the legal system is what puts off rape victims from going to the police about their ordeal. And the more victims don't feel they can take their experience to the authorities, the more rapists escape justice and the more the true extent of the crime is kept hidden.

So think about it: if a woman told you she had been raped, how would you respond? Perhaps a woman has told you she was raped, how did you respond?

When I was in my late teens a friend of mine told me a male "friend of the family" had "made her" have sex with him while supposedly acting as her chaperone. As I recall, my instinct was to believe her story, to say it was clear to me the man had raped her and that he was utter scum.

It wasn't a situation I had prepared for - how could you? - but reading the accounts of other victims of rape or sexual assault, I'm relieved to learn that my heartfelt response was probably the most appropriate one as well.

Believing the account of a victim is crucial. Remember, the most recent study found that of all the rapes reported to the police, less than 6% were false allegations. Statistically, a woman who says she was raped is most unlikely to be lying. Likewise, statistics also tell us that a man who denies a rape accusation probably is lying.

Don't tell a victim that she could have done something to prevent the attack. Again, statistically the only thing she could have possibly done to prevent the attack was to avoid contact with any and all men. Especially friends, colleagues and family. Is that feasible?

Try and be as sensitive as possible to what she needs from you. If you sense she needs space, don't overwhelm her with physical comfort; if you sense she needs to go over and over what happened and how she feels about it, just listen.

Whether she decides to go to the authorities about the attack or not, support her decision. In a more ideal world, all rape victims would alert the police to their ordeals - but in reality, most don't want to for the reasons mentioned above. Respect that.

If a friend does confide in you that she has been raped it says something very important about how she regards you: she trusts you. You won't let her down, will you?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why don't they get it?

Rape has been very much in the headlines this week. From Ken Clarke's ill-judged remarks that some rapes were "more serious" than others, to the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund charged with raping a member of staff at the hotel he was staying in.

Not surprisingly, media attention has also spilled over from straight reports of the situations to comment and editorial pieces. What some of those pieces have shown is how ill-informed members of the supposed intelligentsia can be when it comes to rape. Which is a kind description. But I would rather think they were ill-informed than assume they were simply peddling tired old misogynistic explanations of rape with no attempt at sympathy or understanding for those who have experienced it.

Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail declares "some rapes are worse than others" and later in the same piece says:
It means a dispute about consent, often between people who are already in a sexual relationship.
It means one person’s word against another’s, in highly unequal circumstances, with the accuser granted anonymity and the accused under the glare of publicity.

Reducing the definition of rape to "a dispute about consent" fails to recognise the act of sexual violence for what it is. Rape is violence, using sex as a means of delivering it. Rape is never a situation where the poor old rapist got a bit confused and thought his victim wanted to have sex with him when in fact, she didn't. That definition does a disservice to the many decent men who are not rapists. Decent men know when a woman isn't keen on the idea of having sex with them and they don't force the issue. Because they are not rapists. A rapist doesn't care whether his victim is willing or not.

Writing in his personal blog, the Conservative MEP, Roger Helmer decides Ken Clarke was right in making a comparison of seriousness for rape. Helmer then uses murder scenarios to illustrate his point. A hostage killed by his kidnapper and a man killed by a jealous husband after being found in bed with his wife.
In the first case, the murder is calculated, premeditated, deliberate and undertaken for money. In the second case, none of these comments applies. And according to Helmer, a more lenient sentence would be given to the jealous husband.

He then compares this with the "classic" stranger rape (you guessed it, the dark alley rapist) and a supposed "date rape" where a woman changes her mind at the last minute, but the young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on.

Helmer then trots out a "classic" rape myth: the first case, the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.
Well, well, well - it's the victim's fault again. She led him on, the poor rapist simply couldn't help himself.

Utter, utter twaddle. And misogynistic twaddle at that. Not to mention being offensive to the many men who are not rapists and are perfectly able to restrain themselves, even when aflame with sexual desire.

Both Helmer and Hichens have also missed the point about the comparative "seriousness" of rapes.

ALL rapes are EQUALLY serious. But some rapes involve extra criminal activity beyond the basic violent act of coercion and enforced penetration, which characterises all rapes. AS WELL AS raping their victim, some rapists ALSO kidnap, imprison, torture or physically abuse the unfortunate recipient of their violence.

And by the way, those rapists may or may not have already met their victim. A "date rape" can involve as much extra violence as a "stranger rape". Conversely, a "stranger rape" may not involve extra violence beyond the rape act itself. What is serious in each case is how badly the victim will have been traumatised by what happened.

And even without any extra violence, is a "date rape" really less serious than a "stranger rape", Mr Helmer? As one of the commentators on his blog post put it: is this not like saying that a peadophile who abuses his own daughter is less culpable than one who abuses a stranger?

And with all this emphasis on the relative seriousness of different "types" of rape, one thing both pieces seriously lacked was any genuine compassion for the victims of these rapists. Most of whom get away with their crimes over and over again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Serious, proper rape"

It's time to start tearing your hair out when your own Justice Secretary - a former lawyer - reinforces the rape myths and dangerous stereotypes that contribute to the UK's woeful failures to convict rapists for their crimes.

The Conservative minister, Ken Clarke was outlining possible proposals to halve prison sentences for criminals who plead guilty early, including rapists. In an interview on BBC Five Live, it was put to him that many rapists would therefore be out of jail in 15 months as the average sentence in the UK for rape is five years.

Clarke insisted that figure "includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15 year olds... A serious rape with violence and an unwilling woman - the tariff is longer than that."

That even the Justice Secretary believes "date rape" is somehow less serious than "stranger rape" depressingly underlines just how ingrained misconceived attitudes towards rape are.

