Tuesday 25 May 2010

Shiny happy rape culture

So the new government has somehow found time in its recession-busting schedule to propose a law that will grant anonymity to men accused of rape, who are of course the most pitiable and urgently unnoticed victims of woman-promoting-marriage-destroying-single-mum-supporting-violence-preventing Broken Britain. It's not as if the tabloids already paint women who allege rape as lying, heartless bitches out to destroy men and their god-given right to put their penis inside anything that gives the slightest hint of consent - by getting into their taxi, for example. Popular wisdom has it that vast numbers of rape allegations are false, when in fact false accusation is believed to account for only a tiny percentage of reported rapes - no higher than false reports for other crimes.

The Daily Fail have somehow produced both the most table-bitingly offensive assessment of the situation so far - from treacherous misogynist Melanie Phillips, who claims that "after Labour's reign of extreme man-hating feminism, common sense is reasserting itself" - and the most reasonable discussion of the issues for women, from Susanne Moore. "Do we have a Government intent on setting back women’s rights?" asks Moore. Sorry to disappoint you, Susanne, but we seem to.

Moore points out that adults who are falsely accused of child abuse run just as much, if not more risk of having their lives and reputations ruined as do men who are accused of rape - but the question of anonymity for them is not on the table. This is not a policy proposal with any real, consistent concern for the human rights of those accused of crimes. It is a rapists' charter, pure and simple, designed to protect men from lying women who, by not being properly shamed for speaking to the police when men rape, beat, assault and invade their bodies, have clearly had it all their own way for far too long.

Misogynists talk as though speaking about rape and consent is something that's easy to do, something that doesn't come with a social penalty for women, within or outside the legal system. This is not the case - particularly as most rapists prey on women who are personally known to them. When I eventually decided to speak about my experience of non-consensual sex on this blog, I was hounded by accusations of having made it all up. It was a big decision for me to come forward. At first I regretted it profoundly. Not because I was lying, but because as well as having experienced non consensual sex, during which I picked up a painful infection, I am now understood to be a manipulative lying bitch by people whose respect used to matter to me. I stayed in the house for days, not talking to anyone. And then I started getting the emails.

In the weeks after making that post I recieved no less than five emails from women who had recently experienced rape, saying that they felt happier talking to an anonymous person on the internet than going to their friends or the police. Saying that they were worried about telling people because they quite liked the guy, or their friends quite liked him, or because they thought they wouldn't be believed, or because they'd heard awful stories about how women who bring rape cases to court were publically accused of being sluts. Saying that they felt dirty and ashamed and scared and hurt and they didn't know who to contact about their internal bleeding. One of the women who emailed me was just fourteen years old.

Nobody is seriously suggesting that the number of women who remain silent about experiences of rape does not far exceed the small number of men who are falsely accused of rape - but it's clear where the government's priorities lie. It has been proven that naming rapists encourages women to come forward to report rape, just as it has been proven that a culture where women do not speak about rape and non-consensual sex allows rape to continue as an accepted part of our sexual dialectic - which is why anonymity for those accused of rape was waived in the first place. Just last year, when serial rapist John Worboys was eventually put on trial for nineteen counts of rape, no less than eighty-five women came forward claiming to have been sexually assaulted by him. Eighty five. Eighty five women who didn't know that they were part of a far broader picture. Eighty five women who didn't come forward until seeing their rapist's face in the paper convinced them that maybe it wasn't all their fault. Are eighty-five men falsely imprisoned for rape every year? Somehow I doubt it.

In this society, to accuse someone of rape is seen as a crime equal to raping someone. Men accused of rape are always given the benefit of the doubt. Women who get up the courage to speak about rape are invariably accused of lying. And now even our government is calling us liars. Rape ruins lives too - but the new regime seems to be interested only in silencing victims.


  1. This. Every single word. Thank you for posting this.

  2. As someone who's never been on the receiving end of sexual violence I can't add anything at all to your post, so won't comment further on it directly, aside from agreeing with it.

