Saturday, 26 January 2008

Rape on the rise

The big rise in the number of reported rapes and attempted rapes in Northern Ireland suggests men increasingly think that rape is perfectly acceptable and that it's women's duty to satisfy their sexual impulses.

Either that or women are confident or angry enough to report rapes more frequently and try to bring the rapist to justice.

The number of reported attacks in 2006/7 was 457, a rise of almost 60% in five years. And no doubt this is only the tip of the iceberg, with many more sexual assaults never reported for fear of the shame or the repercussions.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said the figures were "disturbing" and welcomed planned legal changes that would give the victims more faith in the police force and the courts.

The conviction rate of around 3% is still scandalously low and needs to be radically improved. Women are reluctant to press charges if the chance of a conviction is so low.

I have suggested before that one problem is the lack of convincing evidence that the victim resisted her attacker - often because the woman fears resistance will only make the situation worse.

Many women are still reluctant to report rapes in case the police are unsympathetic and gloating - or even refuse to believe the rape occurred. Unfortunately there have been a number of such false claims in the past.

But the ultimate deterrent can only be a fundamental change in male culture so men no longer believe in a god-given right to rape women in the name of casual sexual pleasure (or a show of power) and recognise that such vicious violation of a woman's body is never justified under any circumstances.

That's going to be a tough and uphill task, made harder by the fact that so few people are prepared to challenge men's entrenched sexual arrogance.

Yes, you've seen this photo before. And it still says it all. Resist!


  1. Nick, I would refer to my posting on one of your other topics and add that the idea of instant gratification plays a big role in this. I don't see many instances of positive role models in our culture. The predominant thing being appearance and the more revealing clothing on a female the better mentality. I'm not getting into the argument about women's clothing and why can't they wear what they want. Of course they can, what I am saying is that this runs concurrent with the rise of "lad" culture that really started with loaded magazine in 1994.

    The overt sexualistaion of women for the pleasure of men. I'm not saying it is a new phenomenon, only that I believe it was accelerated greatly. Club culture also took off in the mainstream again around 94-95 and as it entered the mainstream it became more about what clothes people wore. What women wore became more skimpy and revealing.

    I am not saying that women should dress differently I am pointing out that I think that our culture changed and all these factors emerged around the same time.

    From the son of a friend of a friend I have heard stories about his and his friends treatment of girls that left me open mouthed with shock.

    I feel old when i comment on the younger generation but they are radically different to mine.

  2. wow, i had no idea.

    the less it's talked about, the more it's done, i think. i don't know if resisting stops rape or provokes the rapist--i suspect it depends on the rapist. but i do think making noise, going to the cops, speaking out are all very hard things to do, but very worthwhile.

    we had a situation here in minnesota just last week where a somali immigrant woman brought charges against a somali man who beat her, stripped her and raped her in the hallway of her apartment building. nobody intervened.

    and when the woman testified in court, a bloc of somali women--including some from her own family--glared at her from the seats. she was violating cultural protocol by (a) having been raped in the first place, and (b) bringing charges.

    do you think an increasing immigrant population is also contributing to the rise in rapes in belfast?

  3. Sorry, MF, but I can't agree that 'revealing' clothing encourages rape, as you seem to be saying. Women should be able to wear anything they like (as long as it's decent obviously) without men taking it as some kind of sexual invitation. I don't assume that a male lifeguard in skimpy shorts is seducing me, after all. Revealing clothing is just another excuse for men unwilling to accept some elementary self-control.

  4. Laurie, I'm sure the sort of shocking attack you mention on the Somali woman is much more common than we like to think. And it's shocking again when other women or the woman's relatives don't want to speak out. That's very common in some cultures, the idea that it's the woman who should be ashamed for letting herself be raped. As for the immigrant question, that's a very hot potato! The immigrant population here has risen rapidly in the last few years but whether that's linked to the rape rise I have no idea.

  5. Nick:
    You are right, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. At one of my female gatherings a few years ago the question came up and there were 10 women present and we had all been raped at one point whether it was 'date rape' or spousal rape or incest. It was frightening to sit around that table and realize we had all been victims and only 1 out of the 10 had reported it because her therapist had urged her. (She was really, really scarred).
    I think the true stats would shake us all to the core, if my stats are any example. Our bodies are still not our own in the eyes of a lot of males.
    Thanks for being a hero and writing about it.

  6. The 10/10 figure really doesn't surprise me, www, after all the things I've heard and read on the subject. There are so many factors combining to keep the full extent a big secret. One reason I wanted to write about it was because rape is so systematically played down. The BBC and Belfast Telegraph ran stories for a few hours and then it disappeared without trace. Disgraceful.

  7. Whoah there Nick!

    I was not reiterating the cliche about women wearing revealing clothing inviting rape!!

    I was merely pointing out my perceived change in our culture, namely the boorishness stemming from magazines and the fact that women have changed their dress habits.

    Young actresses now feel the need to undress in these -ladmags- to enhance and further their careers.