And incidentally, the sentencing average does not include teenagers involved in underage sexual activity. That is not regarded as rape by UK law.

So once again the image of the knife-wielding stranger brutally dragging a passing woman into a dark alley to violate her is held up as being the "classic" rape. When in fact, it is the rarest type of rape.

Is it also fair to say stranger rape is more horrifying than that carried out on a woman by someone she has already met? No. All rape is horrifying and has an appalling effect on the victim, however it was carried out and by whom.

So, should a rapist's sentence be halved if he is "considerate" enough to confess so his victim doesn't need to participate in his trial? No. Since when did an admission of guilt make the crime less serious for the victim? Instead, how about sentences being doubled for rapists who insist on pleading not guilty and are then convicted? That would be far more fair.

As for the issue of violence - some rapes being seen as less "serious" because the victim wasn't left with visible cuts and bruises - then the Justice Secretary and anyone else involved in the legal system should consider this:

1. The very act of penetrating an unwilling victim is an act of violence.

2. If violence in addition to penetration is carried out against the victim, it would make more sense to add Actual Bodily Harm or Grievous Bodily Harm to the charge sheet, rather than consider a rape perpetrated without extra violence as being somehow less "serious".

After a media outcry, Clarke later claimed he had been misinterpreted, saying "all rape is a serious crime".

But before that, in an interview on Sky News, Clarke complained: "Rape has been singled out as an example [of the proposals under discussion] mainly to add a bit of sexual excitement to the headlines."

That the Justice Secretary equates rape with sexual excitement is breathtakingly crass. His remark that talk of rape was being used as a means to spice up a news story is beneath contempt. And underlines once more his ignorant assumptions about the reality of rape.

I only pray any proposal to allow rapists to have discounted sentences in return for an early guilty plea will be well and truly scotched. I leave the last words on that subject to a rape victim herself:

I will still have to live with the fact my rapist is laughing at me, live with the memories etc. It is in effect a long sentence followed by life on parole. I am the victim not the culprit, I would have to be the culprit to have rights. That is the society we live in, that is what our legal system gives us.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Institutionalised rapists

I'm not talking about the kind of rapists - all too few - who are put in jail for their crimes. I'm talking about the rapists who are protected by institutions at the expense of their victims.

Most people with a sense of fair play might imagine that an institution with a duty of care would try to make sure no one is harmed while inside its walls. And if someone was harmed by another person, surely the institution would do everything possible to help the victim and punish the perpetrator?

In the case of rape, that approach is far from a given.

Take the case of Liz Seccuro, who was raped while at a fraternity party held at a US university in the 1980s. She was left horribly injured after the attack and had to be treated in hospital.

When Liz reported what had happened to the dean of the institution his first response was to ask: "Are you sure you didn't have sex with this man and you don't want to admit that you aren't a 'good girl'?"
He then claimed the university didn't fall under police jurisdiction (a lie) and that the university authorities would investigate.

The "investigation" involved asking the rapist, William Beebe, for his side of the story and accepting his claim that sex was "consensual". No action was taken. It was only many years later, after the rapist contacted her, that Liz was finally able to pursue some sort of justice. Although the sentence Beebe was given was laughably short.

Have things improved since the 1980s? It would seem not, as the recent case of a Texas cheerleader who was punished for refusing to cheer her 'rapist' demonstrates. I've placed inverted commas around the word rapist as a nod towards the law, because Rakheem Bolton was actually convicted of sexually assaulting the sixteen year-old under a plea bargain whereby the rape charge was dropped. Make of that what you will, I know what I think about it.

The cheerleader's protest against her attacker was greeted with expulsion from the cheer leading squad. Her parents, already irate about the way their daughter had been treated, both by Bolton and his friends and many others in the local community, decided to pursue a court action fighting for the teenager's right to free expression.

They lost. Two separate courts ruled against her, deciding that a cheerleader freely agrees to act as a "mouthpiece" for a institution and therefore surrenders her constitutional right to free speech. The teenager's football star assailant, meanwhile, continued to enjoy his heroic status on the school team.

To pour salt into the wound, the teenager's family was then told to pay the school's legal costs - an amount which the school would likely have made from ticket sales to a single one of its home football games, according to one commentator.

When it comes to rapist v. rape victim, it seems the rapist is offered a chance to either escape justice or be dealt with leniently at every step of the process. From the tittle-tattle of those close by, through to the "caring" institutions they belong to and right up to the criminal courts.

In both the cases mentioned above I applaud the victims who ultimately refused to just sit back and accept defeat. They fought. They may not have received the justice they deserved, but at least they tried. Perhaps the next victim who tries will be more successful.

For those victims who don't try - I don't blame you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Victims' Voices

The voices of rape victims are silenced. Mostly by the social stigma of "shame" - which comes from society's prevailing attitude of blaming the victims for their own attacks. So women who have been raped may tell one or two close friends, perhaps a member of their family, or a trusted partner. They may tell the police. Or they may tell no one at all.

Because rape is so often regarded as a "dirty" secret and kept behind this convenient veil of shame, it is all too easy for people who have never been raped or sexually assaulted to assume it is not a widespread problem. And many of the many, many women who have been the victims of sexual violence think they are one of the very few. They are not. The recently published Stern Review (which can be found on the UK Government's Equalities website) is testament to that.

Now a new blog exists where people can anonymously post the stories of their rapes and experiences of sexual violence and coercion.

The accounts are heartbreaking because so many of them are so very ordinary. A party. A night out with a friend. A boyfriend. The simple, social things that so many women enjoy every day.

Another feature the accounts have in common is the effect of these assaults on the women who describe them. Life shattering.

