The ‘perfect victim’ theory of rape, and how it’s reported


8:23 pm - July 13th 2011

by Sian Norris    


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There is a pervasive rape myth that influences a lot of the ways newspapers and mainstream media outlets continue to talk about rape. Feminists call this the myth of the ‘perfect victim’. It is a myth because of course a perfect victim does not exist.

But what this myth does is create a false divide between victims and survivors of rape who the media consider ‘innocent’, and victims and survivors who the media paint as blameworthy, or guilty of ‘causing’ the rape.

A recent news report in the Daily Mail blamed a 12-year old girl for being gang raped, reporting the defence statement that claimed she was a ‘Lolita’ who had accepted alcohol from the men who then raped her and her friend, as well as calling her a liar because she led them to believe she was older than she was.

These children were painted as ‘bad’ victims because they were out at night, drinking alcohol, and were ‘dressed provocatively’. Comments on the news stories painted the perpetrators of the rape as the victims of these girls, as they had been ‘led on’ and ‘tricked’ by girls who were dressed ‘sluttily’.

The myth of the perfect victim means that much of the reporting around violence against women and girls falls into two distinct categories. Firstly, when rape is reported in the news (rarely) then it will generally be a story about stranger rape. Despite the fact that stranger rape is far, far less common than rape by a partner, friend or colleague, it makes up the bulk of news reported rape cases.

Two – the rape will be reported as a ‘cry-rape’ case. This is when the case has not progressed, or the accused hasn’t been found guilty for whatever reason. In this case, the media assume that the woman lied about the rape, even if the defendant has not gone on to accuse or charge the women with false accusation.

Despite the false accusation rate being between 3-5%, whilst 100,000 UK women are raped each year, the media paints a picture that all non-convicted rape cases are ‘cry rape’ stories, which is simply not true. A quick search of the term ‘cry rape’ on the Daily Mail website reveals 166 stories, including coverage of the recent Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

The recent reporting around the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case shows how pervasive the myth of the perfect victim is. Here we have a very powerful, very respected political leader. He has a history of sexual harassment and since his arrest more women have come forward with claims of sexual assault. He is accused of sexual assault by a poor, black woman from an immigrant community who cleans his hotel room. He is arrested for sexual assault. But if you read some papers, this isn’t the story at all.

This is a ‘sex scandal’. This is British and US women being ‘uptight’ whilst the French have a more ‘relaxed’ attitude to sex. And finally, this is an unreliable woman, who, *gasp*, may have worked in prostitution, lying about sexual assault, victimising a powerful man, for financial gain.

The New York post is now being sued by representatives of the woman regarding stories in their paper claiming she had worked in prostitution, something which she says is not true. The paper seems to believe that a history of working in prostitution discredits you as a witness in a sexual assault case.

They seem to believe that it means she couldn’t have been sexually assaulted. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is released on bail, and suddenly the woman is in the metaphorical dock, as her history is raked over to ‘prove’ that she was lying.

Rape myths live in juries’ heads, in lawyers’ heads, in CPS officers’ heads, in police officers’ heads and they are perpetuated by the media over and over again.

Sadly, tragically, all women still know that if they accuse a man of rape of sexual assault, or rape, they are taking a risk. They are taking a risk that they won’t be believed. They are taking a risk that their past will be raked over, that the actions they took before, during and after the alleged assault will be twisted to discredit them.


First published on Sian’s blog, which has an extended version. This was first written for Fresh Outlook

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About the author
Sian Norris is an occasional contributor. She is a Bristol based writer who likes to write short stories and muse on feminist debates.
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Reader comments


Yes, this is excellent and very true.

I know from personal experience (my own and a lot of other people’s) why rapes often don’t get reported. I mean there are other reasons of course, but SO MANY TIMES it is because of this bull. It’s horrible how many people don’t think their experience was a “real” rape, or think a judge/copper/jury wouldn’t see it as a “real” rape, because they basically didn’t act the way rape victims act in movies but instead were a real life human being who happened to be raped.

So yeah thanks for writing this Sian.

2. Robin Levett

Genuine question; how do we know that:

“the false accusation rate [is] between 3-5%”

So, I am not looking to belittle this issue, and I’ll leave it to others more well-versed in the subject than I to debate, but if you want people to side with your argument it is better to get the research right:

A quick search of the term ‘cry rape’ on the Daily Mail website reveals 166 stories, including coverage of the recent Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

Actually, my search turned up 167 for the term ‘cry rape’. I also tried cry rape (no quotes) and “cry rape”. All returned 167 hits. Thus the site is searching for the two words independently. As it is sorted by relevance, it pushes the the cry-rape stories to the top, but within a page or two, it contains stories about rape that also contain the word ‘cry’, which isn’t that surprising. A quick search of ‘cry rape strauss’ turns up six results, the first of which contains the phrase ‘cry-rape’ but the others contain the words independently (normal the cry is in a sentence about his house being a ‘far cry’ from his tiny isolation cell on Riker’s).

Out of interest I did a google search using their site: operator (site:www.dailymail.co.uk “cry rape”) which returned 104 results, a lot of which did seem to be stories containing the phrase “cry rape”, but again on closer inspection it seemed some came from headline pages and a fair number from chat pages.

I am not seeking to condone a publication quite so vile as the Daily Mail, but I find it annoying when people twist facts to fit their story, and it is unbecoming of such a serious issue, when, I have no doubt, there is genuine evidence out there to support your case.

4. blackwillow1

@1: The Yorkshire Ripper, and many others, subscribe to the ‘perfect victim’ theory, the logic being, they’re prostitutes, sluttish looking, bit of a reputation. Nobody would believe them. I once had a conversation with a 17 year old lad, many years ago. He told me that he’d spiked the soft drink of a thirteen year old girl, had his way with her and then bragged that he was ‘the first’ to get her into bed. I ca’nt say too much, without incriminating myself, suffice to say that I ‘educated him’, pointing out the difference between consensual sex and rape. What he did was bad enough, yet more disturbing was the reaction of some of his friends. They had more of a problem with me giving him a well deserved kicking, than they had with his behaviour. This occurred some twenty years ago, and sadly, I hear young men expressing the same attitude today. I firmly believe that the situation will only change when a topic such as this is part of mainstream education, not just the occasional school visit from a rape counsellor, vital though that work is. It needs to be part of a much broader framework. That scumbag reckoned nobody would believe her, because she told people she remembered feeling pissed. He bragged about it because he believed he’d created a ‘perfect victim’. I’m happy to report, the piece of shit died a couple of years ago, heroin overdose.

A recent news report in the Daily Mail blamed a 12-year old girl for being gang raped, reporting the defence statement that claimed she was a ‘Lolita’

Link to the original article, please. It’s not clear from you’ve posted whether the report simply quoted a defence statement which made the Lolita claim, or whether the Daily Mail, in editorial comment, “blamed” the girl for what happened to her. I suspect the former, frankly. Prove me wrong.

6. So Much For Subtlety

A recent news report in the Daily Mail blamed a 12-year old girl for being gang raped, reporting the defence statement that claimed she was a ‘Lolita’ who had accepted alcohol from the men who then raped her and her friend, as well as calling her a liar because she led them to believe she was older than she was.

