Rape victims at fault?

Of the 15% of women who actually report their rape, 80% of cases are dropped by police- why? Insufficient evidence 21%, victim withdrawal 17%, victim denied to complete the initial process 17%, offender not identified 13%, false allegation 12%, insufficient evidence 5%, no prospect of conviction 2%, not in public interest 1%, other %12 (Stats from 2001/2)

Feminist philosophers reported, a little while ago, that in the UK victims of rape have been considered 25% culpable for the crimes committed against them if they were drinking- at least for the past year, anyway. Now, the claim is that this was never the policy of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. But it took the successful appeal of one victim to bring them to the conclusion that this in fact is what the policy states- and hers wasn’t the first appeal.

Interestingly, on the audio interview with the victim’s solicitor she says that the policy was that drinking would be taken into consideration, and in fact a prior appeal had been put for full compensation for a rape victim who had been drinking but her appeal had been denied. Now, however, Justice Minister Bridget Prentice says that it was a matter of misapplication of the policy in these prior cases. What seems to be the case is that there was a policy that drinking would be considered in compensating victims, but that the unwritten intention of this policy referred to cases where victims clearly bring things on themselves, such as when someone drinks too much and starts fights. But it also seems to be the case that for any number of crimes such as mugging or robbery, alcohol consumption by the victim may still be considered (the justice minister admits as much). So, in some cases victims may be responsible for crimes committed against them, except in cases of rape. Seems unlikely to me. I support the extra protection offered to victims of sexual assault provided by the justice system, but I do think that clarifying their policies for themselves if no one else, is essential to providing a sense that justice is served and maintaining public trust. There is clearly a sense in the UK that rape can be a victim’s fault, otherwise the 15 cases of victims being told as much would not have happened (check out the appalling discussion below this article- man after man saying women falsely accuse, protect the accused, etc. etc “Part of the problem is the fact that so many women are falsely accusing men of rape nowadays. A woman gets drunk and gives consent, yet in the morning can accuse the male of rape”). In order to change public thinking about the issue, it seems that it would be helpful to have a clear idea of what it means to be a victim of a crime, and to apply this consistently in offering victim compensation. Degrees of fault in victim-hood sounds like an oxymoron. If the justice system isn’t clear about what it means by a victim, then it makes it easier to invalidate someone’s claim to be a victim, and in a country with a 6 % conviction rate for rape, this needs to stop.

Interestingly, the Scottish Government commissioned an inquiry which has come up with a list of what counts as consent, and urges a legal definition of consent to be applied to rape in order to avoid jurors own subjective opinions being applied. Is this going to be good for rape convictions? Or is a concrete list insufficient to address the fuzzy boundaries of intention? One thing that comes to mind is that if a victim knows for sure that her case “counts” because consent could not have been given, then she might be more inclined to report it, knowing she’s in her rights to accuse someone of rape.

The BBC has excellent coverage, the details I’ve shared here come from the audio segments embedded in the written report. For more on legal treatment of rape in the UK, see here.

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