    This is not, in my estimation, female empowerment.

    The fact that we are encouraged to take less responsibility for our actions, male and female I hasten to add, means that things are going to change in our society.
    For the worse.

    Danish society may have some faults but the gender equality seems on the right track to me.

  8. What needs to change is male entitlement, which begins about the time a boy child is able to walk unassisted. He is constantly given messages, both overt and insidious, that women are subservient and that wherever a conflict arises with one, the man's will must prevail.

    It's obscene that in many countries, the victim who reports such a crime is raped all over again by the police and legal system.

    And rape has nothing to do with the way a woman dresses, or in fact, with sexuality. Rape is about power, control and anger. "Provocative" clothing is just an excuse after the fact.

  9. MFG - I'm trying to see your point of view here, but the way you keep stressing how women's dress habits have changed implies you're drawing a connection between that and unwanted male attentions. In any case, I don't think women's clothing has changed that much - there've always been women who wear revealing clothes or pose naked, ever since I was a small boy. I think men have to take responsibility for their actions and their gratuitous sexual harrassment of women.

    Heart - You're right, rape is primarily about assertion of power. But would you agree most women would find sexual violation an especially distressing example of it, which is why I think it's important to single out rape as a particular issue? And it's true, the message that man's will must prevail is pumped into little boys from a very early age. They certainly aren't born that way.

  10. Nick, I've been emphasizing incorrectly. I see a correlation in society of the change in male attitudes towards women and the way women are being encouraged more than ever to objectify themselves for men. That is the point I have , inadequately, been trying to make.

  11. Ah, now I'm with you (I think!). I do agree there's an increasing tendency to objectify women as sexual products available for male consumption rather than human beings deserving the same respect, dignity and value as men. The whole culture of female celebs with the required shapely breasts, stick-thin figures and perfect skin is the obvious example.

  12. We live in a rape culture where violence against women is normative and male privilege completely unchecked.
    I'm glad to see more rapes getting reported, but if the conviciton rate doesn't rise women will give up.
    Rape is the only crime that relentlessly punishes the victim.

  13. Quite so, Medbh, if the conviction rate doesn't go up women will still shy away from reporting rapes as nothing will come of it. Unfortunately rape is not the only crime that punishes the victim, there are numerous examples such as anti-discrimination cases where the victim wins but is then shunned by both her existing employer and other employers.

  14. Yes, certainly and absolutely rape is an especially distressing example of male power over women. It is just as ghastly no matter what the rapist is thinking, and it needs to stop but won't until the penalties are so severe that the risk is not worth it.

  15. You're right about severer penalties, Heart. Sentences for some rapists seem to be amazingly light - and if they're jailed they often get released long before the due date. But I think some men won't even be put off by tough penalties if they think they can get away with it - if their identity is not known or the woman doesn't want to report it.

  16. I get mightily miffed that we accept that men are so weak they have to resort to violence as if it's a 'natural' thing and are unable to control themselves. The 'testoserone' made me do it defense is just not on. Boys need to be raised to respect women and control their power urges. Rape is a crime of aggression, not sexual gratification. Even the suggestion that clothing is provocative, I find really annoying. Are men so weak they can't keep their pencils in their pockets. This is a change that needs to be made at grass roots societal level.

    Having said that, I'm confident that rape is being reported more often which probably blows out the stats.

    We take rape and sexual assault very seriously here (unless you're a bloody footballer in which case it seems you can do anything). Oh, and I wouldn't resist if someone was holding a gun to my head.

  17. Baino, it's unbelievable the excuses men find for not being able to control themselves - that's the way men are, she was asking for it, it's the testosterone, we have stronger sexual urges etc etc. As you say, men should simply respect women and keep it in their pants. Glad to hear sexual assault is taken so seriously in Oz.

  18. The trouble is that a NO means a NO and nothing less. Whether it is the husband, the boyfriend, the father, the uncle, the date, the taxi driver, the bossman, the co-worker, a complete stranger in the alley... When a woman says no, even if it is midway through making love or having sex, whatever it may be called. Can change mind as they kiss. Doesn't matter. There is no excuse for forcing someone to do something they 1) never wanted to do, 2) decided not to do, 3) changed mind about and doesn't want to do anymore. Noone has the right to touch someone who doesn't want to be touched. A woman could be walking around in the nude for all I care, that doesn't mean a man should just go ahead and touch her, etc. It is all about consent, not about what someone is wearing or not wearing. It is about men not using their physical strength and totally unacceptable excuses to get what THEY want. I feel so sorry for women who get raped by their own partners or husbands, and the court at most cases don't even care to take it into consideration as the man is actually the partner in relationship. It is in cases worse to be raped by someone you know intimately than a complete stranger (or so I was told by my self-defence students at the time when I was teaching).
    Nick, the issue will not be solved any time soon as long as men are dominant in policy making and judicial system and that's what I strongly believe should be changed for any good to happen.