Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rape: no means NO!

“If a woman goes to a man’s apartment on the first time she meets him, she is consenting to sex. That’s what it means”. (Camille Paglia- Interview with the Vamp, 1996).

The reason I quote Paglia, who is to feminism what George Bush is to diplomacy, is because rape is back on the agenda. Vera Baird (Solicitor General for England and Wales) has announced that the government is to abandon a proposal to use expert witnesses to brief juries on the “myths” surrounding rape.

Judges have argued that the plan could lead to miscarriages of justice. An article by Yvonne Roberts criticises Baird’s decision and argues for:

“Vera Baird should order an inquiry; collate the plentiful research that already exists; monitor the courts; study how juries reach their verdicts; talk to serial rapists who have had years of successful activity before, perhaps, finally being convicted.”

I agree with Vera Baird as this proposal could indeed scupper rape trials and actually backfire. There was once upon a time a nasty piece of misogyny called the Corroboration Rule where a judge would remind the jury in a rape case of a woman’s dishonesty and that she may have a tendency to lie. This wasn’t scrapped until 1994. There was research carried out regarding this rule and the results showed that jurors felt annoyed by being told this and actually the warning from the judge backfired.

The bringing in of expert witnesses would have absolutely nothing to do with the evidence in the case and could prejudice things. People are innocent until proven guilty and have a right to a fair trial. These expert witnesses could potentially complicate the case.

But I have absolutely no qualms in supporting what Roberts argues regarding ordering an enquiry. I think it could prove fruitful in analysing the way rape is treated and understood, from the initial reporting of the attack to gathering evidence to court procedures. One in 20 rapes is reported that lead to conviction. We need to know why.

Today another article appeared by David Cox that attacks the proposal of any kind of enquiry. I found the second half of his article full throttle misogyny. He is tilting at windmills when he writes about the burden and standard of proof. He also uses a “contributory negligence” argument:
“Why shouldn’t they (women) be advised that to get themselves into a drunken stupor in the company of a frisky male could carry risks”?

He puts the onus firmly on the woman and therefore abdicates any responsibility for the man. It is the woman’s fault. Again, as Camille Pagilia argued that when a woman goes on a date there is a possibility of “mixed messages”. Again, a man’s responsibility for his behaviour is lost and let off the hook.

The magazine, Cosmo recently wrote about “grey rape” where a woman is in a situation where she never intended to have sex but wound-up being forced into it, “because until that point, they’d been a willing participant”. Again, the onus of responsibility is on the woman. And so what? The woman may have been a willing participant but she still has every right to say "No"!

Irma Kurtz (Cosmo agony aunt) gave very patronising, insulting and appalling advice to a young woman, a couple of years ago, who had been raped. Kurtz’s advice was that the woman had “asked for it”.. Fortunately, Cosmo was inundated with complaints.

A hierarchy of rape is being created here and it seems that “sexual familiarity” (where the woman knows the attacker) is treated with more leniency and is used in mitigation. Majority of rapes happen with someone the woman is acquainted with.

There is a major problem with reporting, evidence gathering and conviction rates for rape. We are seeing an increase in blaming the woman ‘cos she was drunk, ‘cos she had been a willing participant, she was wearing a thong and so on and so on. These excuses reflect dominant sexist ideology that women still “ask for it”. It also creates ambiguities that aren’t there and de-politicises rape as well.

And they wonder why women don’t report rape.

It is simple, “no means no….”