    But there's also a pragmatic reason to retain the current situation, which is simply that many of the men who rape women in 'a court of law would find it hard to establish whether or not consent occurred' situations aren't like your friend - they do so serially and in (some, probably not full, but enough) knowledge of the harm they've done. I'm aware personally of a few men like this.

    Publishing the accused's details when one person is brave enough to push the case to the police encourages the other women they've harmed to come forward, helping the Crown to build a case that shows a sustained pattern of behaviour (i.e. it's not just "her vs him", but "four women who don't know each other and don't have any women to collude vs him"), which is much more convincing to a jury.

  3. Sorry, was sufficiently moved by p1-6 that I didn't read p7 properly, which is basically your point too. The fact that *in the current environment for rape trials, the more women come forward, the more a jury is likely to believe them* is worth stressing double-hard, though.

  4. I can't work out what to think about this. We have a problem with rape conviction rates, which benefits the guilty and harms both victims and the innocent accused (whose acquital is devalued by the fact that we know that many of those acquitted are likely to be merely unprovably guilty). I wonder if anonymity might actually mitigate these problems, in that it might make it easier to bring prosecutions as there's no damage to the defendant's reputation if he is acquitted.

    "Men accused of rape are always given the benefit of the doubt"

    Hm. It would not be unreasonable to point out that "people who are accused of any crime are given the benefit of the doubt", in that they have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt to have been guilty. I lack any personal experience here, but it seems that many rape cases will be really hard to prove given that level of evidential requirement.

    The problem is that rapes often have only a single witness - the victim - and there is another witness - the defendant - who argues the opposite of the victim's case. The victim says that sex was not consensual, the defendant says it was, and it's hard to see how that can fail to leave a jury with "reasonable doubt". A system that works very well for most other kinds of crime does not provide a satisfactory result for typical rapes (conviction rates for stranger rape are, of course, much higher because there's no plausible explanation that the defendant can give).

    I've no real idea whether anonymity for those accused is a good idea. The only plausible case for it is that it protects the genuinely innocent from having their acquittal called into question based on the statistical likelihood that they're guilty anyway. That seems like a decent argument, but a better approach would be to figure out how to make the judicial process more reliable (i.e. convict everyone who is guilty and thus restore the status of acquittals). However, nobody seems to have any good ideas about how to do this, given that the problem is a fundamental one that doesn't seem to be amenable to tinkering at the edges. Fixing this requires a fundamental change to the law, burden of proof and so forth, but that brings a whole new set of problems. I'd like to read some opinions from legal experts on this - it'd be pretty cool if you happened to interview some at some point.

  5. Thank you. Oh Gods, Laurie, thank you. I've been hoping so much that you would write something about this, and this is wonderful.

    As I think you know, I've been raped myself. It didn't even *occur to me to consider it rape* for many years because I thought it was my fault for being drunk and, you know, my error of judgement. I wish I had known you then. Well, at the age you are now, given that you at 11 might not have been quite so much help. ;-)

    The horrible implications of the proposed legislation, plus all the woman-hating rape culture that's been kicked into overdrive in its wake, is really quite horrible to be around. As I'm sure you know. And I'd say that relatively I am lucky - the man who raped me did not use violence, and I was and am *relatively* untraumatised, though still affected.

    Thank you for writing true stuff, and for persisting despite the attempts of hateful people to tell you to do otherwise - not to mention to minimise what you yourself have been through. The world is a better place for you being in it and thinking and writing.

  6. Great blog post.

    I'm appalled at this decision, but sadly not surprised. The number of rape apologists in this country is an absolute disgrace and is totally disheartening - the fact that you are having to screen comments just proves that.

    Keep up the good work, and don't let the morons get to you.

  7. I would really really love to see some interesting and creative suggestions to the government for how they *should* be trying to change the culture of rape. Perhaps I have just not looked hard enough?

