Ask anyone whether rape is wrong and you will almost always receive the answer of ‘yes, of course’. Why is it then that when cases of rape or sexual assault come to light, often via the media, questioning the innocence of the victim and reasoning on behalf of the assaulter is so common?
Rape cases must be technically one of the most difficult that go to trial. You could argue that much of the sentencing will rely upon ‘he said, she said’ as there are generally a lack of external witnesses and in some cases a lack of physical evidence, especially if the sexual assault is not reported immediately after crime (if it is at all). As a judge or jury these are necessary considerations to understand to ensure justice for the victim but also to avoid false accusations. Being wrongly labelled as a rapist can have disastrous effects and consequences on the accused’s career, family, health and quality of life. The percentage of false accusations compared to real reports of sexual assault or rape is low, but unfortunately it does happen, and although the victim must always be supported it is important to ensure that it is not done so blindly.
However, what categorically should never come into the question of guilt, innocence and justice are a number of external, irrelevant factors including what the victim was wearing, drinking, or doing at the time they were attacked. However all too often these ‘factors’ are used as ‘evidence’ in rape trials, twisting facts and details to make the victim look like they are partially to blame. This encompasses what has collectively become known as ‘rape culture’, and demonstrates ways in which victims of rape and sexual assault are blamed and demonised by society.
Take for instance the recent Brock Turner case, who received a ridiculously short sentence of 6 months, of which he only served 3 months, after he was found sexually assaulting an unconscious girl behind a dumpster. But because the victim couldn’t remember the traumatic incident, ‘technically’ she couldn’t prove it was not consensual. Even though Brock Turner was caught mid-act by two passers-by. Even though dirt and pine needles were found inside of her vagina. Even though she was unconscious. Her memory loss was used against her. Insignificant factors and details were used against her. Rape culture was used against her.
Why is it that when alcohol is involved it is an excuse for the assaulter but damning for for the victim? The assaulter ‘wasn’t in control of their actions’ or ‘can’t be held responsible’ compared to the victim ‘was so drunk they can’t remember’ or ‘wanted it’. Worryingly, in a letter from Brock Turner’s father to the judge he stated that his son was ‘totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity’…’break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results’. According to him his son sexually assaulting an unconscious girl is ‘unfortunate’ and as a result of alcohol.
He also stated that ‘Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever’…’His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression’… and unbelievably claimed that a jail sentence would be ‘a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action’. It was as if Brock Turner was the victim here rather than the one doing the assaulting. This is reflected in his sentence, where the judge ruled that a longer sentence would be traumatic for him. Where is the justice in that when the victim has to live with their pain, knowledge and memory that they were raped?
Letter continued here.
Seeing people defend rapists whilst accusing the victim is beyond upsetting. Many claim that rape culture doesn’t exist. I ask them: how can you truly believe that, with all the evidence to the contrary out there, a fraction of which I have mentioned here? If it was you, or someone you care about – your sister, mother, partner – and your/their attacker walked free because you had been drinking, or your clothing revealed ‘too much’ skin; would you still deny rape culture? Do those details actually mean you were asking for it? That you wanted to be raped? How about if it wasn’t even to do with you, but your attacker had great grades, was seen as an all round good guy or happened to be really good at swimming? Did you deserve to be raped then?
Other people use the argument that things are worse for women in other countries – where women are sold as sex slaves, raped as payment or punishment, with no retribution for the attacker. Yes, women in these countries go through ordeals far more terrible than I can imagine. But that doesn’t make the rape or sexual assault of women here ok. Here we’re discussing a different kind of rape culture, an underhand backwards culture where even though we know that rape is wrong we find reasons to let rapists escape justice and shame the victims.
Importantly, although rape culture primarily affects women, it also impacts men where male sexual violence is normalised by society or even made fun of. Male victims, particularly if they have been sexually abused by females will often face legal, political and social double standards. Similarly, male on male rape is often a commonplace joke when it comes to prison. This demonstrates a disgraceful lack of support in society and it is hardly unsurprising that a large proportion of male rape goes unreported, as with female rape victims, possibly due to shame or the fear that they won’t be believed.
Rape is rape. If they didn’t consent, or weren’t physically able to, or did initially and then changed their minds, then don’t initiate sexual activity with them. Surprisingly some people still don’t understand this simple concept of consent. To combat this the British police have recently promoted a ‘tea analogy’ to address the ‘issue’ of consent and what that means.
We need to educate people on consent and also tackle the rape culture present in our society. According to Rape Crisis England and Wales, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year in England and Wales alone, only ~15% of crimes are being reported and only a shocking 5.7% of rape cases end in conviction. Worryingly a third of people also believe that a woman who flirts is partially responsible for her rape. This has to change and tackling the problem of rape culture in our society is a starting point. If this article makes just one person realise that rape culture is real, it is happening and it needs to change then I consider it worthwhile taking the time to write.
Words by Meghan Betts
Victim’s letter to Brock Turner (https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.dcZvene64#.siPME3EBG)
Brock Turner’s fathers letter to the judge (http://heavy.com/news/2016/06/brock-turner-father-dad-dan-turner-full-letter-statement-stanford-rapist/)
British police consent and tea analogy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp6alIALDHA)