Here are a few short extracts:

"None of my family have any idea of any of it and that’s the way I want it to stay. I’m telling my story here because I want people to read the story and know that rape victims never ask for it or deserve it. I didn’t ask for him to spike my drink. I didn’t ask him to violate me in my sleep. I didn’t ask to become pregnant only to lose the baby later. No one ever does."

"I couldn’t understand why (the police) didn’t believe me, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t help me, I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let me go home. I was still drunk and I could feel the throbbing pain from the choking and the rape.
I couldn’t go home. I spent the next 4 days in jail, waiting to see a judge about bail. I had to have a public defender because what they’d charged me with meant prison time - and it took time to find an attorney who would represent me.
The day I was released, I attempted to commit suicide."

"I’d been successful, and happy, and remarkable. Now I had nothing. I hated him but I blamed myself. I thought I’d “asked” for it, I thought I’d not made it clear - I let him link my arm, I let him get into my flat, I could have fought harder, I could have said something, I could have called him and told him he was a rapist scumbag, I could have gone to the Police. Everything I did was wrong. I blamed myself for everything."

"We had been together for about two months. We were in bed kissing, and he decided to have sex with me. He was on top of me, and I kept telling him to stop. He didn’t. He forced himself into me, and I felt myself starting to bleed. I pushed him off of me and ran out of the room, crying. I cleaned up in the bathroom, then went outside to have a cigarette. He followed me. Still crying, I said to him, “Are you happy now, you fucking asshole?” He looked at me tenderly, enveloped me in a hug, and said, “I love you, baby.”"

"I remember lying there with his hands all over me. He kept touching me, he wouldn’t stop touching me. I just closed my eyes shut and tried to fade out. I can’t be here right now. He kept apologizing. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
He had to have known what he was doing to me. He had to have known that he was ruining me. With each touch he was breaking me apart. Each breath on me tore apart my old identity."

More common features of the accounts quoted above: in each case the victim knew her assailant. And none of the perpetrators was brought to justice for his crime.

The entirely understandable reluctance of rape victims to tell people about their ordeal means it is chillingly easy for our society to sweep the extent of the abuse under the cultural carpet.

In fact, despite the authorities publicly urging rape victims to seek justice, the social pressure not to be branded as a woman who was - that vile phrase - "asking for it" is often far stronger. Society plays straight into the rapists' hands, so much so, that society could be said to be conniving with the rapists, allowing them to continue raping with impunity.

Because time and time again, that is what is happening. And time and time again, the victims' voices are unheard or ignored or disbelieved.

Society is made up of people. It is you and me. Every time we pass casual judgement on a victim of rape ("What did she expect, dressed like that?"; "She threw herself at him because he was famous"; "She shouldn't have got so drunk"; "She led him on" ) we become an accessory to rape.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The False True Rape Claim

In autumn 2010 a woman was given an 8-month jail sentence for retracting an allegation of rape which she maintained had truly happened. The woman originally called the police to say she had been anally, orally and vaginally raped by her husband, who she had been with for nine years. She was taken to a women's refuge and he was charged with six counts of rape.

But in the end, it was the woman herself - the rape victim - who was sent to prison. She had asked to drop the charges - but she had asked to do so because she was being pressured by her husband and his family. She was afraid.

It seems the law enforcement agencies knew about the woman's situation, but they still went ahead and tried her for perjury and wasting police time.

She was freed by the Court of Appeal, which accepted the woman had been subjected to domestic violence. The Lord Chief Justice commented that there should be "a broad measure of compassion for a woman who had already been victimised".
Yes. Victimised once by her husband, then again by the criminal justice system.

But the verdict was not overturned and the woman's custodial sentence was replaced with a two year community sentence. So, although freed from prison, she now has a criminal record and the husband accused of raping her so violently remains at liberty and possesses a clean record.

Thankfully, the Criminal Prosecution Service responded to the public outcry about the case and launched a consultation into its treatment of such situations.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer told an interviewer from the Guardian he felt it was important to restore confidence so victims of rape felt able to tell the police what had happened to them.

Actually creating some confidence where before there was none is what needs to be done. It is daunting enough for rape victims to report their ordeals without the added threat of prosecution if they feel unable to pursue their case.

For the moment, the DPP has asked that any perjury/wasting police time cases relating to rape and/or domestic violence should be referred to him before being taken forward. At the same time, the CPS consultation is continuing and will finish taking opinions on May 6th 2011.

I can only hope that this and the authorities' response to the Stern review into rape cases will start to turn the tide against the rapists. They have been allowed to remain in the ascendant for too long while the victim-count piles up in its thousands. And those victims not only suffer the mental and physical after effects of sexual violence, they are often victimised again by the general public for somehow "deserving" to be raped and in cases like the one mentioned above, victimised once more by the very system that is supposed to support them.

And supposedly, we live in a "civilised" society. It doesn't seem very civilised to me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Lolita Myth

The parenting website Mumsnet has a campaign underway called Let Girls Be Girls. It aims to dissuade UK retailers from stocking products which contribute to the premature sexualisation of girls.

The age of sexual consent in the UK is sixteen. But a massive grooming exercise has been going on for years, with children who have hardly begun primary school its target. Mumsnet gives a few examples of the items it doesn't want to see on sale to young girls: children's underwear which mimics adult lingerie, 'grown up' heels for little girls, 'sexy' or provocative slogans on clothing...

But the retailers aren't the only ones at it. Children are being bombarded on all sides by the mass media with images and examples of behaviour designed to turn men on. So young girls walk around with T-shirts emblazoned with glittering "Porn Star" slogans or use a Playboy pencil case in the classroom. They are being conditioned into regarding themselves as an object of sexual attraction and being brainwashed into believing their only value lies in how much of a sex object they can be.