  8. Yet another excellent, excellent article.

    Please don't let the trolls get to you - what you're saying is extremely important and relevant to people who have been through this kind of experience.

    Many thanks for speaking out and putting the argument so eloquently against anonymity for those accused of rape.

  9. brilliant post laurie. can't add anything to to it.

  10. Recently two young men got raped by two other men. They reported it, their rapists got caught and sentenced to jail whereas women don't get the same treatement.

    In Zweden a girl of 14 got raped in a toilet of her own school. Her own village, school and church turned against her when she came forward with her story to the police. "That's not possible! He's such a nice boy!. She's a whore and must be lying about the whole thing." They even made a support group on facebook for him!
    Then a second girl came forward and still nobody believed that the boy might be guilty. No because apparently women are liars and whores.

    So thank you for writing this. It angers me that rape victims are still treated as liars and not as victims. Nobody decides to get raped, it's the rapist who decides to rape you.

  11. I never considered reporting it to the police because he was my fiancé at the time, and because I thought it was my fault. And I was suffering from severe depression. The first mental health worker I told about it, several years after the event, said that it was a grey area, that these things happen in relationships, that communication sometimes breaks down. A woman said that to me. She simply confirmed my decision not to speak to anyone in authority about it, as I felt I wouldn't be believed.

    I'm so glad you're out here, talking about these things and being brave enough to use your name. I still can't use mine. Not publicly.

  12. Thanks for writing this. It's deeply disturbing that the new government seems to believe everything written in the Daily Mail and legislates accordingly. Everything about them suggests they think 'feminism has gone too far' and we need to move back the other way.

    When Jenny Westaway asked David Cameron in 2006 if he was a feminist he replied, "Er, I don't really know what it means any more . . . But I suspect probably not".

    That's one thing we agree on.

  13. It really upsets me to hear you've had to turn on moderation.

    Just wanted to say I really enjoy reading your blog and that, slowly but surely, I've been addressing my own issues regarding this and maybe even someday I'll even talk to people about it.

  14. No, Laurie. This is not a "rapists' charter" in any way, shape or form. It is about justice - and the right of everyone to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. I quite agree that it's strange that this legislation is only about rape victims: it's imperative in my view that anyone accused of a serious crime is entitled to anonymity until the case against them has been concluded.

    Rape is an horrific, despicable crime, and its consequences are tragic. I don't know any man anywhere who doesn't regard it as despicable and horrific, and am appalled at those disgusting emails you received after having the courage to talk about your experiences: experiences no woman should ever have to go through. But where people get this idea from that to be falsely accused of rape is not a dreadful stigma which can be horrendously difficult to shake off, I do not know. It's precisely because rape is such a serious, grave crime that the stigma which attaches itself to anyone falsely accused of it is of the utmost seriousness and gravity.

    People who believe in human rights for all do not shrug their shoulders at men who've committed suicide as a result of false allegations, as though these are irrelevant, isolated cases within the common good. You either believe in human rights for all, or you don't. I seriously suggest you read about what happened to Peter Bacon, who changed his identity and left the country on being acquitted of rape: how can anyone justify a state of affairs in which he felt the need to do this?

    I also suggest you read the thoughts of gherkingirl, halfway down this blog. Gherkingirl has twice been raped, yet supports this legislation, and her views are well worth listening to:


    Finally, I'm linking to a discussion Five Live had on this last week. The debate begins at ten minutes into the show, but I can only repeat what I said when I called in. No woman deserves to have this appalling crime committed against them, and they end up serving a life sentence as a result of what's happened. No man deserves to be in the situation whereby when they're innocent, they too end up serving a life sentence because people assume things which aren't true.


  15. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1280926/Student-cleared-rape-emerges-second-man-committed-suicide-falsely-accused-woman.html

  16. sinister agent26 May 2010 at 01:03

    I agree with Shaun, to some extent. It's hard to say this law is a bad thing, as anyone accused of a crime should be entitled to anonymity if they seek it. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that - false claims of serious crimes can ruin lives, and worse, cast doubt on the genuine claims.

