It's been another bad week for injustice in the world of rape cases.
Yesterday we saw the results of a survey - carried out by The Havens - revealing the depressing fact (among other things) that 23% of young men think that having sex with a woman even if she has said no from the start is not rape. The survey was carried out on people in London aged 18-25 and reveals several somewhat concerning facts, including that 21 per cent of men surveyed would 'expect' someone to have sex with them after kissing and that only 56 per cent of respondents said they would not pressure a partner into sex. Results can be found in full on The Havens website.
The story on the Sky News website quickly received a wide-ranging selection of vitriolic comments. At first I was left wondering if things are getting worse. Has public attitude towards rape always been this unpleasant? Considering the way victims were treated by the courts in the past, I think we can safely say it has when it comes to victim blaming. But as I found when I took a look at the way the Daily Mail has reported rape cases over the last three or four years, the way people comment on these stories has changed. It's now common for the comments on a report of a rape case to consist of a fairly consistent stream of misogynist bile, claims that '90 per cent of rape allegations are made up' and disgust expressed at the 'way women ruin mens' lives'.
People hide behind their computers. It's a case of that not-so-old adage: 'If you don't have anything nice to say, say it on the internet'. People will go much further online than they would in person. But the fact remains that they're still thinking these thoughts and thinking that they're appropriate.
In 2007 there was a notorious incident in the US where a judge refused to allow the word 'rape' to be used during a court case. Jeffre Cheuvront claimed that it was too strong a word to use and could sway the emotions of the jury, affecting their impartiality. Also 'banned' were 'sexual assault', 'victim' and 'assailant'. The victim was instead forced to talk about 'having sex' with her alleged attacker.
I was reminded of this today when I spotted a news story talking about a London policeman who has been dismissed from his job for having 'non-consensual sex' with a woman. Several sources have covered the story but only one - the BBC - uses the word 'rape' to describe what the man did. All others refer several times to 'non-consensual sex' as if the other is too difficult to utter. The reports detail the facts of what happened and state that the Met's discliplinary services, 'based on the balance of all probabilities' found that non-consensual sex had taken place. But the man has not faced action by the CPS as there was 'insufficient evidence to prosecute'. The CPS was unable to prove that the offence had 'occurred beyond all reasonable doubt'.
The disgraced PC was described as 'predatory' and 'despicable'. But he's still a free man.
As if all this wasn't bad enough, the case of an alleged gang-rape victim from South Africa being charged with underage sex has also hit the headlines today. The 15-year-old has been charged with statutory rape alongside her alleged attackers.
South Africa has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world, with 1 in 4 men admitting they had raped someone in a 2009 study - many saying they had first raped as a teen - and gang rape widely considered a form of male bonding. The country's government has been repeatedly criticised for failing to respond what's seen by human rights organisations as an 'epidemic' and yet we're seeing another example of a girl treated appallingly and made to feel as if she is somehow to blame for what happened to her.
There is something very badly wrong about all this. No wonder surveys like the one carried out by The Havens come out with the findings they do. This assumption of consent. This attitude that women are there for the taking and that so much as a kiss constitutes an invitation to engage in sex. The belief that a woman can be crying, saying 'no' or physically attacking you but it's still okay to go ahead anyway. The press, the courts and society are all responsible.