So is it the girls' fault that grown men believe them to be fair game in sexual terms? Certain members of the legal profession would certainly think so. Take Judge Peter Fox QC, who gave a paedophile by the name of David Barnes a suspended sentance for online activities (including grooming a young teenager), with the following words:
I accept it has been a dreadful shock to your mother, to your father and to your grandmother and to those others who have known you.
And in addition (to the images), there was your perverted activities over the internet with the 13-year-old, who, I accept, appears to have seduced you.

Or there are the six male footballers, aged between 18 and 21 who raped two twelve year-old girls in Reading in February 2010. The evidence in court showed one of the two girls had exchanged text messages with one of the men to set up a meeting. One of the girls was then raped by five men, the other by one.

Whatever the girls may have said or texted to the men, the issue of consent is clear. Under the age of 16, they are legally unable to give consent, so they were raped.

A local newspaper reported:
The court heard that all six defendants had believed the girls to be at least 16 or 17 although two witnesses in the car recalled one of them saying they were 15 which matched a false date of birth on her Facebook page.

So in fact, the issue of the girls' ages was raised by at least one of the men, although it seems it either didn't occur to him that sex with a fifteen year-old would be viewed as a sexual offence or he simply didn't care. He went ahead, anyway.

In mitigation, defence lawyers raised the following point:
in the circumstances, if the activities had taken place just four weeks later than they had, when the main girl would have turned 13, none of the defendants would have faced any criminal charges because of the defence provided by her actions.

In other words, a girl cannot legally give consent to sex below the age of sixteen. But, going by what those lawyers said in Reading Crown Court, at the age of thirteen a girl can effectively consent to what amounts to her own rape.

So at what age does a male perpetrator actually take responsibility for committing a sex crime? All too often, the answer to that question is depressingly simple.

He doesn't.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From rape investigator to rape victim

15,165 rapes were reported to the police in England and Wales in the year 2009/2010, according to Home Office figures. Of those, just over eleven hundred were by men.

Recently, one male victim spoke out, the account of his ordeal being published in The Guardian. The victim is also a police officer who had spent fifteen years specialising in serious crime and sexual offences. It gave him a traumatic insight into what rape victims - who are overwhelmingly female - often experience and why so few are willing to take their case to court.

Here is a quote from early on in the article:
...a couple of weeks ago, I made a series of choices that led to me, a heterosexual man, waking up in a man's bed, trapped underneath him. Being raped. I'm still struggling to come to terms with how, despite my decades of professional experience, I made the choices that led to me being raped. At no point the evening before had I felt at risk. At no point did I think I was making a bad decision.

Sadly and in common with many, many other people, this experienced police officer came to the conclusion that the rape was to a large extent his - the victim's - fault. He talks of "choices" and a "bad decision" that led to him being raped. He feels he placed himself in a situation that allowed another man to attack him, rather than laying the blame where it truly belongs: at the door of the rapist.

The rapist made the choice to force himself on his victim, that was the only "bad decision" that was made in the scenario outlined in the article.

The victim was by his own admission very drunk and he woke from his stupor while the rape was in progress. There was no doubt in his mind that he did not give consent to sexual intercourse. And when he mentioned the incident to his boss in the police force, it seems there was no question mark over whether he gave his consent to the act or not. It was simply taken as read that he did not.

Likewise, when the victim refused to co-operate with the police desire to push to prosecute his attacker, there was no suggestion that this was because the allegation was in any way false.

These are his reported words on the reasons why he refused to press charges:
I'm a victim first and a police officer second. I'm not the first victim to decide not to press charges, and I won't be the last. Being a cop means I know the system, and it has scared me off. I know this case would be likely to end in court and, from that point, I couldn't maintain my anonymity. I couldn't cope with the added burden of being a cop as well as a victim.

Let me make it clear: I feel extremely sorry for this rape victim. His was a harrowing ordeal - as all rapes are - and he was left with his self-esteem and emotions in tatters. But I can't help wondering how his case would have been regarded had he been a woman reporting the same scenario. Or a man unknown to the investigating officers.

The article ends with the police officer saying he now has more sympathy and empathy for those victims he has been working with.

What is sad is that it took a rape for him to gain this understanding.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When rape becomes a habit

So another serial rapist - who attacked elderly people essentially unchallenged for 17 years - is finally caught and sent to prison in the UK. Delroy Grant may have assaulted more than five hundred victims in their own homes, many of them ill with diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, before his appalling activities were brought to an end.

Perhaps I could mention how little news coverage the individual attacks merited while Grant was still at large. Or I could shake my head in disgust at another messed up investigation of a sex attacker by the Metropolitan Police. Or I could seethe at one psychologist describing Grant's actions as "stealing sex", as if theft could be in any way analogous with the despicable nature of his violent crimes.

OK, so I did mention those factors. But I don't want to focus on them. I want to mention again that the nature of Grant's rapes - against people unknown to him - are extremely rare. But there are two aspects of Grant's behaviour that are not so unusual.

One is that Grant's violence was not confined to the victims of his sex crimes. This charming man was also responsible for perpetrating domestic violence against at least one of his former partners - his ex-wife, Janet Watson. She testified against him in court.

The other is Grant's repeat rapes - he did it over and over again. As a rapist of strangers, Grant is a relatively rare creature. But as a serial rapist, he is not.

Two studies are quoted in this blog post by Yes Means Yes. One was a sample of almost two thousand male US college students, the other a survey of more than eleven hundred newly enlisted men in the US Navy.

