Monday 15 March 2010

Rape dilemma

A new government report says a lot of rape victims are still treated shoddily and unsympath-etically by the police and the law and this must change to encourage more women to act on sexual violence.

Lady Stern's report says rape victims may still find they aren't taken seriously and not enough is done to catch the rapist. Often the case doesn't go to court because it's thought the evidence isn't strong enough. And if a quick conviction is unlikely, the police may lose interest altogether.

The report says many people still think a woman is partly responsible if for example she's drunk or wears risqué clothing. Or if she's already in a relationship with the man, then it doesn't count as rape.

So far so good, but it seems to me that one of the big problems in convicting rapists is that there may be no obvious signs of struggle or refusal.

Quite understandably, a woman may decide to submit rather than struggling because she's afraid of provoking something worse, of being beaten or killed. But if a jury has any reasonable doubt about whether consent has been given, they can't convict.

The other problem is that the court case may cause further trauma and distress as the woman is forced to relive what happened, and the rapist's lawyer challenges her version of events or even claims she was leading him on. Not surprisingly, some women refuse to go to court and face such added anguish.

It's hard to see how these difficulties can be overcome. Taking rape claims more seriously and ensuring the police are sympathetic are laudable aims but it's what happens in court that can still prevent justice being done.

A tragic but nowadays very predictable hospital disaster. Ena Dickinson, a former NHS volunteer, died two months after a botched hip operation. The surgeon removed too much bone and severed a major artery. She was only saved from bleeding to death on the operating table by a hospital consultant.


  1. It takes enormous courage to go into an open court and take the chance that your evidence is not going to be believed. No wonder 80%of rape cases remain unprosecuted. As to the solution?

  2. It's such a difficult issue, and for so many reasons. What isn't difficult is getting over the propensity to blame the victim. No means no, whether you're sober and wearing a parka in city hall or drunk and wearing a bikini at a frat party.

  3. The solution is better training for law enforcement and legal professionals regarding rape and its consequences...and understanding that no means no as another pointed out.

    Thanks for your remarks about my poem.

  4. In the US, the law is still very much geared toward protecting rapists from being punished for their heinous acts, and there remains a strong tendency to blame the victim. No wonder few women are willing to subject themselves to the further humiliation of confronting their rapists in court.

  5. www - It's particularly hard when people are trying to prove that you were "asking for it" and the man "couldn't help himself".

    Tattytiara - Exactly. Whatever your behaviour or clothing, no means no and does not mean "Actually I'm gagging for it".

    e - True, many people still don't accept that rape is not a trivial act, it can cause serious emotional trauma for many years.

    Heart - The excuses regularly trotted out for rapists are amazing. Apparently it's just impossible for them to keep it in their pants.

  6. This is a very difficult subject and there is no doubt that there are mountains to climb for any woman contemplating a court case over an allegation of rape.

    At the same time we have to be very careful not to adjust our justice system so much to deal with that problem that we forget that a person is innocent until proven guilty. We cant start treating men as though they are guilty just because they have been accussed.

    It's a very difficult balance to strike and we still dont seem to have it right. Getting the police and investigators to treat allegations seriously and to act promptly and conduct thorough investigations while treating the alleged victim humanely would be a good start.

  7. Tougher punishment (chop it off!) and better training for law enforcement is badly needed.

  8. Bunc - I agree that men can be badly treated too, particularly if the rape claim is false, or if the man is victimised because of assumed guilt. But I think a lot of rape victims also feel they are "guilty until proven innocent" because they are not believed or they are seen as "asking for it" in some way.

    Quicky - Unfortunately chopping it off has the same drawback as capital punishment, that the person might later turn out to be innocent. Better law enforcement is certainly needed, as well as dealing with the elephant in the room which is the male assumption that women are sexual toys.

  9. hi nick,

    by no means can rape be excused but women who dress provocatively really annoy me.
    the asking-for-it accusation is ridiculous but if we dress like skanks we are giving the message that it's ok to treat us as objects.

  10. Kylie - I think to some extent "dressing provocatively" is a matter of interpretation. Does that mean microskirt, boob tube, heavy make-up etc or does it mean just wearing a tight dress? One person's provocative is another person's attractive. In any case, however "provocatively" a woman is dressed, a man is not entitled to rape her or to claim that he "led her on". He has to respect a woman's choices and realise she doesn't exist simply for his own pleasure.

    Well, that's my unswerving feminist line anyway!

  11. Both parts of your post are very scary.

  12. when i say provocative i mean your first scenario and you are right, no means no.
    i j ust wish women would understand that if they are too much on display it doesnt engender respect. it shouldnt be like that but it is

  13. Suburbia - If Lady Stern's recommendations are carried out, rape victims should get a more sympathetic hearing. But the hospital story is scary indeed.

    Kylie - I agree dressing like that sends certain messages to certain types of men, but it still doesn't entitle the man to do whatever he wants.

  14. This will always be a toughy because rarely are there any witnesses, it's he said, she said although the propensity to accuse the victim does seem to be stronger and the innocent until proven guilty thing doesn't seem to hold for rape which is so often treated as a sex crime when in fact, it's an act of violence. I don't know what the answer is there Nick

  15. Baino - It's true about the lack of witnesses, though I suppose that also applies to other crimes like murder and burglary. Not only is it treated as a sex crime but a pretty trivial one. The distressing aftermath is too often ignored.

  16. In India, a new development which has the police happy is of women complaining of rape after living in with a man for a while and when the man says that he does not want to marry her! The news papers report such cases regularly!

  17. Ramana - That's interesting. Presumably the aim is to get the man to marry her, in which case she withdraws the allegation?

  18. By and large, at least that is what I think, it is to make the man's life miserable for a while. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and all that. I have not seen any item reporting all is well that ends well!

  19. Ramana - Yes, surely the man will be so upset by the claim that it can only damage their relationship?