A link would have been nice. But seriously – you think that that last claim is not important? That a girl who lies about her age is entirely innocent and a man who actually makes a reasonable effect to find out how old she is is still liable if it turns out she is lying? What if she uses a fake ID? Still entirely down to him?

Despite the false accusation rate being between 3-5%, whilst 100,000 UK women are raped each year

I would like to see some real evidence for either claim. There are studies that suggest false rape rates are much higher – and may be as high as 40 to 60 percent. I would have trouble believing that, but it is still unlikely to be so low.

The recent reporting around the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case shows how pervasive the myth of the perfect victim is.

And yet virtually all reporting has been on her side and strongly dubious about DSK’s innocence. Odd that.

This is a ‘sex scandal’. This is British and US women being ‘uptight’ whilst the French have a more ‘relaxed’ attitude to sex. And finally, this is an unreliable woman, who, *gasp*, may have worked in prostitution, lying about sexual assault, victimising a powerful man, for financial gain.

Well it is a scandal. It is about sex of a sort. Everyone praises the French for their more relaxed attitudes to sex, as opposed to the repressive British. So I don’t see the problem. If it is true that she was taped talking about how she was going to get money out of DSK – which I don’t believe so far – then surely she was trying to victimise a powerful man for financial gain.

The paper seems to believe that a history of working in prostitution discredits you as a witness in a sexual assault case.

Certainly juries tend to believe that. That is the problem. However even if we all agree it doesn’t – and I certainly think so – it opens up a whole set of possible reasons why they might be having sex. Which creates doubt in the jurors’ minds. No sensible prosecutor is going to ignore that.

Sadly, tragically, all women still know that if they accuse a man of rape of sexual assault, or rape, they are taking a risk. They are taking a risk that they won’t be believed. They are taking a risk that their past will be raked over, that the actions they took before, during and after the alleged assault will be twisted to discredit them.

What is the alternative? Abolishing trials? I think we have gone too far as it is. Take this case for instance:

http://www.scotsman.com/news/Cop-guilty-of-raping-sisters.6794842.jp

Any legal system that can come up with a guilty verdict here has problems. We have shifted the burden too far and now there is a real risk of injustice as men get sent to prison without good reason.

My initial reaction to reading this article was that it all sounds a bit made up and is just something that a certain type of feminism is into. But maybe I just lead a quiet life and don’t get out enough at night and don’t know what is actually going on out there.
I’d like a bit more evidence of this‘perfect victim’ theory of rape.
Again, I don’t know anyone who holds this theory, and I bet that even those who might be asumed to hold it would not accept the accusation.

8. So Much For Subtlety

Is the Daily Mail story referred to this one?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2014278/Six-footballers-accused-raping-12-year-old-girls-park-freed-prison-judge-says-The-girls-wanted-sex.html

They picked up the school girls in two cars after one sent Edwards a text message saying she wanted to meet and have sex with more than one of the footballers.

They drove to a park where the same girl moved away from the group, calling them over one by one to have sex.

The court heard she was more sexually experienced than the men and it had been her idea to arrange the meeting.
….
Amos, from Caversham, engaged in a brief sex act with the other girl but this stopped when she became upset and he comforted her.

The hearing was told how the two 12-year-olds ‘deceived’ the men into believing they were 16 by putting false ages on Facebook and dressing to appear older.
….
Their legal teams claimed prosecutors would not have had a case if the men had not confessed because the first girl’s testimony was unreliable while the second did not mention any sexual activity with Amos in her statement to police.

Yes, this is statutory rape. Yes, it is and should be illegal. But actually their behaviour, and that of at least one of the girls, is, surely, relevant to the case. They really deserved ten years for rape? Even the two years they got?

I don’t think any reasonable person would think so. Although I might agree with the two years.

@4

I once had a conversation with a 17 year old lad, many years ago. He told me that he’d spiked the soft drink of a thirteen year old girl, had his way with her and then bragged that he was ‘the first’ to get her into bed.

That’d be toxic masculinity at work there, the idea that sex is something you “get from” a girl rather than “have with”. On the continuum that sex is something that is obtained, then rape merely becomes the most extreme method of obtaining it, with date rape becoming “not quite as bad as rape”. Hence his friends not thinking he did much wrong.
It is most definitely a mindset that needs to be challenged as strongly as possible.

It’s worth pointing out that the poster has given the impression that the DM report contains the words “Lolita”, “led on”, “sluttily”, “dressed provocatively”, “tricked”. But the report does not contain any of those words. After Hari, how can anyone believe such a distortion is acceptable??

11. citizen spork

[deleted]

12. Stuffed Boar

“Sadly, tragically, all women still know that if they accuse a man of rape of sexual assault, or rape, they are taking a risk. They are taking a risk that they won’t be believed. They are taking a risk that their past will be raked over, that the actions they took before, during and after the alleged assault will be twisted to discredit them.”

This is of course preferable to a status quo in which the veracity of the facts substantiating accusations of rape were held to be true regardless of the requirement for their investigation.

Comment @11 is clearly in violation of moderation policy and should be removed, admins?

14. citizen spork

@13
Sorry if I offended your delicate sensibilities, maybe I should’ve just said that a 12 year old was “asking for it” instead.

“Sorry if I offended your delicate sensibilities, maybe I should’ve just said that a 12 year old was “asking for it” instead.”

Theres documented text messages of her “asking for it” – How these men can conduct them selves in that manner regardless of any fact I do not know, they sound like low lives How ever:

“They drove to a park where the same girl moved away from the group, calling them over one by one to have sex.”

To deny they with there own communications and behaviours did ask for sex is lunacy – there maturity and ability to understand consequences is another issue but you with your delicate sensibilities shut down and have to deny the facts.

there maturity and ability to understand consequences is another issue but you with your delicate sensibilities shut down and have to deny the facts.

But the point is made more broadly than i a literal sense. If a 12 yr old asked you to have sex with you, would you be idiotic enough to follow through? If no, why not? the point about maturity and ability to understand consequences cannot be wished away so easily.

“But the point is made more broadly than i a literal sense. If a 12 yr old asked you to have sex with you, would you be idiotic enough to follow through? If no, why not? the point about maturity and ability to understand consequences cannot be wished away so easily.”

I don’t want to “wish away” the point about maturity and the ability to understand the consequences of ones actions at all, I was not talking about the men I was talking about the girls, although they may be able to appear act and request experiences that are well beyond what should be the case for there age group this does not mean they have the maturity to deal with and understand the consequence of there actions.

Yet even lacking maturity there request for sex is still a request, its down to the adults involved to assess the situation, there age maturity and suitability – those involved Perceived that they were dealing with girls of the legal age. I have a niece she is 12 years old, I cant fathom in any way what so ever how she could ever be perceived by another to be 16 years old How ever there are girls who at that age with a bit of help from make up that can be. Do you really think a judge would have let them walk away if the girls in question looked like children?

There case was built on them being deceived, how could such a case be built if the girls did in fact look like 12 year old children??

The men in question are scum for the way they conduct there lives alone yet it can be guaranteed if the girls looked 12 or if they knew they were 12 this would have no taken place.

