Just call it what it is

Thursday, 18 November 2010

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.


RedHead said...

I love this guff about women 'ruining mens' lives' by crying rape, but the women who do so and are not actually raped at all, merely drunk and regret it or are bitter and vengeful are as much to blame as the courts, the press and the police. It's because people are lying to mess with the system that the system has become so grim to mess with.
But that doesn't excuse an anonymous commentator ever saying 'bitch deserved it/she was asking for it/something better attributed to Mel Gibson'. How would they like it if it was their sister, daughter or best friend?

Blair said...

Very well put, Hannah. I often can't read the comments on rape stories on, for example, the Mail website because they make me so angry and disgusted that I get very depressed about the state of things. The courts are completely out of touch with reality anyway (you only have to look at the 'Twitter joke trial' for evidence of that!) and the press are definitely making things worse with their attitude towards rape victims. It's easy enough to criticse and laugh at the likes of the Mail and the Sun from an educated, informed perspective, but I think a lot of people forget there's a whole audience - especially young men - for whom these reports are all they ever read or hear about rape. It also feels like you have to be an outspoken feminist to criticise these views; it doesn't seem as if anyone else ever stands up to the comments. Going to RT this post on Twitter now x

gherkingirl said...

Brilliant post Hannah. You really get to the nub of the issue.

I find it interesting that rape jokes have become more popular and prevalent as the courts and the police become less keen to use the word rape, preferring to trot out cliches and euphemisms.

I also find it interesting (and by that I actually mean infuriating, heartbreaking and rage inspiring) that I have been trying to get a volunteer post working with victims of sexual assault and cannot get one in the South East for love nor money because the funding for Rape Crisis charities and things like Eaves' Amina project has been slashed.

I want to pass on what I've learnt from being raped twice, reporting it and lving with the horrific consquences of it all. I also want to use the opportunity to help me learn new work skills and get off the benefits I've been forced to live on, but no, being punished for being a rape victim carries on long after the police and courts are done with you...

sianandcrookedrib said...

shameless self promotion but have written about this on my blog too:

of course there is nothing to excuse women making false accusations of rape, but the numbers are tiny compared to the number of women who are raped and the numbers of men who rape. and get away with it. but the way right wing media report it, you would believe that false accusations happen all the time.

interestingly (sickeningly) they often report 'false accusations' that are unproven, or have not even been charged or taken to court. one example was with jack tweedy. now, of course, he was found innocent and i am not going to libel him, but the reports of his acquittal instantly framed it that he was falsely accused. however, he never accused her of this, he never reported her to the police or pressed charges. but according to the press, him being acquitted instantly correlated to her being a liar.


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