Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rape and the blaming of women

I have just read a report of a young woman who killed herself because she felt to blame for being raped:

Harriet McCormick, 20, was "vivacious and happy" until she was raped in a car park in Cardiff city centre during a night out with friends, her mother Cheryl told an inquest at the city's coroner's court.

She developed depression and twice took paracetamol overdoses.

She died after throwing herself off a footbridge on to the M4 motorway at Radyr, Cardiff, shortly after midnight on August 26 last year.

Speaking after the inquest, Mrs McCormick said: "Harriet didn't report what happened to her because she blamed herself.

"We feel that if anything that happens to another young girl, please, please seek help straight away. Don't be afraid. Don't blame yourself.

"Talk to people, because people would be there. There is help available. Please, please come forward."

Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Coroner Mary Hassell said the death was a "direct consequence" of the rape, and said what happened to Miss McCormick was "extraordinarily sad".

Mrs McCormick, of Radyr, Cardiff, told the inquest: "She was beautiful on the inside, and she was beautiful on the outside. She was wonderful. She was a happy and vivacious, loving, caring girl."

She said her daughter was in Cardiff city centre for a friend's birthday in November 2006 when she was raped in a car park near the Creation nightclub by a man she had met earlier that night.

Miss McCormick, who had been in fancy dress as a policewoman for the evening, confided in her mother the following day, but did not tell police.

In a statement, one of her friends said Miss McCormick told her the pair had ended up in a car park after walking out of the club. She said: "They were talking about sex. She told him numerous times she didn't want sex with him."

The friend said Miss McCormick told her she didn't go to police because she couldn't remember what the man looked like.

Her mother, a nurse, said: "I think she felt dirty. She felt as if she'd been violated, which she had."

She added her daughter felt she had broken the "golden rule" agreed with friends - not to separate from the group on a night out.

Miss McCormick, who cut her arms and legs after the rape, was referred to a psychiatrist after her first overdose, and was making progress, her mother said.

She (the coroner)added: "Harriet somehow blamed herself for the rape. This is one of the most devastating aspects of a rape, that not only can a woman be violated in such a terrible way, but that she can be made to feel it's her fault, and clearly nothing could be further from the truth."

Both the coroner and mother are right, its not a woman's fault for being raped . It is though more than just sad and tragic. The mother is right to say women should tell someone, but lets look at what happens when they do and what the attitudes are around women and rape.
In that context it is understandable that Harriet felt the way she did, there is a very clear message in the media that women have some responsibility . This impacts on the whole process of going to the police right through to the juries attitude and the likelihood of a conviction.

Its no wonder she felt to blame but women are not to blame.Men are perfectly capable of self control and the ability to understand a simple word such as no. We still have the woman being judged. Was she a bit drunk, dressed a bit 'provocatively', had a bit of 'history'. These are still judgements that are made. If women know the rapist then its see as 'less', in fact Cosmo came up with some crass term, 'grey' rape. WTF does that mean. It seems though that sometimes in the public mind, some rape is not really 'proper' rape.

In terms of support , there are real problems with what is on offer. Rape Crisis centres are closing.

A survey a little while back came up with this as regards attitudes :

A third of people believe a woman is partially or completely responsible for being raped if she has behaved flirtatiously, a survey suggests.
The Amnesty International poll of 1,000 people also found over 25% believe she is at least partly to blame if she has worn revealing clothing or been drunk.

And the director of public prosecutions told the BBC the report "highlights some areas of real concern".

"The idea that a third of our people think that if a woman flirts she has only herself to blame if she is raped is, I think, quite shocking," he said.

"These are jury trials. The jury is the community in the courtroom and it is reasonable to suppose the jury brings into the courtroom a lot of the attitudes we have been reading about."

Which is linked to the low reporting rates:

The number of recorded rapes of women in 2004/5 was 12,867 - up 4% on the year before - although police estimate that just 15% of rapes come to their attention. Only 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction.

Those figures are shocking. Many women cannot face the courtroom and who can blame them when at the end of it their attacker could walk free .

Another report highlights that police do not always follow up even when a woman has reported the crime :

Officers routinely fail to follow home office guidelines, said the joint report. Nearly one in three of the cases police recorded as "no crime" should have been properly investigated as rape.

Police made the decision to record "no crime" because the victim withdrew her complaint or because they felt she lacked credibility due to inconsistencies or factors such as alcohol consumption. But they should not have done so unless they had "verifiable information that no crime was committed", according to guidelines. The failures not only inflated police perceptions of the scale of false allegations, but led to a loss of information about perpetrators and risked undermining the victim's credibility if she made a later report of rape, the report said.

Further disincentives are the quality of the process that women go through when they do report :

Other problems included wide variations in the quality of medical examination services for victims, with some services outsourced to private companies recruiting doctors from abroad on short-term contracts. There were poor examination facilities, "unacceptable" delays, the taking of inappropriate samples and a lack of expertise.

In one case an elderly victim who had been raped and violently assaulted was forced to wait over six hours at the sexual assault referral centre. In another, when a child victim on holiday with her mother had still not been seen by a paediatrician after three days, the mother took her child home to London, where she made her own arrangements. "This level of delay is unacceptable and is a factor that is likely to contribute significantly to victims withdrawing their complaint before the investigation has properly commenced," said the report.

So whilst I feel this is very tragic I am also angry. The media is quick to talk of irresponsible women getting drunk and being in the 'wrong ' place . Its quick to talk of men whose lives are ruined by wrongful allegations, a tiny drop in the ocean compared to wrongful non convictions. The reality is not hundreds of women going through a horrendous criminal process to exact revenge, its women who do not report because of the barriers and the attitudes that prevail. Its the women who feel blame. And at its most tragic its women like Harriet who cannot live with those feelings