    I've often said that individuals who maliciously (as opposed to confusedly, or plain madly) accuse others of terrible things, knowing that their accusations are false, are far worse than those who actually do those things, because they allow doubt to be cast on the genuine cases. But legislating for that seems excessive given statistics alone, never mind the broader social context.

    I'm not going to go into the experiences I've had or been told of about abuse, rape and (vastly less common, but still contributing to the issue) false claims of both. I'm sure everyone could recount similar tales. I will just say that there are those who will outright invent a crime for all number of reasons.

    But to actually encounter them, much less suffer at their hands, is fairly unlikely. Conversely, it would be a lot faster to list the women I've known who were not ever sexually assaulted or raped, or narrowly escaped either one than to list those that were. The false claim story is so unusual that I could be retelling it for a decade, whereas the 'she was raped' stories are so commonplace, they barely raise an eyebrow.

    Taken in context, it is rather baffling and troubling that this one thing was singled out. If it came alongside stronger support for people who are abused, or more robust investigative or legislative measures regarding reports, or something to either redress the balance or echo the sentiment regarding other serious crimes, I could see myself standing behind it as a good thing. But as it stands... I can only come back to 'baffling and troubling' again. I can't condemn it - innocence must be presumed - but it doesn't sit comfortably either.

  17. Right, the removal of the right to anonymity of those accused of serious crimes was one of the Thatcher government's most egregious assaults on civil liberties and it's nice to see it scaled back. But it's clear to me at least they've avoided doing so for paedophilia because the tabloids would throw a fit, while they'll lap this up.

  18. What's all the fuss about? I men are found guilty of rape they lose their right to anonymity instantly. In our legal system defendants are innocent UNTIL proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent. This article is redundant and ridiculous and you should have known better than to write it.

  19. Mercenary Hack26 May 2010 at 13:44

    Eighty five women who didn't come forward until seeing their rapist's face in the paper convinced them that maybe it wasn't all their fault. Are eighty-five men falsely imprisoned for rape every year? Somehow I doubt it.

    YES. Brilliant post. Thank you.

  20. I'm sorry but this is a disgusting post. Laurie you're absorbed in your own prejudices and you're riding the wave of public outrage as shamelessly as the BNP or any other repugnant group that relies on predictable, human impulses to drive a shallow & self-gratifying following.

    To suggest that men who are wrongly accused of rape don't deserve some degree of protection - when more than 95% of them end up being vindicated (rightly or wrongly, it doesn't matter; if you care about due process) - is absolutely disgusting. You're putting your own worldview ahead of the inherent human rights of people... male OR female... to not be vilified before received a fair & democratic hearing.

    You claim to hate the prejudices of The Daily Fail and yet your own approach to justice is surprisingly similar. How about you show you're made of sterner stuff, and write a post critiquing YOURSELF next time, rather than toeing more of your own hackneyed generilisations.

    --Someone who has been wrongly accused of a crime themseleves, and been through hell for want of genuine 'innocence until proven guilty'

  21. Thank you for posting this. Hopefully if enough of us speak out this madness will not go through. Here's what I wrote: http://tinyurl.com/32mvbnc

  22. I find it difficult to know what to make of this move by the government. The argument that hearing of an accusation is often the trigger for more people to come forward is compelling, but equally I do see the argument that Shaun makes above.

    Ultimately, though, if anonymity is granted to the accused, doesn't that remove a possible argument from their defence? If they are anonymous until proven guilty, it removes a lot of weight from the suggestion that the accuser is making this up to smear the accused. Given that many cases are simply a case of one person's word against another, isn't the best approach to try to remove all possible complications to the case, which might increase the scope for "reasonable doubt"?