In each case, the men were essentially asked if they had ever forced another person into having some form of sexual intercourse with them. The word "rape" was not used in either questionnaire.

In the sample of college students, 120 admitted they had raped or attempted to rape someone. The blog analysed the figures thus:
Of the 120 rapists in the sample, 44 reported only one assault. The remaining 76 were repeat offenders. These 76 men, 63% of the rapists, committed 439 rapes or attempted rapes, an average of 5.8 each (median of 3, so there were some super-repeat offenders in this group). Just 4% of the men surveyed committed over 400 attempted or completed rapes.

The students were also asked about violent acts they committed. Once again, the rapists, especially the repeat rapists stood out:
These 76 men, just 4% of the sample, were responsible for 28% of the reported violence. The whole sample of almost 1900 men reported just under 4000 violent acts, but this 4% of recidivist rapists results in over 1000 of those violent acts.

The study of new naval recruits asked similar questions about forced sexual activity and the results were very similar. A large proportion of the rapists were recidivists and between them they had carried out the majority of the sexual assaults mentioned in the survey.

In the vast majority of cases in both samples, the rapist already knew their victim. It was also clear that as well as the violence reported, by far the favourite modus operandi of the rapists was to ply their victim with alcohol.

Rapists, these studies would suggest, often get a taste for rape. Violence is frequently a part of their personality. And in general, they prefer to target someone by befriending them first - and by offering them a drink.

So why are so many of these rapists' victims made to feel they somehow brought the attack on themselves? These men know exactly what they're doing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Dark Alley Rapist and media hype

What scenario do most people imagine if the word "rape" is mentioned? A woman walking alone at night in a quiet street, who is then grabbed and threatened by an unknown man who drags her to a nearby spot and rapes her. It's the "classic" stranger rape incident and it's the type of case that gets the media most excited.

Take the recent case of a woman attacked in an alley in Manchester, as reported in this instance by the BBC and also featured on the Crimewatch television programme. Or a case in Edinburgh last summer where a woman was attacked at night when she popped out to a local shop. Or a woman raped in Glasgow in the early hours last August after being dropped off by a taxi.

Not surprisingly, all these cases were featured in the news media. Journalists love a crime that is suitably dramatic and what they regard as "news" are cases that are unusual. Rape by a stranger in a public area is unusual, so naturally, journalists pick up on it. The police are usually more than happy to collude because they often want witnesses for their investigations. (To be fair to The Edinburgh Evening News and STV, low down in their reports of the above cases, they also quoted a police spokesperson saying this type of incident is unusual.)

The far more common type of rape is one where the victim already knows her attacker - or at the very least, is acquainted with him. More than 80% of all rapes are thought to be in this category. And only around 15% of attacks take place in public spaces. But these cases are usually only reported if a celebrity is being accused of carrying out the rape.

The problem is that the public forms a picture of the classic rape scenario from the media reporting of the rarer cases. So all too often, jurors who sit on trials of the more common type of rape (the attacker is known to the victim, the assault took place in a home, hotel room, club or car) find the case to be fundamentally at odds with their preconceived notions of what a rape actually is.

A report by The Lilith Project made the point that this misconception of what a "normal" rape is can heavily influence the decision a jury makes with regard to the guilt or innocence of the smart-suited "ordinary" man in the dock before them. He's just a regular guy, right? Not the media-created monstrous deviant out stalking dark alleys for "innocent" random victims to rape, oh no.

So what DOES a rapist look like?

In the majority of cases, I would suggest, he does indeed look like an ordinary man.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Oops, I accidentally raped her....the problem of intent vs consent

If a woman is sexually assaulted by a man who claims he was sleepwalking at the time or was too intoxicated to realise she wasn't giving her consent to the act, there's a good chance he will be acquitted of raping her.

Take a recent case involving James Thomas, a 22 year-old from Middlefield in Edinburgh. He was cleared of raping a young woman (who was herself asleep at the time of the incident) because he said he was sleepwalking. Despite the fact that the woman was incapable of giving consent to the act, the jury decided the case against him wasn't proven.

The 2003 Sexual Offences Act says:
(1)A person (A) commits an offence if —
(a)he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,
(b)B does not consent to the penetration, and
(c)A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
(2)Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents.

It seems sleepwalking is therefore deemed to be a valid excuse as the man can claim he didn't intend the penetration etc. and he was in no position to "not reasonably believe that B consents". The same goes for being too drunk, as another recent case highlighted in this blog illustrates. Haydor Kahn was acquitted of rape after having sex with a woman (also asleep at the time the incident began) because he was too drunk to realise it wasn't his girlfriend.

So it seems where there is a direct confrontation between a man's inability to intentionally rape a woman and her inability to give consent, the man's assertion that he "didn't mean to" wins out.

Well, that's comforting for women to know, is it not?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The innocence of victims

Some rape victims, it would seem, are more innocent than others. The woman attacked while going for a morning jog, the young mother accosted while walking her baby in a pushchair, the elderly woman menaced in her own home. Should more sympathy be shown to those women than, say, the women attacked after drinking heavily; or eyeing up men in a bar; or after a shift in a striptease bar; or while working as a prostitute?

The answer is they all deserve our sympathy if someone has forced them into having sex. No matter what a woman does to earn her money or how she behaves to try and attract men, she does not deserve to be coerced into carnal activities. The nun and the prostitute have an equal right not to be subjected to sexual violence and an equal right to be treated with sympathy and understanding if they are.

But media reporting will still tend to stereotype victims as either innocent or not. Often a rape victim will simply be described as a "woman". But equally often, she will be defined in some way which invites the reinforcement of these stereotypes.