Oh and as to your direct question to me its to silly for me to answer, I am not quite sure how you can seriously ask it…

18. So Much For Subtlety

16. Sunny Hundal

If a 12 yr old asked you to have sex with you, would you be idiotic enough to follow through? If no, why not? the point about maturity and ability to understand consequences cannot be wished away so easily.

Well I wouldn’t. But that is not the issue. If I was a horny 16 year old and a 12 year old girl went out of her way to lie to me to make me believe that she was above the legal age and I had no reason to think she was 12 years old, yes I probably would have.

Every crime has elements to it that need to be drawn out in an investigation and in a trial. The main element is the mental state of the accused. The behaviour of the victim is highly relevant to the mental state of the accused. If the accused had good reason to think that consent was given, or that the victim was of age, then that is relevant. The police and the Courts need to ask the victim about this. That can be cruel, but it has to be done. That is not putting the victim on trial as such. It is giving the accused basic justice.

Re- the 12 year old girl. Can we have a link, because Im wonderign if this was the same story I read about the 12 year olds and the group of footballers in the park?

If its the same story on the Fail then most of the comments were asking why the footballers were not on the sex ofenders register.

To find the comments you refer to you would have to order the comments with lowest rating first.

Hi all

Because this piece originally appeared on my blog, where other pieces i have written cite the stats and articles mentioned in this post, i didn’t repeat the references. I was out last night so didn’t have a chance to update the post with citations before Sunny posted it.

This link below contains a great sum up of rape stats, and false reporting stats, with an in-depth analysis in to how the stats are presented. It dismantles the idea, for example, that 41% of rape allegations are false accusations.

http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2010/11/29/rape-statistics-what-can-we-rely-on/

The 3-5% false accusation rate – the lower number comes from the Fawcett report on rape (‘Rape: The Facts’) and the higher number comes from the British Crime Statistics. There are some reports that put the number even lower, but i have not seen any reports that put it higher.

In terms of the Daily Mail article, you can read the original here:
http://istyosty.com/tmp/cache/47d755f5402233a50ae3ee745c5c3d8e597d6003.html

The headline was:
“Reading Crown Court heard how the soccer players were encouraged by the schoolgirl ‘Lolitas'”

The comments included:
‘[girls are] more at fault than the lads’
‘[They] claimed to be 16 and we all know how tarty girls can look’.
‘[it is the] girls who should be punished.’
‘[the men were] misguided’
the girls are ‘slutty’ and ‘instigated it’.

I didn’t go searching for the nastiest comments to find these when i wrote about it in March, it may be that since then they have been removed or more comments that were less shitty were made.

The whole point of statutory rape laws is that at 12 years old a girl is too young to meaningfully consent to sex and group sex with much older men. The key is meaningful consent. The report says that the men pressured her into sex, verbal coercion. In Mail language that is:
‘She was initially reluctant but eventually gave in to his persistence.’

I think some of the comments about how i want trials to be dismantled a bit surreal to be honest. I absolutely believe in trial by jury and in innocent before guilty. What i would like to see is more education around rape myths, more dismantling of rape myths, more education about consent and respect. Rape myths mean that 26% of people think a woman is asking for it if she wears a short skirt, 30% believe this if a woman is drunk and 8% believe this (1 in 12!) if a woman has had multiple sexual partners. (http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=16618). These people are sitting on our juries, and are taking these prejudices and belief about rape with them. This doesn’t mean i don’t believe in trial by jury, but means i want to see a world where these prejudices that can prevent justice are seen as out dated and embarrassing.

Due process says innocent before proven guilty. This is the cornerstone of justice. But innocent before proven guilty does not translate to ‘woman must be lying’. It means that each party is believed and allowed a voice and legal representation. And yet so often when it comes to cases around violence against women, there is a presumption that the woman is making it up. Rape myths live in juries’ heads, in lawyers’ heads, in CPS officers’ heads, in police officers’ heads and they are perpetuated by the media over and over again.

I want to see honest and open conversations about rape. I want to see education about violence against women and girls that places the responsibility for the crime on the perpetrators and not on the women. I want young men and women to grow up, educated about meaningful consent and respect. I believe this is possible. What we have now, where women are endlessly blamed or held culpable for the violence committed against them, is not just, is not fair.

We have come a long way when it comes to justice for rape victims and survivors since the 70s. It gives me hope that we can go further, and end this culture that of rape myths.

Cheers,
Sian

Does Strauss-Kahn have a history of sexual harassment, or a history of accusations of sexual harassment?

22. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 Stuffed Boar

“This is of course preferable to a status quo in which the veracity of the facts substantiating accusations of rape were held to be true regardless of the requirement for their investigation.”

Absolutely true as far as presumed innocence goes. But we do seem to have a culture where people who claim to have been raped get their personal lives dragged through the dirt – “look, here she is on Facebook looking like a slapper!” – in a way that is totally irrelevant to the case, and can only serve to prejudice it.

The logic behind it, if “logic” is even the right word, seems to be that a woman who enjoys sex is less likely to be telling the truth about being raped.

The statement in the OP that it’s “tragic” that women who report rape aren’t automatically believed is, of course, ridiculous, and I actually wonder whether it’s what the author meant to say or whether it’s simply poor phrasing. However, Sian’s bang on about the tragedy of people who claim to be raped having their reputations dragged through the mud in the papers, in the courts, and possibly in their local community.

23. Chaise Guevara

@ Sian

Crappy as this attitude is, can we honestly says that it represents a disease of the overal media, or just the Mail and its ugly brethren? The Mail isn’t representative of the British media; it’s not even representative of the tabloids.

Whenever a rape story emerges (in which the alleged perp isn’t an immigrant, naturally), the Mails WANTS it to turn out to be a false allegation because that’s what gets its readers’ blood boiling. I would guess that the Times, Guardian or Telegraph would face a rather different reader reaction if they were in the habit of smearing alleged rape victims. But I don’t know for sure.

My understanding is the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that sex with someone under 13 is at the least sexual assault, the victim is considered not mature enough to give consent.

My belief is there are 3 main elements to improving the way these cases are handled:

1. A public awareness campaign about rape with a focus on educating men about their responsibility to ensure consent before they have sexual intercourse.

2. Compulsory training from a specialist rape services provider on how to take a disclosure of rape for frontline workers e.g. GPs, A&E nurses, probation officers, CPS lawyers, police officers, Judges etc etc.

3. Common data collection and data sharing on rape and serious sexual offence disclosure across all agencies from statutory to voluntary sector.

There is a tendency in society to lecture women and girls on what they should and should not do rather than making it clear to men that sex without consent is rape. Changes to the law in 2003 have been to move from the presumption that victims were likely to be lying or were somehow negligent in letting the rape happen towards a standpoint that sex without consent is rape and all other factors about a person making a complaint of rape are irrelevant.

25. So Much For Subtlety

21. Chaise Guevara

But we do seem to have a culture where people who claim to have been raped get their personal lives dragged through the dirt – “look, here she is on Facebook looking like a slapper!” – in a way that is totally irrelevant to the case, and can only serve to prejudice it.

