Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rape myths in Britain are alive and well - New Statesman

The results of a survey published [Monday] suggest that more than half (54 per cent) of women think that rape victims are sometimes to blame for the crime.

Of these women, 71 per cent thought that the victim should accept responsibility if they got into the same bed as their attacker, compared with 57 per cent of men. Nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of women said that the victim should accept partial responsibility if they went back to the attacker's house. 23 per cent thought that a victim who danced suggestively on a night out was to blame if they were subsequently raped, and 31 per cent thought the same of those wearing provocative clothes.

These statistics -- gathered in an online survey for Havens sexual assault referral centres -- are sadly indicative of the culture of blame and disbelief that still surrounds rape. It is particularly worrying that the youngest age group -- those between 18 and 24 -- were the least forgiving, showing that these attitudes are not undergoing any positive generational shift.

Indeed, if this survey is cross-referenced to a similar poll five years ago, it appears that attitudes may have actually hardened -- then, a minority of British people blamed women for rape, although there was no notable difference between the genders. On specifics, results were similar: 30 per cent thought that a woman was at least partially responsible for being raped if she was drunk, and 22 per cent if she had had many sexual partners.

These results are depressing, but perhaps not wholly surprising. Why are people -- and women specifically -- so keen to blame the victim? These entrenched social attitudes may well be tied into the culture of disbelief in the justice system, and in the media. I have blogged before about the fact that the UK has the lowest conviction rates in Europe -- just 6.5 per cent of reported cases, compared with 34 per cent of other crimes.

It is also notable that cases of false accusations receive a disproportionate amount of newspaper coverage. A quick internet search yields innumerable results, although Rape Crisis estimates that false reporting rates for rape are around 6-8 per cent, exactly the same as for other crimes. This excessive coverage was reflected in the survey, where 18 per cent of respondents said that they thought most accusations of rape are probably false.

But the fact is, if so many people are ready to believe that a woman is culpable in her own violation, jury trials will inevitably be affected: it is a self-perpetuating, vicious circle. While the majority of people in the Havens poll were keen to assign partial blame to the victim, one in five women said that they would not report it to the police if they were raped, saying that they would be ashamed, or would not be believed. This feeling is justified -- just last year a freedom of information request showed that some police forces were failing to record more than 40 per cent of reported rape cases -- but we have no hope of changing police attitudes if these attitudes continue to proliferate across society.

We urgently need education; a high profile campaign, starting with schools, to educate the public and eradicate the view that rape is sometimes deserved.

In response to the survey, the BBC had reactions from rape victims, including these from victims whose rapists groomed them into relationships before the attacks.

I was raped by my husband as he became increasingly possessive and violent. How can you blame a woman who has gotten into bed with the person beforehand? Where there is violent, intimidation, where you feel obliged to get into bed with the person just to quell their temper like I did. I never went to the police because I am glad to have escaped my husband. Now, I want to forget it.

Anonymous, Bristol

  My ex-boyfriend tried to rape me. I had got into bed with him at the end of night, I told him I didn't want sex (or anything) and if we were going to become an item again then I wanted to take things slow. He tried to force himself on me and I was screaming and fighting him when my housemates came in and pulled him off of me. I may have been naïve but I was not responsible for his inability to control himself.

K, London

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