Take a rape case that came to court in the south of England earlier this year. Ivars Balodis from Northam was convicted of raping a woman in Southampton. The woman was working as a prostitute at the time, so the local newspaper opened its accounts with: "A man accused of raping a Southampton prostitute," and in its follow up: "A man has been warned he faces a lengthy jail sentence after being convicted of the multiple rape of a Southampton sex worker."

I would argue she was a woman first and foremost and what she did to earn money should have been mentioned a little later in the article. Her profession was relevant to this particular case, so I'm not suggested it wasn't mentioned at all, but a woman attacked is a woman attacked, no matter what she did to earn her living. I do, however, applaud the fact that Balodis was convicted of her rape.

By contrast, take the case of Gary Gunstone, recently convicted of raping a woman in Bideford. Numerous press reports, including a local newspaper there started its report along these lines: "A predatory sex attacker, who raped a 30 year old virgin on a town centre pavement as motorists drove past without stopping, has been locked up for the public's protection."

The woman's virginity at the time of the attack was entirely irrelevant, so why mention it so prominently? Undoubtedly, her virginity was also mentioned in court but again, why was that necessary? Even if the victim had slept with several men by the time she was subjected to this attack, would that make Gunstone any less culpable?

Then there was the woman who recently gave evidence in the trial of the so-called Night Stalker rapist, Delroy Grant. She was his oldest alleged victim and was variously described in one report as "proud and private" (quoting from the courtroom), "frail" and "traumatised". There is no mistaking the report's sympathy for her victim status.

A recent MSc dissertation by Michail Bobotis studied the portrayal of rape victims in the UK national press. The reports of two "quality" newspapers and two tabloids between 2005 and 2009 were analysed. Bobotis found that in almost a quarter of the reports (24.4%) the rape victim was portrayed as innocent, naive and undeserving and in just over a sixth of the reports (16%) the victim was portrayed as "provoking, culpable, deserving".

And so the stereotypes of deserving and undeserving rape victims are continually reinforced, thanks to media reporting. But let me say again: NO woman should ever be forced to have sex against her will. That is RAPE. Full stop.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Retractions and repercussions

An acquaintance recently told me that a policeman friend of hers believes the number of false rape allegations made in the UK is actually very high because he has seen so many rape claims withdrawn before they come to court. He said although the police party line is that very few of the allegations turn out to be false, privately many officers think differently.

The high retraction rate of rape claims is one of the reasons for the high attrition rate - the number of reported cases that never result in a conviction for the crime. Only around 6% of all rapes reported to the police actually result in a conviction for rape.

It is perhaps understandable some police officers have formed the opinion that many rape claims are false when they see woman after woman refusing to participate in their investigations. But in fact, it's far more likely that women are withdrawing their allegations out of fear - fear of retribution or fear of what they will face in the courtroom.

One especially shocking case
happened last year when a woman who had reported being raped by her abusive husband withdrew her allegation and was jailed for eight months for perverting the course of justice. Her sentence was later overturned at the Court of Appeal, where it was accepted that her allegations had been withdrawn under coercion from her husband.

The Criminal Prosecution Service was criticised for its decision to prosecute her at all and as a result, a consultation is now underway to offer new guidance which it's hoped, will prevent women, who have already been the victims of rape and coercion, from then becoming a victim of a misguided criminal justice system.

But what about vulnerable and traumatised women whose courage crumbles when they are hit by the full reality of what they will likely experience at the hands of court barristers?

As The Guardian's Legal Affairs Correspondent, Afua Hirsch put it in an article published last December:
"an adversarial court system does not encourage vulnerable or traumatised people to come forward. Far from the stereotypical view of slighted women quick to make false accusations, the prospect of being forensically examined by doctors, then cross-examined by barristers, is enough to deter many genuine rape victims from the prospect of justice altogether."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seeking redress - Pursuing justice in the civil court

Those rape survivors who have watched their attacker secure an acquittal in court, or stood by feeling helpless when the Criminal Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with their case DO have another avenue. They can sue their attacker for damages. And they have a better chance of winning.

The reason is because the burden of proof is less in the civil court. In the criminal court, the defendant doesn't have to prove his innocence, the prosecution has to prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that he is guilty. If any "reasonable doubt" exists, then a jury can and will acquit. In the civil court, the decision is made on "the balance of probabilities".

Recently, a woman won substantial damages against a man who had repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was 10 and 11 years-old. He had been found not guilty in the criminal court. A court case, according to a BBC report, where two of the woman's friends were forbidden to be witnesses, even though their testimonies could have been crucial to her case. Also, a previous conviction of sexual assault against a teenage girl was not mentioned in case it prejudiced the jury.

But taking the case to the civil court has its drawbacks. It may be expensive, although some lawyers may be willing to take it on under a "no win, no fee" agreement and Legal Aid is available.

The possibility of being cross-examined by one's attacker is a big off-putting factor, something which wouldn't be permitted in the criminal court.

But if the woman is brave enough to face that, she does as least have the opportunity of forcing her attacker to make some amends, if only in the form of financial compensation.

Sadly, the rapist would still escape a criminal conviction, but their victim would be able to feel that at least some semblance of justice had been done.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Too boozed up to say no...or yes.

A few years ago there was a minor panic in the UK over drink-spiking and its role in "date rape". Numerous reports recounted how rapists were slipping Rohypnol ("Roofies") or Gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB) into women's drinks then taking advantage of them when they became disorientated from the effects of the drugs.

Undoubtedly, this did and still does happen. But a study commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers reported in 2006 that only one in 12 of suspected "drug-assisted rapes" actually involved so-called "date rape drugs". In fact, the main culprit rendering women incapable and vulnerable to attack was alcohol.