Except it is not. Rape is an offence that occurs in the mind of the accused. Anything that can help explain the state of his mind is relevant. If the woman behaved in a way that could give a reasonable man a reasonable belief that consent had been given, it is not rape in the law. Obviously the victim’s own behaviour is entirely relevant to that.

The logic behind it, if “logic” is even the right word, seems to be that a woman who enjoys sex is less likely to be telling the truth about being raped.

No it isn’t.

22. Chaise Guevara

Whenever a rape story emerges (in which the alleged perp isn’t an immigrant, naturally), the Mails WANTS it to turn out to be a false allegation because that’s what gets its readers’ blood boiling.

The Mail is a paper written by women for women. It is more likely to be caused by all sorts of things – including women’s reluctance to act as “White Knights” for other women all the way to women distrusting other women and to jealousy that their readers are at home having boring sex with their boring husbands, if at all, while some other women are having a good time.

23. Sarah

1. A public awareness campaign about rape with a focus on educating men about their responsibility to ensure consent before they have sexual intercourse.

There is no man in Britain who is unaware of the need to ensure consent.

There is a tendency in society to lecture women and girls on what they should and should not do rather than making it clear to men that sex without consent is rape.

And the police are happy to give me hours of boring lectures on the need to get more bars and alarms for my house rather than going out at catching the scum who keep robbing houses. It is a mark of Britain’s cultural decline that the police and social workers are more likely to put the blame and onus on the law abiding majority rather than the actual criminals. The only interesting thing is why the Left usually takes a Daily Mail-type approach to this one crime while the Right usually takes a Guardian-type approach – but only to this one crime.

Changes to the law in 2003 have been to move from the presumption that victims were likely to be lying or were somehow negligent in letting the rape happen towards a standpoint that sex without consent is rape and all other factors about a person making a complaint of rape are irrelevant.

The law before 2003 contained no presumption that victims were likely to be lying nor did it even consider negligence. What the reforms did was weaken the ability of the accused to defend themselves. Nothing more.

As if on cue, this story about the gang rape conviction has just been reported

http://istyosty.com/tmp/cache/4f4908822e93be680e09c1f8e5691789c8f31beb.html

27. theophrastus

Yeah, no doubt SOME rape victims get some rough handling in the press and courts, but this article reads to me like a claim that there are no degrees of rape. Is there never ‘contributory negligence’?

As for false claims of rape, I live in Colchester, Essex. Most of us round here are respectable working class people, though I went to university. My Mum and Dad are plagued by petty crime and drug dealing. Their neighbour is a recently divorced police officer, and she tells me that she deals with 2 or 3 false accusations of rape a week!! The underclass scum make these accusations because of drug disputes, other vendettas, or because the woman is feeling malicious. She says genuine rapes arfe quite rare.

@ 27
‘but this article reads to me like a claim that there are no degrees of rape. Is there never ‘contributory negligence’?’

No. there is not. A rapist chooses to rape. it doesn’t ‘jut happen’ because a woman is outside, or in her home, or in bed, or wearing a short skirt, or wearing jeans, or has had a drink, or is sober, or has had sex before with anyone.

Rape happens because a rapist chooses to rape.

There are no degrees of rape. There are additional crimes, such as grievious or actual bodily harm, or incest etc. But rape is rape and all rape is violent because it is a gross violation of someone’s bodily autonomy.

This is the important bit about the case of the 6 men who raped the 12 yearold girls: “Adults hold the responsibility of not taking advantage of children.”.

The other thing in the reporting of the case that needs refuting is the assertion that one of the girls was “was more sexually experienced than the men”. It should be glaringly obvious that if a 12 year-old child has had sexual experience then that means it’s almost certain that an older person abused that child. It is NOT a mitigating circumstance for another perpetrator who also abuses that child.

For people asking about the Daily Mail gleefully repeating the defence’s characterisation of the victims as “Lolita’s”, that was in the reporting of the trial in March, there is a link in this article

The media failings that Sian identifies need to be tackled. One thing I notice a lot is the media reporting “sex charges” – it would make a world of difference if they more accurately used the phrase “assault charges” or “rape charges” or “abuse charges” or “harrassment charges” etc.

@ 24. So Much For Subtlety – Rape is an offence that occurs in the mind of the accused. Anything that can help explain the state of his mind is relevant.

No it really really doesn’t occur in the mind of the accused. It is a physical assault on the victim. It is the victim’s lack of consent that makes it an assault. Exploring the perpetrator’s state of mind is a secondary issue. Their actions – what they did to another person against that person’s will – are what’s under scrutiny in a trial.

If the woman behaved in a way that could give a reasonable man a reasonable belief that consent had been given, it is not rape in the law. Obviously the victim’s own behaviour is entirely relevant to that.

I don’t think the “reasonable belief” defence applies any more legally, but I don’t have links to hand. Would welcome someone with legal knowledge to clarify.

Sorry, the comment I reply to above was 25 not 24

If the woman behaved in a way that could give a reasonable man a reasonable belief that consent had been given, it is not rape in the law. Obviously the victim’s own behaviour is entirely relevant to that.

Forgot to say, the “reasonable belief” argument is dodgy and needs limiting because it lays too much credence on the person accused of the crime. We don’t let the person who is on trial define whether or not what they did was a crime. How about, ‘it wasn’t a burglary because I didn’t believe I was committing burglary’?

Regarding changes in law to more strictly limit the “reasonable belief” defence, I have now found a couple of links :

“Deciding whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents (subsection (2) of sections 1-4). It is likely that this will include a defendant’s attributes, such as disability or extreme youth. This is a major change in the law and the Act abolishes the Morgan defence of a genuine though unreasonably mistaken belief as to the consent of the complainant. It means that the defendant (A) has the responsibility to ensure that (B) consents to the sexual activity at the time in question. It will be important for the police to ask the offender in interview what steps he took to satisfy him that the complainant consented.” (emphasis added by me)CPS Legal guidance

Guardian 20/11/2002 – Honest belief of woman’s consent is dumped as rape defence

The standard of a “reasonable man”‘s belief doesn’t remotely apply or exist. It’s also important to stress that “reasonable belief” isn’t constituted by making assumptions about things like how the victim is dressed, or the fact she doesn’t say no. (yes is not the absence of no, and there is no such thing as implied consent).

32. Chaise Guevara

@ SMFS

“Except it is not. Rape is an offence that occurs in the mind of the accused. Anything that can help explain the state of his mind is relevant. If the woman behaved in a way that could give a reasonable man a reasonable belief that consent had been given, it is not rape in the law. Obviously the victim’s own behaviour is entirely relevant to that.”

At the time, yes. In a picture on Facebook taken on a different day, no. If a woman has a photo on Facebook of her flashing her breasts in January, what bearing can that have on a trial for a rape alleged to have occurred in July?

“No it isn’t.”

Thanks for the deep analysis. Please explain what other logic can be used for bringing a woman’s behaviour and mode of dress, in a totally unconnected situation, into a rape trial.

“The Mail is a paper written by women for women.”

Sure, that’s why it has all those photos of scantily-clad women in it. The Mail has a mainly female readership, that doesn’t make it a paper “for women”. It markets to both sexes.

