There’s a really spot-on blog post which has been doing the rounds on Tumblr and Twitter recently. Entitled ’The People You Meet When You Write About Rape’, it provides a fairly comprehensive list of the various ‘personalities’ you’re likely to come across if you ever get embroiled in the comments on a blog post or news story dealing with that ever-thorny issue.
The post goes on to detail the thought processes behind characters such as ‘Mr Model Victims Only Please’, ‘Ms You Don’t Just Get To Decide Whether You Consent’ and ‘Ms Traditional Values’. All play their part in making sure that discussions about rape and sexual violence are derailed and all play their part in affecting public perceptions of women who have been attacked.
As of this week however, it looks like we can add another victim-blaming stereotype to the list: perhaps we can call him ‘Mr No Sympathy For The Complexities of Abusive Relationships’.
Now I know that’s a bit of a wordy moniker, but last week we saw the British justice system hand down a jail sentence to a rape victim due to such a situation – with devastating consequences and implications for women in general.
On Friday, the 28-year-old woman was sentenced to eight months in jail – because she ‘falsely retracted’ allegations that her husband had raped her.
The woman said that she had not retracted her claims because she had made them up, but because she was being ‘emotionally blackmailed’ by her estranged husband and his family, who wanted her to drop the charges because they knew a guilty verdict would mean a long jail sentence for him.
She had initially made a call to Dyfed-Powys Police explaining that she had been raped six times by her husband back in November 2009. Yet two months later, she stated that although the charges were true, she wished to drop them.
On Friday she was told that a prison sentence was ‘inevitable’ due to her wasting the time of the Crown Prosecution Service and also for the fact she had perverted the course of justice. She is now set to lodge an appeal.
The decision has caused outrage for a number of reasons. The woman told police that she had retracted her claims because her husband and his family were putting pressure on her to do so. And yet the decision eventually made by the courts shows that the justice system is failing to take into account the complex situations women in abusive relationships may be subject to.
It’s not always simply a case of the victim accusing someone and that being the end of it. When the alleged perpetrator is a family member, the father of your children, someone you have many close links to - other factors come into play.
Rape Crisis England & Wales has issued a statement on the case, calling for the woman’s release and saying:
“We are shocked that this woman has received a custodial sentence and by the length of it. It highlights a complete lack of understanding of the complexity and reality of women’s experience of violence in their lives.”
The fact is, a lot of women who have been raped don’t report it to the police because they’re worried about the treatment they’ll receive by the police and the courts, or because they’re worried what the accused’s friends and family might do in retaliation. They’re worried that their ordeal will be misrepresented by the press or that they’ll be accused of making it all up.
Funnily enough, this unpleasant affair isn’t likely to reassure women that their cases will be taken seriously. And it’s thoroughly disappointing for all the activists and groups working so hard to improve the way rape cases are dealt with. We still live in a society where plenty of people think that a woman can’t be raped by her husband; is this likely to help matters?
This month, initiatives will be taking place building up to the International Day for the Elimination of Against Women on November 25th. One thing I know many people are hoping for is that this month the press would focus on the very real and devastating impact of VAW. It’s a shame that instead, we’re seeing reports of injustices such as this.