Many press reports responded to this study by choosing the angle that date rapes were therefore mainly down to the victim's regrettable binge-drinking. Take this quote from The Daily Mail: "rather than furtively spiking drinks in bars, predatory sex attackers often committed 'opportunistic' assaults after victims had willingly drunk themselves into a state of helplessness" (my italics).

Are we seeing a pattern here? Once again, responsibility for the rape is shifted to the victim. And sadly, juries have often been shown to be unwilling to convict those accused of rape if the victim was drunk at the time of the attack.

And not just juries. Take the notorious 2005 court case of Ryairi Dougal, a security guard at Aberystwyth University who had sex with a student while she lay in a drunken stupor outside the door to her room. Judge Roderick Evans ruled the jury should acquit Dougal when, under cross examination, the student admitted she was too inebriated to recall whether she gave her consent to sex or not. "Drunken consent to sex is still consent," said Judge Evans.

Actually nowadays, it isn't. Under UK law, someone who is rendered helpless by alcohol or any other intoxicant is judged to be legally incapable of giving consent to sex. Unfortunately, the problem is measuring how drunk is too drunk to give consent and here is a classic loophole through which would-be rapists can secure an acquittal in court.

There are many decent men out there. And decent men will not deliberately ply a woman with drink to render her acquiescent so he can jump on her while she is in a state of severe drunkenness. Even if a woman has been flirting with him. A decent man, I believe, will STOP if it becomes clear the woman is too inebriated to be aware of what's going on.

And if you are a woman, beware the man who buys you a drink. Then another. And another. And another...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pressuring the press to think about the victim

Two days ago I recounted the case of an 11 year-old girl in Texas who was allegedly gang raped by up to 20 men and boys. In particular, I decried the reporting of the case, which focused on a large number of people in the girl's local community blaming her for the attack, the report even implying they had some justification in doing so, while failing to include any hint of concern for the victim herself.

At the bottom of the blog, a link was included to sign a petition protesting to the New York Times about its victim-blaming angle on the case.

As a result of this and other outraged emails, the Public Editor of the NYT, Arthur Brisbane published a piece in the online section of the newspaper acknowledging serious faults with the reporting of the case.

Crying wolf...false rape claims and misconceptions

It is impossible to assess the number of false rape claims made in the UK and Baroness Stern has requested in her review that further research be done to try and establish how prevalent they are.

But she also says "the research that is available on false allegations gives a wide range of figures for how many there are, although those we spoke to in the system felt that there were very few" (my italics).

But false rape claims attract a disproportionate amount of press coverage - we can speculate about the reasons for that - resulting in a widely held view that such allegations are relatively common. When a woman (usually a woman) is convicted of making such a claim, a custodial sentence is commonly handed down.

The 2005 report by Kelly, Lovett, and Regan, A Gap Or A Chasm, suggested that the proportion of all rape allegations made that are subsequently found to be false is around 3%. Three in every hundred.

Undoubtedly, being the victim of a false allegation of rape is a horrible experience and can impact on the person for many years, as the allegation will be on their record and show up in Criminal Records Bureau checks.

But that does not mean the victims of sex crimes should be automatically doubted when they tell their story. Because it's far more likely they are telling the truth.

And too many rapists are escaping justice because they are often the ones being given the benefit of the doubt rather than their victims.

I believe the first response to someone's account of a distressing sexual assault is to say WE BELIEVE YOU.

If hard evidence later comes to light that the allegation was false, then action should be taken accordingly.

(Although I would question whether retribution in the form of a prison sentence is the most effective form of punishment here. Perhaps the person concerned should make amends, rather than be incarcerated at a high cost to tax-payers?)

Friday, March 11, 2011

When rapists are allowed to strike again...and again...

Two cases are prominently mentioned by Baroness Stern in her review into the handling of rape cases. Those of John Worboys and Kirk Reid.

An Independent Police Complaints Commission report in 2010 found that systematic failures by the Metropolitan Police, especially their willingness to believe the suspects' stories rather than those of their victims, left both men free for several years to continue preying on women until they were finally caught.

In the case of John Worboys, the so-called "Black Cab Rapist", the first reports about his attacks were made in 2002, but the police didn't bring him to justice until 2008. Part of the reason for that was a belief that a driver of a black cab couldn't possibly be guilty of raping women. Worboys was given the benefit of the doubt and was able to make further attacks. It's widely believed more than a hundred women were raped or sexually assaulted by John Worboys before the police finally brought him in.

In the case of Kirk Reid, a South London chef, he was cleared of an indecent assault in 1995, then began attacking women in the Wandsworth area in 2001. Reid first crossed the police radar in 2002, became a rape suspect in 2004, but despite his name repeatedly coming up in the investigation, it wasn't until 2008 that the police charged him. Reid raped and sexually assaulted 71 women over a period of eight years. The IPCC ruled that the police failed to take seriously the complaints made against Reid by his victims.

The IPCC report into both cases made it clear the Metropolitan Police Service was severely at fault. But no police officer lost their job over what happened. Meanwhile, around 200 women are trying to rebuild their lives. At least their attackers are finally in prison. For the time being.

It's a simple enough conclusion to draw. If the police had taken the victims seriously from the beginning and treated their cases with the gravity they deserved, they could have saved multitudes of other women from the trauma of being raped.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

It was HER fault...blaming the victim

Is there any situation where a rape victim is not held in some way responsible for being attacked? If she was behaving flirtatiously, wearing revealing clothes or had some previous sexual experience, then the assumption is made over and over again that she was somehow "asking for it". If she was walking at night in a secluded spot, she was being irresponsible about her personal safety. If her rapist was her husband or boyfriend, the fact that she had had sexual relations with them in the past is taken as a blanket consent for sex in the future.