“It is more likely to be caused by all sorts of things – including women’s reluctance to act as “White Knights” for other women all the way to women distrusting other women and to jealousy that their readers are at home having boring sex with their boring husbands, if at all, while some other women are having a good time.”

That doesn’t sound very different to what I said. Is it really that important to determine whether a paper is trying to tap jealousy or anger? The point is that it heavily bends or actively lies about the facts to suit what it thinks its readers want to see.

33. Chaise Guevara

@ 31 MarinaS

“How about, ‘it wasn’t a burglary because I didn’t believe I was committing burglary’?”

Well, it’s kind of hard to imagine someone committing accidental burglary. But if someone stole my wallet, and then when the cops caught them it turned out that we had identical-looking wallets and they had picked mine up by mistake, it would be ludicruous for them to be charged with theft.

The rape equivalent would be different because of the much greater impact on the victim; it’s a much more important degree of negligence. But if we don’t take intent into account then we’re not administering justice.

Sarah/24: I’ve been told the Home Office are planning something regarding point 1 there, though the evidence so far suggests that it won’t be much good.

MariaS/29: I don’t think the “reasonable belief” defence applies any more legally, but I don’t have links to hand. Would welcome someone with legal knowledge to clarify.

SMFS is of course wrong that the “reasonable belief” clauses mean that the offence occurs in the mind of the accused, but those clauses do exist.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 changed the standard from “honest belief” to “reasonable belief”. In other words, if someone genuinely had no reasonable way of knowing they were committing rape, they aren’t legally responsible for doing so. That seems fair enough, given that the only situations I can imagine in which that would actually apply are bizarre hypothetical ones. (“honest belief” was, on the other hand, an obvious license for rapists)

The problem is not the wording of the law but that most juries will have too many people on them who subscribe to the perfect victim theory and will acquit or convict on that rather than on the letter of the law.

SMFS – last time i checked, Paul Dacre, Quentin Letts, Richard Littlejohn, Peter Hitchens were all men.

@33

You say:
‘But if someone stole my wallet, and then when the cops caught them it turned out that we had identical-looking wallets and they had picked mine up by mistake, it would be ludicruous for them to be charged with theft
The rape equivalent would be different because of the much greater impact on the victim; it’s a much more important degree of negligence. But if we don’t take intent into account then we’re not administering justice.’

What is the rape equivalent? i can’t see what the equivalent would be with rape?! it’s never an accident, as your wallet analogy is.

37. theophrastus

@28: Nonsense on stilts! ALL crimes admit of degree – even murder. Rape is no different.

Consider your statement duly amended for murder:

‘A murderer chooses to murder. it doesn’t ‘just happen’ because a person is outside, or at home, or in bed, or wearing a short skirt, or wearing jeans, or has had a drink, or is sober, or has had sex before with anyone.

Murder happens because a murderer chooses to murder.

There are no degrees of murder’.

It is — self-evidently – false, because murder can occur without the murderer being fully conscious of his/her intentions and because of mitigating circumstances. Similarly, with rape; so rape admits of degree.

As for contributory negligence, to take an extreme example, if a woman wearing only stockings and suspenders strolled into a crack cocaine den, and she was raped, would that be surprising, even though the men would still be guilty of rape? The men were under the influence of a drug; she was imprudent. Surely, that would not demand the same sentence as for a woman raped randomly at knife-point in a street?

@ Chaise Guevara – just to point out that MarinaS and I are different people. Sorry, we do sometimes crop up in the same comment threads, easy mistake to make

@37 You seem to be labouring under the illusion that men are sex-crazed automatons that must submit to the wishes of their dick immediately. Nice to know that 49% of the Earth’s population supposedly don’t have any free will. They could… I don’t know, choose not to rape?

40. theophrastus

@39: CONGRATULATIONS! You have just won the NON-SEQUITUR OF THE YEAR AWARD, 2011. (applause – the sound of one hand clapping)

Also, can I just point out that ‘contributary negligence’ is a civil law concept which is used to reduce damages? It’s not transferable into criminal law – the closest we have is reduced sentencing. However, the criminal law must realise that we all have free will when it comes to committing violent crimes. Rape is a violent crime.

Oh, and Criminal Injury Compensation used to be reduced for rape victims who’d been drinking. This was changed in 2008 because, well, it was a bit stupid and unfair. No one chooses to be a victim of violent crime.

http://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/news/news.aspx?newsid=192

@39 Naa, better that all women wear Burkas so as not to be dressed imprudently and tempt men into actions they apparently have no control over. 😉

Oh, and one more legal point, then I’m done. There is ONE whole defence to murder – self defence. And that has to be proportional to the danger the defendant was in. Any other ‘defence’ just reduces the charge to manslaughter and removes the whole life sentence requirement. So, it’s not really comparable with rape, is it?

theophrastus @ 40 – er, not a non sequitur. Logical inference from any argument that depends on the idea that given the opportunity, what else can we expect from men than to rape a woman who is in a vulnerable situation?

45. Chaise Guevara

@ 36 Sian

“What is the rape equivalent? i can’t see what the equivalent would be with rape?! it’s never an accident, as your wallet analogy is.”

Of course it can be an accident. The rough equivalent would be someone genuinely believing consent had been granted when it hadn’t.

Like I say, I wouldn’t deal with the two situations in the same way. If someone accidentally stole a wallet, you feel that the parties involved should be able to laugh it off. Obviously not so with rape. Aside from the huge difference in the impact of the crimes – and the fact that the damage done in the wallet scenario can be reversed – it’s hard to imagine someone incorrectly believing consent to have been granted who wasn’t guilty of negligence.

46. Chaise Guevara

@ 38 MariaS – my apologies.

47. Chaise Guevara

@ 37

“The men were under the influence of a drug; she was imprudent. Surely, that would not demand the same sentence as for a woman raped randomly at knife-point in a street?”

I can see the drug use and the knife affecting sentencing, but not the woman being imprudent. Do you think criminals should get off light as long as it was really easy for them to commit the crime?

I don’t think the “reasonable belief” defence applies any more legally, but I don’t have links to hand. Would welcome someone with legal knowledge to clarify.

It is rape if i) penetration takes place; ii) the victim does not consent; and iii) the accused does not reasonably believe that the victim consents.

The standard of a “reasonable man”‘s belief doesn’t remotely apply or exist.

That’s precisely the test that will be applied, and it’s a pretty much constant theme in English criminal law.

There is ONE whole defence to murder – self defence.

Automatism?

@49 Sorry. It’s so rare I forget about it. But automatism is a defence to rape, I think there was a case last week..? (Also, it’s a medical condition, the person can still be legally ordered to receive treatment to stop it happening again)

Still, my point was, the reason there’s different offences in murder law is because of the mandatory life sentence, it’s to allow for discretion in sentencing. We already have that with rape. I just really didn’t understand 37’s point, it seemed completely unnecessary.

50 – I agree, I was being unnecessarily geeky.

52. Robin Levett
There is ONE whole defence to murder – self defence.

Automatism?

Insanity; sure, you rarely walk free, but it’s still a complete defence.