    How that balances against the possibility of more people coming forward I don't know, but I wish you'd ascribe some slightly better intentions to the proposers of this change. They are not necessarily foaming Melanie Phillips types.

  23. I am in two minds. The current scheme does seem to encourage victims to come forward, but it does seem unfair on men who were wrongly accused. Which does happen. I had a friend who was falsely accused of rape by another man, a very disturbed individual who was later locked up for committing arson. And another friend who endured a citizens' arrest because he resembled an actual rapist: the victim herself put a stop to the situation by saying they had the wrong man. And a third friend actually went to trial, the case collapsed, I don't know why he was accused but I happen to believe in his innocence.

    But I do agree with you that society does seem to bend over backwards to disbelieve the victim.

    I faced a lot of trolling activity from a male individual when I reported that I had heard back from the CPS re the case you brought my attention to back in January (case dropped when it turned out victim had fantasies about group sex). He didn't comment on my first post on the matter (where I made it clear that I heard about it via you) but when I posed that I had heard back from the CPS, he got obsessive about how we were not hearing the full story. And then the trollish one decided that I had to be a benefit cheat who was getting paid for attending St John Ambulance meetings (which were costing me money to reach by public transport)!!!!

  24. Links, guys, links! Like this one to elmyra's post.

  25. Wow, pointing to a daily mail article about rape-accused-suicide-victim, like it really means anything, is quite something. Obviously a personal tragedy to the man and his loved ones etc, but so far from being a legitimate reflection of actual social reality it would be funny if not so heartbreaking. Actually, people who have suffered child abuse or rape are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide.

    Laurie, this an excellent article. I want to staple it to my head for the world to see. The way the rape dialectic is going at the moment is nothing short of terrifying . I am frightened. I am frightened for myself, my nieces, my friends, my future daughters. For all of those idiots who thought this government would be anything short of dangerous take not ; in just a few weeks of con-dem rule the safety of all women has been attacked. Sitting here, a nice middle class girl at a 'radical' university, i am still not safe. And if I'm not, then who is? I know, women know, that if we have the misfortune to be raped by someone known to us, particularly by someone with whom we have once had consensual sex, we stand a cat in hells chance of seeing any redress. It is almost impossible to be raped according to 'due process'.

    The current atrocities in Bradford only underline the position of women in Britain. That the mothers and the daughters of these poor woman feel they need to give interviews to the press, in which they try to convince the world of their murdered beloved's basic humanity, is so very, very sick. Over at The Sun, much of the comment involves the discussion of the accused mother; apparently she was known to wear 'sexy clothes'. Well that must explain why her son liked to murder women and leave their limbs in the river. To kill a prostitute is not just logistically easy; such women have to break the 'code of female safety' by getting into strange cars with strange men; it is also morally easy. As illustrated in the bile-press, the life of a prostitute is less than human.

    As you have said, i DON'T want candle vigils in hushed tones. I want to shout, i want to kick, i want to scream . I want not to be less, not to be a target, not to see anymore women bruised and dead and derided. We are not just 'somebody's daughter' or 'somebody's mother'. We are autonomous human beings and you will leave our bodies alone.
    Sorry to go on, but I'm rageing.

  26. "Eighty five women who didn't come forward until seeing their rapist's face in the paper convinced them that maybe it wasn't all their fault. Are eighty-five men falsely imprisoned for rape every year? Somehow I doubt it."

    On which point we come back to "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer" and I have real difficulties knowing where to draw the line.

    The big problem faced by a rape charge is that rape is usually a private crime. Most rapes are not the stereotype of the woman being dragged screaming into the bushes. In most cases, two people go willingly into some private space (room, building, car, whatever), and later sex happens.

    How do you prove consent, or lack of consent in those circumstances? It's his word against hers. If the victim doesn't have injuries (because she was scared, or drunk, and didn't put up a fight), how can anyone realistically prove rape? If the victim is a virgin, or a virtuous married woman it might add weight to her word, but if she's a typical young modern woman? One for whom one-night-stands and casual promiscuity is not unusual behaviour? That might be even harder than trying to prove spousal rape in the absence of injuries.

