Last Friday a welsh woman was sent to prison for retracting an allegation of rape against her husband after threats of emotional blackmail from her husband and sister.
Some argue that this was right, that she wasted police time and deserved to be punished for this.
But this judgment shows just how little progress has been made in dispelling the myths that surround rape.
The reality is that reporting crimes, especially such a stigmatising crime as rape, can be incredibily difficult and confusing. It is not as easy as it is often assumed by law officials to come forward and speak about such a violent personal violation.
Edina Williams, who helps victims of rape said:
“Many women are victims of domestic rape and, as well as being a terrifying time for them, it is often confusing. Instead of punishing women by throwing them in jail, victims should be given specialist support, counselling and assistance from agencies including the police.”
There are genuine fears that this judgment will further erode women’s confidence in the police’s ability to deal with rape. The End to Violence Against Women Coalition have voiced concerns that the judgment will have a ‘chilling effect’.
This something our criminal justice system cannot afford, as levels of reported rape conviction are already extremely low, and they are getting lower and lower; in 1977 33% of reported rapes ended in conviction. In 2010 it was just 6%.
These figures have been criticised as misleading, as the conviction levels of men charged with rape is closer to 60%. But what it highlights are the extraordinary numbers of reported rapes that are dropped in the early stages.
Last year some police forces were failing to even record 40% of rapes reported
So why is this the case?
It has been suggested that many women lie about allegations, which would account for this drop. But this is simply not true. In fact research shows that false rape allegations are no higher than false allegations for any other crime, at about 8%. And only about 3% were considered to be ‘probable’ false allegations by the police.
What is more likely is that widely held myths that are held by both members of the public and police alike are still affecting the way rape is investigated and how evidence is gathered.
Here are a few myths:
- A third (34%) of people in the UK believe that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner
- More than a quarter (26%) of people think a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing
- Around one in 12 people (8%) believe a woman is totally responsible for being raped if she has many sexual partners
- Nearly a third of people (30%) say a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk
None of these factors are officialy considered relevant in a court of law. And yet sexual history evidence is frequently admissible in court [despite laws that are meant to limit it] and courts often comment on victim’s dress and appearance.
What does this say about the way rape is treated in our courts?
I leave you with one last startling fact:
- In 2007 The Sun Woman found 95% of people think the courts were failing rape victims, while 81% felt society’s attitudes towards rape victims has deteriorated over the last ten years.
Are we still moving further away from getting serious about sexual violence?