Coming closer to home; mistake of fact.

53. Robin Levett

#50:

Also, it’s a medical condition, the person can still be legally ordered to receive treatment to stop it happening again

Only where s/he’s unfit to be tried.

All of this is mystifying to me.

The question with rape can be phrased relatively simply (with one extra proviso).

Did the alleged (because the question is asked before the crime is established – not because I believe the nonsense about half of rape claims being false…) victim consent to sex?

Yes – not rape.
No – rape.

Unfortunately, defences have the clear right to suggest that the victim did consent (because the defence have to be allowed to try and prove innocence – that there was consent), and this can be a clear problem when drink or drugs were involved for example.

That said, bringing up the alleged victim’s past behaviour should only be allowable if the defence is trying to prove that consent was likely – and should only be permissible if there is an obvious reason why consent was given and then denied. Otherwise this is an attack on the victim; the impression I have is the balance may be slightly wrong here – that there is a moralistic judgement that previous episodes of casual sex or whatever mean that there is an implicit likelihood that that person is unlikely to have clear boundaries on consent. That seems to be a logical leap too far – just because I might have slept with 30 women (if I were Nick Clegg) does not mean that I automatically consent to sleep with every woman who wants me (or did, before I got married, if I were Nick Clegg…). Put bluntly, you can be a ‘slut’ (in the moralistic sense) and still be choosy – but the sort of moral judgement of churchmen and Mail readers seems to outweigh this rather obvious fact. And one area where feminism is clearly correct is that this moral opprobium seems more acute for females than males.

What a complete waste of time. All Sian Norris has demonstrated is that there were some obnoxious people commenting on the Daily Mail’s website. Guess what — obnoxious comments are universal on the Interwebs. To try to work up that meager and self-evident fact into a theory that raped women in Britain suffer systematic injustice at the hands of the media is, simply put, dishonest.

There’s nothing wrong with campaigning for justice for raped women, or any other victim of crime. But every thread I’ve seen on this site concerning the crime of rape has failed to withstand even the most cursory examination and has quickly been shown to be fudged, massaged, propped up by wishful thinking, and even just plainly dishonest in its treatment of the facts. Why is this? Do the feminists putting forward this kind of stuff not realize how damaging it is to their cause?

56. So Much For Subtlety

28. sianushka

A rapist chooses to rape. it doesn’t ‘jut happen’ because a woman is outside, or in her home, or in bed, or wearing a short skirt, or wearing jeans, or has had a drink, or is sober, or has had sex before with anyone. Rape happens because a rapist chooses to rape.

Sorry but that is not true. A rapist may well think he has consent. There are instances where rape happens for other reasons besides the fact that someone chooses to rape.

There are no degrees of rape.

And, of course, there are degrees of rape. As any jury in the world will agree.

29. MariaS

No it really really doesn’t occur in the mind of the accused. It is a physical assault on the victim. It is the victim’s lack of consent that makes it an assault. Exploring the perpetrator’s state of mind is a secondary issue. Their actions – what they did to another person against that person’s will – are what’s under scrutiny in a trial.

No, exploring the perpetrator’s state of mind is entirely the point. Their actions will be examined, as will the state of mind of the victim. But what makes rape rape in law is not what the victim thinks, but what the perpetrator thinks. All crimes are, theoretically, defined by the criminal state of mind of the accused. Not by what the victim thinks.

31. MariaS

Forgot to say, the “reasonable belief” argument is dodgy and needs limiting because it lays too much credence on the person accused of the crime. We don’t let the person who is on trial define whether or not what they did was a crime. How about, ‘it wasn’t a burglary because I didn’t believe I was committing burglary’?,/i>

Of course we let people who are accused of burglary do so. If someone has a genuine honest reason to think they are not committing burglary, they are not committing burglary.

Regarding changes in law to more strictly limit the “reasonable belief” defence

Limit but not abolish.

This is a major change in the law and the Act abolishes the Morgan defence of a genuine though unreasonably mistaken belief as to the consent of the complainant. It means that the defendant (A) has the responsibility to ensure that (B) consents to the sexual activity at the time in question. It will be important for the police to ask the offender in interview what steps he took to satisfy him that the complainant consented.”

Yeah but notice how little is changed in reality. The accused now has a positive duty to determine if consent has been given. But the crime still takes place in his mind – not in the mind of the victim. The test is still whether the accused had a genuine, although unreasonable, belief consent was given, but he has to claim that he tested that belief before having sex.

The standard of a “reasonable man”‘s belief doesn’t remotely apply or exist. It’s also important to stress that “reasonable belief” isn’t constituted by making assumptions about things like how the victim is dressed, or the fact she doesn’t say no. (yes is not the absence of no, and there is no such thing as implied consent).

Of course it does. Both de facto (juries will not convict if they think the accused acted reasonably on the whole) and in law. I agree that a reasonable belief does not usually include things like how the victim was dressed. But how she was dressed may, in the right circumstances, shed light on the whole consent issue in the mind of the accused. Someone is not guilty of rape in law just because a victim says he is.

57. So Much For Subtlety

32. Chaise Guevara

At the time, yes. In a picture on Facebook taken on a different day, no. If a woman has a photo on Facebook of her flashing her breasts in January, what bearing can that have on a trial for a rape alleged to have occurred in July?

I doubt if it can have any. Do you know of a case where this happened? The standard blogmyth is of the man who has sex with a prostitute but refuses to pay, so she claims to have been raped. Of course in establishing that she was a prostitute – and while refusing to pay is wrong, it is not rape – some things like the clothes she was wearing, what she was doing at that place at that time and perhaps even her Facebook page are all relevant, no?

Sure, that’s why it has all those photos of scantily-clad women in it. The Mail has a mainly female readership, that doesn’t make it a paper “for women”. It markets to both sexes.

I would love to see the breakdown of its readers. Women do actually like looking at pictures of women too you know.

33. Chaise Guevara

Well, it’s kind of hard to imagine someone committing accidental burglary.

Although it is, of course, only a film, in one of the Godfather films, a friend promises the soon-to-be Don Corleone a carpet for his wife. He accepts. They go around to his place to pick it up. The friend has forgotten the key. He takes the spare out from underneath the mat. They walk in, roll up the carpet on the floor and walk out. Isn’t this an accidental burglary?

34. cim

SMFS is of course wrong that the “reasonable belief” clauses mean that the offence occurs in the mind of the accused, but those clauses do exist.

I did not say the reasonable belief clauses mean that the offence occurs in the mind of the accused. It is simply the nature of Common law that crime is not caused by the attitude of the victim but the mens rea of the criminal. That is, the state of mind of the perp that may or may not indicate guilt.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 changed the standard from “honest belief” to “reasonable belief”. In other words, if someone genuinely had no reasonable way of knowing they were committing rape, they aren’t legally responsible for doing so.

So … what I said. Basically. Not even basically. Literally.

A large number of rapes involve boys who have been drinking, with girls who have been drinking, where there may have been good faith efforts to establish consent but where no one’s brain is functioning at a normal level. It is not hard to find cases where you need to establish a reasonable belief consent had been given. It is just that the police usually do not bother to prosecute in these cases given that no jury is going to ruin some young person’s life on the hazy recollections of two people who had been drinking. It is unfortunate but there it is.

