Monday, August 04, 2003

A boom time for rape

With all the talk of rape lately -- what with the new Illinois law, and the Kobe Bryant case -- this Guardian article is quite timely.
We are living in a boom time for rape. Last year women reported 27% more rapes than in the year before. At the same time, convictions have plummeted to a record-breaking low: only 5.8% of reported rapes end with a conviction, down from 7.5% in 1999 and 33% in 1977. Not just a boom time for rape, then - also a boom time for rapists. There has never been a better time to rape and get away with it.
Now, of course, all the stats (and laws) in the article apply to the UK, and I don't know the equivalent stats for the US (at least, not the most current ones). But since British culture and American culture are, historically, comparable, I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing is happening here (and, if I were to base it on anecdotal evidence, I'd have to say that it definitely is). Regardless, these stats are appalling and frightening -- whether they are happening here in the States or only in England.

As is typical of most Guardian articles, the author, Katharine Viner, goes on to bring up quite a few interesting points.

For instance -- to make this even more timely and relevant to those of us here in the States, she brings up the issue of anonymity for those accused of rape. Certainly, I've never heard this mentioned more than over the past few weeks. After the public outing of the [alleged] rape victim's name, there has been a storm of people asking (or demanding) why the accused's name should be public, too.
Whether the police, the law, or something more fundamental in the culture is to blame for this shocking state of affairs is difficult to tell: all we tend to hear in the media about rape is the undoubted trauma of those men acquitted of rape having been accused in the first place - never how bad it is for women who suffered 27% more rapes last year than the one before. And discussion of rape law never focuses on what can be done about all the rapists getting away with it; instead, campaigners push for anonymity for men accused of rape - a privilege not accorded those charged with any other crime, not even murder or child abuse.

When this idea was tried before - in 1976 - it heralded a further plummeting of the conviction rate for rape. Anonymity for rape defendants, which Lord Woolf appeared to be proposing this week - but which parliament will surely reject - would finally make rape the 100% unconvictable crime.
It seems that The Sexual Offenses (Amendment) Act of 1976 made it illegal to publish the name or photo of either the complainant or the defendant in a rape case for the entirety of their lives (to see the most recent version of this Act, you can check out the Equal Opportunities Commission Website for Legal Advisers). The Criminal Justice Act of 1988, however, revoked the anonymity clause for defendants.

While my views on the anonymity of rape victims is steadfast, I am ambiguous about anonymity for those accused of a crime (including, but not limited to, rape -- although after seeing that this has been tried before, with dreadful results, my mind is changing). But notice that those crying for anonymity of accused rapists are not doing the same for the accused in other crimes. And, I think that says something. Why should those accused of rape get special treatment from the law? Where is the outcry for anonymity of accused murders and embezzlers? Why are these people not seen as the "victims" of a media gone crazy? Is it because so many people still believe in the myth of the "false accusation"? (I'm not denying that false accusations happen -- I am denying, however, that false rape accusations are any more prevelant than false accusations for any of other crime.)
Newspaper coverage of false allegations of rape reinforce the idea that women make it all up; in fact, false allegations of rape are just as rare as false allegations of any other crime - about 2%.
The Sexual Offenses Bill that is in front of the House of Commons now does have some good (and necessary) other changes in it -- such as the issue of consent:
Crucial to the bill is the central issue of consent. The current legal framework was set in 1976 by the infamous Morgan ruling, in which a husband had taken three men back to his house, where all four raped his wife. The three claimed that the husband had told his friends that his wife was likely to say no and struggle, but that this was just a fetish: she was, they believed, "kinky". The House of Lords, in which a woman judge has never sat, ruled that a man was not guilty of rape if he honestly believed a woman had consented to sex - even if that belief was unreasonable.

This Morgan ruling has been catastrophic for raped women, because it means that they can say no a thousand times, they can shout and scream and fight, but if a man says "my mates said she was up for it" or "he told me she liked it rough", the law supports him. The planned changes on consent would mean the three Morgan men would now have to explain exactly what they did to be certain that when she was demanding that they stop, she was in fact consenting to sex.
I can't even comment on this other than to say What the fuck?!?
And while juries routinely disbelieve what women tell them, they do believe the defendants: both men and women find it hard to accept that ordinary, pleasant-seeming blokes could have committed such a heinous crime as rape. But, as DCI Richard Walton, who leads the Metropolitan Police's highly regarded Project Sapphire, says: "Rape is far more common than people realise. All people see of rape in the media is the stranger rapist hunted down around the country, or the woman who invents a rape allegation. These two extremes are not representative of what's really going on out there." It is ordinary-seeming men who rape.
Interestingly, in jury studies in the US, the most likely jurist to convict an accused rapist (not a "stranger rape") are older men. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to acquit. This is because older men are more likely to identify with the father or husband of the victim, whereas women are more likely to identify with the victim. It becomes far too scary to think, "that could've been men" and far easier to think, "if it had been me, I would have said no, and fought him off and not been raped. Since she didn't, she must have wanted it." Identifying with the rape victim, realizing that it could have been you who was unable to fight him off, who "let" herself be "put" in that situation means giving up the illusion of control.
But then juries only reflect our culture, which is increasingly sexualised in a cold, disconnected way - from the proliferation of ever more vicious pornography to the loading of our email boxes with invitations to witness "live rape".

In our society, loving sex has been replaced with soulless extremes, and violence has become normalised. Ex-cricketer Phil Tufnell, despite being convicted in 1994 of actual bodily harm of his ex-wife, has become a national hero for winning a celebrity gameshow - the Observer called him "the nation's favourite Jack-the-lad". And comedian Frank Skinner tells Arena magazine a "funny" story about a bloke he met who was left bleeding but happy after sex with his girlfriend and concludes: "I think a woman who can still smile and say 'it was worth it' from her hospital bed would be my ideal partner." (And he's one of the highest-paid men on television.)

So when commentators say that the 27% rise in rape is "unexplained", might there be an explanation which goes beyond the fact that more women are reporting rape? Is it so difficult to accept that there might actually be more rape taking place? Police say that gang rape is showing a marked increase; that drug-assisted rape is burgeoning; that there are more rapes in nightclubs and at gigs; that rapists are turning away from stranger rape (harder to get away with) and instead befriending their victims before the assault. And what greater incentive than the common knowledge that rape is the crime you can commit and still walk free?

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