Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Wright is Wrong with his Doublespeak: rape is rape

Rape, Wright describes as 'unpleasant.' The OED defines 'unpleasant' thus:

adjective

  • Causing discomfort, unhappiness, or revulsion; disagreeable: an unpleasant smell the symptoms are extremely unpleasant

I hereby challenge Wright to tell a survivor that what happened to her was 'unpleasant'.

The legal definition of rape under Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is as follows:

Rape:

(1)A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a)he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,

(b)B does not consent to the penetration, and

(c)A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

(2)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.

(3)Sections 75 and 76 apply to an offence under this section.

(4)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life.

Oliver Wright seems to have an issue with this as evidenced by his piece in today's Indy Voices. Wright links to the recent article highlighting how the CPS decided not to proceed with a case as the woman who was raped wore Spanx. His solution to the high attrition rate, which he acknowledges is indicative that 'something is clearly going very wrong', is to redefine rape as 'non-consensual sex'.

I agree with Wright in that something is indeed very wrong and that something is rape culture, which is defined as the following:

  • Rape culture is a complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
  • In rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.

(source: http://www.shakesville.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html)

Redefining 'rape' would not only reinforce rape culture but would also further conflate sex with the act of rape; the term panders to the belief that men are unable to control themselves. Rape is not about sex. Rape is a conscious act of power and control, the experience and fear of which help maintain the patriarchal status quo.

Such a redefinition would also undoubtedly lead to further victim blaming, placing even greater onus on women to demonstrate that they did not consent, shifting the focus away even further from the rapist and what he did to ascertain that consent was given. In my view, this strays into the dangerous territory of the 'mistaken belief defence' (sometimes referred to as the Morgan Defence). Fortunately, women campaigners succeeded in its exclusion from the 2003 Sexual Offences Act.

In those instances where juries do return a guilty verdict, regardless of what Wright writes, hypothesising that the renamed crime should and would still carry the same sentence as rape would just not happen in practice. One can only imagine the public outcry 'he got 5 years for non-consensual sex' as this doublespeak diminishes what rape is.

We must ask ourselves who really benefits from what Wright refers to as a 'less emotive charge'? Rapists, that's who. The word 'rape' elicits a strong reaction as well it should; it is a heinous crime. Wright disingenuously tries to then make the case than many women do not see themselves as victims of rape. I would argue that a) it is entirely up to them how they perceive themselves b) this is largely due to rape culture and the common myth that rape is perpetuated by knife wielding strangers leaping out of bushes (a scenario that Wright himself refers to) when we know that approximately 90% of rapes are committed by someone known to the woman and c) in my experience, many women regard themselves as survivors of sexual violence rather than victims.

Let us look at the facts:

  • There are 85,000 estimated rapes per year; and
  • 400,000 estimated sexual assaults per year
  • An estimated 15% report to the police

(Source: Rape Crisis England and Wales)

Alison Saunders is correct. It is rape myths and stereotypes that we must challenge in addition to providing better support for victims/survivors. As Saunders states:

We did some research around domestic violence and found a very clear correlation between cases where an independent adviser is supporting the victim and conviction rates. . .

With sexual violence it is even more key to get that support for the victim, yet we know that is not consistent across the country and in every place. As with every public service, especially if they are run by a charity, they are under threat.

I strongly agree with this statement, more Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs - perhaps Wright would prefer that we called them Non-Consensual Sex Advocates?) are necessary and for this we do need more funding (please sign this petition here). Women need to have greater confidence in the criminal justice system which would in turn to empower them to report. Greater awareness of the realities of rape (amongst police, CPS staff, judges and the general public as they make up juries) would consequently result in more referrals to the CPS, a greater number of prosecutions as well as convictions. We cannot continue to have a criminal justice system predicated on rape myths and stereotypes.

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