The problem is not the wording of the law but that most juries will have too many people on them who subscribe to the perfect victim theory and will acquit or convict on that rather than on the letter of the law.

Yeah. God forbid the law should reflect what people think as opposed to what our elites think we should think.

Came across this interesting article today, which punctures two myths at the same time:

– That there is such a thing as a perfect victim who will not be blamed by at least some people for her own rape
– That accusations of rape, however well or badly supported, are an automatic punishment for the accused, resulting in immediate rejection by te community and severe reputational damage.

It’s just one case of course, but it’s an interesting counter-factual to a lot of what pro-rape apologists tend to say in this case: if she’d only done or not done this or that we’d believe her; if she were only someone different than she is, we’d believe her; if it weren’t for the dreadful risk of “ruining” the life of a man who should be considered “innocent until proven guilty”, we’d believe her.

The truth of course is that some people won’t even believe women if they produce the 4 witnesses required by Islam, because they fundamentally don’t believe that women are human beings with subjectivity and rights, and therefore raping them is wrong (or even possible).

It’s interesting though that some – in this thread as elsewhere -will go to such enormous lengths to try and prove that this is not the case. Seems like the wider culture agrees with you – conviction rates, reporting rates, public opinion polls, everything more or less agrees that women are to blame for their own rapes, if they don’t actively deserve them; so what’s to get so hot under the collar about, when a few feminists point out that this is not a nice thing to believe?

59. So Much For Subtlety

58. MarinaS

Came across this interesting article today, which punctures two myths at the same time: – That there is such a thing as a perfect victim who will not be blamed by at least some people for her own rape

Hard to argue that is a rape given the Courts did not agree. But I will let that pass and agree on the face of it it is a rape. But I don’t see how this dispels any such thing. That this one victim was not a perfect victim does not mean that others do not exist. There is something bizarre about that case. Perhaps we are not being told the full story. The consumption of that much alcohol does make the whole issue of consent difficult.

– That accusations of rape, however well or badly supported, are an automatic punishment for the accused, resulting in immediate rejection by te community and severe reputational damage.

This story does absolutely nothing whatsoever to dispel this “myth”. Because it is not a myth. Accusations of rape are an automatic punishment for the accused. The process is the punishment even if there is no jail time at the end of it. Of course it produces severe reputational damage. Every single future employer will be able to google those two and see they were accused of rape. The accusation of rape often produces rejection by the community as well. Even if it did not in this one case (and to be honest it probably did). This one example does nothing to dispel any of these basic facts. Zero. Nada. Nothing.

It’s just one case of course, but it’s an interesting counter-factual to a lot of what pro-rape apologists tend to say in this case: if she’d only done or not done this or that we’d believe her; if she were only someone different than she is, we’d believe her; if it weren’t for the dreadful risk of “ruining” the life of a man who should be considered “innocent until proven guilty”, we’d believe her.

If only she had not drunk so much she was engaging in sexual acts with a variety of people she probably did not know well. We only have her side of the story. We have no idea what went on. Personally I am surprise they were not convicted, but given her prior behaviour, it is reasonable to see why a jury might have decided that she did consent. Or at least that there was reasonable doubt.

The truth of course is that some people won’t even believe women if they produce the 4 witnesses required by Islam, because they fundamentally don’t believe that women are human beings with subjectivity and rights, and therefore raping them is wrong (or even possible).

I am sure there is one or two people in that camp. But I doubt there are any here. It is more likely that some people just have a wider experience of human nature and a broader perspective. What is more they would have looked the accused and the victim in the eye and made judgements about their character. It is easy to destroy someone’s life over the internet. It is harder to look them in the face and condemn them to prison rape and a life time on minimum wage.

Seems like the wider culture agrees with you – conviction rates, reporting rates, public opinion polls, everything more or less agrees that women are to blame for their own rapes, if they don’t actively deserve them; so what’s to get so hot under the collar about, when a few feminists point out that this is not a nice thing to believe?

Conviction rates prove that rape is no different from burglary in terms of the chances of getting a guilty verdict. No one thinks householders are to blame for being robbed. Just as no one thinks women are to blame for being raped. That is not the issue. The issue is proving it.

I am surprised no one commented on the change in Texas in that case – a Black male raped a White underage girl and was acquitted. As opposed to lynched.

Sadly, tragically, all women still know that if they accuse a man of rape of sexual assault, or rape, they are taking a risk. They are taking a risk that they won’t be believed.

Surely, anyone accusing anyone of any crime is taking a risk they won’t be believed. And that’s exactly the way it should be: when someone makes allegations of criminal activity, those allegations need to be tested in open court, and witnesses (including prosecution witnesses) cross-examined. Because that’s the only way to get to the truth; if accusers were automatically believed, then anyone who anyone had a grudge against would go to prison.

@55 Scooby: To try to work up that meager and self-evident fact into a theory that raped women in Britain suffer systematic injustice at the hands of the media is, simply put, dishonest.

I disagree. Raped women often do suffer from bigotted attitudes in media reporting. (They are not alone in that, of course).

61. sianushka

@55 I’m sorry you think this article was a waste of time. I wrote this for my own personal blog because I’m interested in how the media reports rape cases, and because I feel the dsk case has been quite revealing, in how even before the case is tried the alleged victim is being discredited, referred to as a ‘cry rape’ girl, issues around fgm etc. Sunny read it on my blog and asked to reproduce it here. I’m interested that the comments have focused so much on the daily mail article as opposed to the dsk case but if that’s what ppl want to talk about that’s fine.

Anyway, if you feel this is a waste of time then am sure there are plenty other articles on the website you will enjoy 🙂

62. Chaise Guevara

@ SMFS

“I doubt if it can have any. Do you know of a case where this happened?”

Broadly – I remember reading about a case where the alleged victim found that the defense had acquired pictures of her dressed in revealing clothes on Facebook (not at the time of the alleged offence) and showed them to the court in a clear attempt at a character smear. The story said this wasn’t uncommon. I can dig it out for you later, probably, if you think it necessary.

“The standard blogmyth is of the man who has sex with a prostitute but refuses to pay, so she claims to have been raped. Of course in establishing that she was a prostitute – and while refusing to pay is wrong, it is not rape – some things like the clothes she was wearing, what she was doing at that place at that time and perhaps even her Facebook page are all relevant, no?”

Totally different scenario, although I still don’t see what her clothes have to do with it. Scantily clad =/= hooker. But yeah, if she claims not to be a prositute and then it’s proved that she is and that she met the defendant on that basis, that would obviously throw doubt on her claims.

“I would love to see the breakdown of its readers. Women do actually like looking at pictures of women too you know.”

Yes, I know. The Mail runs a lot of “Celeb A looks minging!” stories and a lot of “Hot female celeb B wearing fuck-all!” stories. Lesbians aside, I’d say that argued for it aiming at both genders. And I really doubt its male readership is a small minority. More men than women read papers in general – I think the Mail is the only national UK newspaper with a majority female readership, which is why it stands out in that respect.

“Although it is, of course, only a film … Isn’t this an accidental burglary?”

Sure – and I came up with a plausible “accidental burglary” scenario a bit after my last post. I just switched to theft because accidental stealing seems more likely (because for the burglarly you’d have to gain entry to the house accidently and not realise that it was the wrong house, whereas for stealing you could just pick up something that wasn’t yours by mistake. Or wander out of a shop holding a product you forgot to pay for).

In any case, Maria seemed to be raising the idea of treating accidental and deliberate burglarly differently as a reducto ad absurdium. My point was that it isn’t. Any crime committed by mistake is a very different beast – at worst some form of criminal negligence (up to and including manslaughter), at best an honest and understandable mistake that deserves acquittal. The idea that someone who knowingly commits rape and someone who makes a genuine mistake about whether consent was given should face the same sentence, or even be tried for the same offence, is ludicruous IMO. And the same applies to any other offence.

63. Robin Levett

@sianushka #61:

…I feel the dsk case has been quite revealing, in how even before the case is tried the alleged victim is being discredited, referred to as a ‘cry rape’ girl, issues around fgm etc.

Could you comment on the coverage of the dsk case before the last few weeks? Before, that is, the prosecution appeared to get cold feet?

@63

hi there

i kind of cover that in the post. the media narrative reported…

‘This [as] a ‘sex scandal’. This is British and US women being ‘uptight’ whilst the French have a more ‘relaxed’ attitude to sex.

65. Robin Levett

@sianushka #64:

No, I didn’t mean recently; I mean when the story first broke.

66. Robin Levett
67. sianushka

as I said, from the start of this story breaking it has been covered as a sex scandal, which is problematic as I explained. I was also shocked to read articles, including an editorial in the telegraph which said that this case showed how UK and usa ppl were upright about sex, and the French hsve a more relaxed attitude, again, v problematic.

68. Robin Levett

@sianushka #67:

as I said, from the start of this story breaking it has been covered as a sex scandal, which is problematic as I explained.

No, you didn’t say that; you said in your #61:

…even before the case is tried the alleged victim is being discredited, referred to as a ‘cry rape’ girl, issues around fgm etc.

This linked back to your claim in the original post that:

Two – the rape will be reported as a ‘cry-rape’ case. This is when the case has not progressed, or the accused hasn’t been found guilty for whatever reason. In this case, the media assume that the woman lied about the rape, even if the defendant has not gone on to accuse or charge the women with false accusation.

Despite the false accusation rate being between 3-5%, whilst 100,000 UK women are raped each year, the media paints a picture that all non-convicted rape cases are ‘cry rape’ stories, which is simply not true. A quick search of the term ‘cry rape’ on the Daily Mail website reveals 166 stories, including coverage of the recent Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

The recent reporting around the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case shows how pervasive the myth of the perfect victim is. Here we have a very powerful, very respected political leader. He has a history of sexual harassment and since his arrest more women have come forward with claims of sexual assault. He is accused of sexual assault by a poor, black woman from an immigrant community who cleans his hotel room. He is arrested for sexual assault. But if you read some papers, this isn’t the story at all.

Whereas the actual early coverage was pretty uniformly against DSK; the Telegraph piece I linked to was pretty representative. It was only when evidence came out that the alleged victim had credibility problems that the story changed. The idea that this was “a typical case” where the victim is smeared from day 1 is pretty much discredited by that early coverage, which you will remember led to his resignation as IMF chair and his being knocked out of the race for his party’s nomination for the French presidency, in which he was pretty much the front-runner.

Again the fact that there is evidence that he has an alleged history of sexual violence was hardly buried.

While I have your attention, could you let me have a cite for the 3-5% false accusation rate?

68/Robin Levett: The most recent UK study I’m aware of is Kelly, Lovett and Regan (2005) for the Home Office, which tracked around 2,643 rape cases from report to either conviction, acquittal, or abandonment, and found that around 3% (67) were false reports.

(Of those three percent, there were at most 39 named suspects, only 6 of whom were actually arrested – less than 1.5% and less than 0.25% of cases respectively)

70. Robin Levett

@cim #69:

Thanks for the reference.

I’ve had a brief look and it seems to me that Sian should be a little more careful to make clear exactly what she means by “false accusation”. The study is looking at the reasons why cases dropped out of the prosecution process; and uses the term “false report”. That category is made up solely of those cases coded by the police as “false report”, but many of those are then discounted so that the only cases that remain are those (i) where the complainant has actually confessed that the report was false, or (ii) where there is a strong evidential basis for such a finding – at the very earliest stage. They then discount further for cases where they think that the confessions was made for other reasons than that the report was actually false.

Myself, I’d think that that what’s left after that winnowing process would quite likely be be the tip of the iceberg. It excludes for example any cases where there was insufficient evidence of rape. Again, the sample shows 287 cases getting to a verdict, of which 104 were acquitted; at least some of those 104 must have been actually innocent for reasons other than mistaken identity (making the accusation false in any normal sense of the word).

70/Robin Levett: but many of those are then discounted

Because the police were recording them as “false report” in contradiction to the general Home Office guidance on what is or is not one. But it doesn’t really matter – the 1.5%/0.25% figures are taken from the larger number (before reclassifying), not the smaller one, and a false report that names no suspect is not really particularly harmful.

“making the accusation false in any normal sense of the word”

Well, no, not really. We rightly have a very tough standard of proof for criminal offences, the inevitable consequence of which is that lots of people who even the jury thought probably did it will go free. There’s intentionally a very large gap between “we’re sure a crime occurred” and “we’re so sure that this person committed it that we’ll imprison them for years for it”.

Mistaken identity isn’t the only one – there’s also the “reasonable belief” defence which means that someone can be forced into sexual activity without their consent, but there is legally no rapist involved. You could classify that as a false report, technically, since the court found that no crime occurred, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable classification.

Given that most rape cases where consent is being used as a defence are going to either implicitly or explicitly hinge on “reasonable belief” when it comes to the jury decision, that’s not a theoretical distinction, either.

72. Robin Levett

@cim #70:

Because the police were recording them as “false report” in contradiction to the general Home Office guidance on what is or is not one. But it doesn’t really matter – the 1.5%/0.25% figures are taken from the larger number (before reclassifying), not the smaller one, and a false report that names no suspect is not really particularly harmful.

You are, with respect, missing my point. The study doesn’t tell us how many rape reports were false reports. It doesn’t set out to do so; it sets out to identify why cases are dropped.

The only category they looked at were those cases that were classified by the police as “false reports”. That does not contain all the false claims of rape. It contains only those where the reason assigned by the police was “false report”. The Home Office guidance doesn’t identify what is a false accusation of rape; it identifies the cases that it seeks to record as a false report; whereas, insufficient evidence, as a category, must also include false accusations.

You could classify that as a false report, technically, since the court found that no crime occurred, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable classification.

It all depends what you’re going to do with the classification. sian was trying to make a general point with the statistic; the implication was, and seemed to be intended to be, that 95-97% of the time, where a woman reported having been raped, she had genuinely been raped. Whatever the actual figure – and I don;t know it – the study you mention doesn’t support that claim. It doesn’t even purport to support that claim.


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