    (And this is not in any way an attempt to claim that just because she wore a short skirt / went home with him / got into his car, she was asking for it. But is is rather difficult to prove that she wasn't, which is the hurdle that a rape conviction has to jump, and I don't see a way to avoid that.)

    You can always play with the burden of proof for the consent, and acquire more convicted rapists at the cost of a few more convicted innocents, but that doesn't really alter the bigger picture, which is that the acts that take place during many rapes take place entirely consensually far more often between superficially similar people. The only difference between many rapes and consensual sex is in the head of the rapist and the head of the victim (which makes rape almost unique amongst crimes) and that's hard to examine.

  27. I was falsely accused of armed robbery once. It wasn't a big deal and is now little more than interesting dinner party conversation. I can't see why it would be any different in the case of a false allegation of rape. This infantile "mud sticks" culture will only be extinguished once a few people get over their squeamishness and have the guts to say 'yes, I was falsely accused of rape by some horrible person, but so what?'

  28. MeanBeanMachine30 May 2010 at 07:59

    More proof that feminism is comedy gold. Love it!

  29. Speaking as a guy in the States, I'm not quite sure that there's a difference between rape and non-consensual sex. But then my limited knowledge on the subject, having never been accused, falsely or otherwise, is probably holding me back... Care to enlighten me?

  30. @ Batman: I do think that it is confusing that in the US there is the term "statutory rape" whereas the term over here used to be "sex with a minor". Maybe the British term did not do justice to women too young to give proper consent to sex, but the US one, when applied to women who were only just under the limit (which, I understand, is 18 in some parts of the US) did seem to trivialise the term "rape".

  31. people say the problem with rape charges is that it is 'a private crime' 'his word against hers'. but if we lived in a culture where the starting point wasn't 'she's probably lying' or 'she was asking for it' then perhaps this problem would disintegrate.

    because the conviction rate is so low (even though we KNOW that 94% of accusations aren't false, see ian huntley and john worboys for proof) the whole debate gets skewed on to false accusations, despite the fact that we all know that false accusations are in fact lower than those for car insurance fraud. therefore we get hung up on this idea that it's 'hard to proove'.

    now, i would not want an innocent man to go to prison. but imagine if we lived in a world where a woman went to the police and was really, every single time, taken seriously. if in every city and town we had a rape crisis centre where care could be given and DNA evidence collected quickly. where women were believed, were assumed to be telling the truth. if we lived in this society, people wouldn't think the 94% 'proved' women are liars. lets focus our energies on the victims, ffs. i would love to live in a world where rape myths didn't abound, where women were believed. then this whole idea that false accusations are somehow 'more important' than rape would end, would be shown up for as stupid as it it.

  32. I'd have to agree with Shaun. Unfortunately your (absolutely valid) moral outrage at the act of rape has clouded the fact that this is about the right of someone accused of a crime to have their anonymity protected.

    If they're convicted, strip away that anonymity - absolutely! But everyone, of whatever gender and whatever the nature of their (at the point of accusation, still alleged) crime, has an inviolable right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Your article takes the perspective: accused of rape = rapist. A very naive standpoint from someone of your obvious intelligence.

  33. //A very naive standpoint// It is worse. The standpoint was based upon the idea that people do not make false accusations, supported by a linked article in the first para at "no higher than false reports for other crimes".

    I read the article and was dismayed to find that it really said that the oft-quoted figure of 2% false rape accusation was a web-anecdote with no backing, and that some research has placed the figure upwards of 20%.

    I do not know why this lapse should have occurred. The writer feels that the matter is important and yet bases the article's argument on a bogus statistic. Presumably she did not bother to read it.

  34. You should totally try getting raped. You'll never have consensual sex the same way again, EVER. Seriously, DUDE.


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