All this type of thinking does is neatly shift responsibility for the crime from the perpetrator to the victim. And this attitude seems to pervade even in situations where the victim is still a very young girl.

A particularly shocking example of this mindset is outlined by the website The F Word. The case is that of an 11 year-old girl who was allegedly raped by up to 20 young men and boys and a video of the attack then passed around the local school.

If that wasn't upsetting enough, the F Word describes how numerous press reports of the case focus on people from the girl's local community lining up to blame her (and indeed, her mother) for the attack and exonerate the men accused of carrying it out. Many of those quoted are women.

Not one of the reports, including one by that august publication, The New York Times, chose to examine how the victim might be feeling. I hope to goodness she is getting the support she will surely need to try and recover from her ordeal, although these reports cause me to seriously doubt she is.

The case, which has yet to go to trial, took place in the United States. But similar cases have happened in the UK and once again, women are just as likely as men to point the finger at the victim. In fact, according to a recent BBC report, women are, unhappily, even more likely to blame the victim than men are.

Imagine another scenario: your daughter/sister/niece is the 11 year-old girl allegedly raped by up to 20 men and boys.

Do you still believe it was somehow her fault?

A Post Script:

If you wish to sign a petition protesting about the New York Times' reporting of this case, please click here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Too drunk to spot the difference - a valid defence?

On the 26th of February, The Daily Mail reported the case of Haydor Khan, a 22 year-old waiter who was charged with rape after going into a sleeping woman's room at a small hotel in Surrey and having sex with her.

Khan's defence was that he was too drunk to realise the woman wasn't his girlfriend.
Khan's girlfriend, according to the report, had already refused sex with him earlier in the evening because she was feeling ill.

For reasons best known to itself, the Daily Mail then tagged another report on the end of its account concerning a prosecution of a woman for making a false rape claim.
It should be stated here that rapes are depressingly common. False rape claims are rare, but they attract a disproportionate amount of press coverage.

A fortnight later, the newspaper followed up its report of Khan's acquittal with a piece from the point of view of the woman Khan had accosted. Joanne Freeman chose to waive her right to anonymity so the Daily Mail could report her anger and disbelief at the verdict.

She told the paper that "the verdict made her feel suicidal, adding: ‘It was excruciating telling a jury of strangers what happened. It has devastated the whole family. My father is heartbroken and my own daughter had to sit through the court case.’
"Her friend Karen Berry, 43, said Miss Freeman had ‘changed completely’, adding: ‘She is a shell of her former self. She tries to be strong but then you see she has a vacant look in her eyes or she breaks down.’"

So, from what we can gather from the two reports, a jury accepted that Khan's drunken belief he had the consent of the woman he "accidentally" had sex with, didn't constitute rape.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We Believe You

Let's start with a few stats:
In 2007/2008, 6.5% of recorded rapes in England and Wales led to a conviction (Crimestoppers).

The number of rapes of females recorded in England and Wales in 2007/2008 was 11,628. 1008 were recorded of males. (Home Office).
(In 2009/2010 that figure increased to 13,991 rapes of females and 1,174 rapes of males)

Shocking, isn't it?

But consider this:

Many reports of rape aren't actually recorded by UK police forces - up to 40% in some regions (BBC News).

And rape is believed to be the most under-reported crime of them all - it's thought 89% of all rapes are unreported (Stern Review).

There are thousands upon thousands of women raped in the UK every year and the overwhelming majority of their attackers continue to live their lives untouched by the law. It would, I fear, be too much to expect them to feel any kind of remorse for their actions.  Their victims, on the other hand, may well be struggling to rebuild their shattered self-esteem and self-confidence and their ability to ever trust another human being. And much more besides.

As a society, we should be deeply ashamed.  That so many rapists are allowed to operate freely and without penalties. That victims who dare to speak out are let down time and time again by the police, the legal profession and the general public. That women and girls are judged to have "consented" to their attacks by simply wearing make-up or provocative clothes, by walking in the wrong part of town or by drinking too much....

Today, the centenary of International Women's Day, the UK governing coalition published its action plan to tackle violence against women and girls, in part, a response to a review by Baroness Stern into the handling of rape complaints.

Theresa May MP, Minister for Women and Equalities summarised by saying this:

"Our comprehensive and detailed action plan sets out how we are going to tackle these crimes – supporting those at risk, helping victims and ensuring offenders are brought to justice.
"Most importantly we need to prevent these crimes occurring in the first place. That is why we are challenging, and where necessary working to change, attitudes and behaviours."

This should most certainly be applauded. The last change in the law to try and improve the rape conviction rate and stop victims being treated like criminals when their cases came to court (The Sexual Offences Act 2003) hasn't had any noticeable effect on conviction rates so far, suggesting that merely tightening the law further isn't enough on its own.

Deeply ingrained cultural attitudes towards sexuality, so-called "rape-myths" and a disturbing level of misogyny in our society need to be tackled root and branch.

But before we clap the government on the back with too much enthusiasm, it seems the very  same government is trying to "water down an international agreement to protect women against domestic and sexual violence."

According to the New Statesman, "Britain has intervened to object to the wording "violence against women is understood as a violation of human rights". Instead, it wants "violence against women constitutes a serious obstacle for women's enjoyment of human rights". It also wants to alter the document so that it applies only in peace time, and not during armed conflict -- a surprising request, given the widespread international use of rape as a weapon of war."

One step forward, one step back.
This blog aims to create a resource of cases, reports and surveys relating to the situation facing victims of rape in the UK today. 

It's time to set a new precedent.

And it's time to say to women who report their rape: