Yesterday we saw another powerful man found “not guilty” of rape. This was followed by a chorus of cheers, and a cacophony of commenters decrying the terrible women who had “cried rape” and “tried to cash in”. I have no comment to make about this particular case and that particular man, however, people must better understand the way our justice system works. Firstly, people do not have to prove their innocence in this country, it is for the prosecutors to prove guilt. Therefore, not guilty does not equate to innocent, it simply means that there were reasonable doubts in the mind of a jury about an accused’s guilt.
We must particularly bear this in mind whilst talking about rape. Rape is a very difficult crime to prove. Firstly, a woman may not go to the police straight away due to fear or shame. Secondly, even if they can take a sperm sample, that does not prove rape. They must prove that the sperm was resultant from forced penetration. A person will not necessarily have bruising, cuts or internal damage from their rape. People may be scared and freeze up, not all rapes are brutal in the modern understanding though the effects on the victim will be. A person could be drugged and if they don’t seek medical attention immediately it can be difficult to prove. The difficulty with proving rape is not helped by common perceptions regarding people “crying rape”, or having sex “then regretting it”, some people even refer to it as “buyer’s remorse”.
Historic rape, as in the case this week, and other recent cases, is even more difficult to prove. There is a total lack of forensic evidence and so it often comes down to the word of the accuser versus the accused. In the cases we have seen, since news of Jimmy Saville’s paedophilia broke, time and again there are instances of the word of powerful men, sitting in juxtaposition to the word of women who were only children or teenagers when the assault or rape took place. Their memories won’t be perfect after all of this time, and so they are perceived as liars, unable to keep up with their own stories. No allowances are made, no understanding or logic entered into.
The fact that the men are rich plays out in a variety of ways. They can afford expensive barristers who can suggest that the women are only claiming they were raped or assaulted in order to steal the money of these men. The men have large fan bases ready to believe that the people who have been screened into their homes, a part of their lives, would never do such a thing. They feel an intimacy with these people they have never met. Meanwhile the victims are anonymous. Placed in a pile of anonymous accusers until they become an amorphous blob of unsympathetic stereotypes crying rape for reasons we are all to presume. No one thinks about what they went, and are, going through. Joe Public doesn’t consider that they may be telling the truth, that this benign seeming celebrity might have inflicted one of the worst things that can happen upon a young girl, and that now as a woman she is having to sit in a dock being told she is a vindictive liar, a manipulator. They do not consider how it might feel to go through all of that, having had the bravery to come forward and tell the secret that has haunted them, only then to have to see their perpetrator declared “not guilty”. Then face the media throng declaring that this hero of television has been exonerated, and that these awful women have been found to be what they all suspected of her all along.
The sad fact is that only 7% of reported rapes end in conviction. Just this week we saw the awful disparity between police forces choosing not to continue with rape cases. In one case the rate at which rape accusations was dropped by a police force was 33%. On the one hand there is the problem of finding evidence for a crime which is hard to prove, on the other there is the awful patriarchal view still held in society towards women who come forward as survivors. There is the view that they are claiming they were raped because they regret having sex, or are taking revenge, or are seeking compensation. Then there is the view that it was their own fault anyway, because of what they wore, who they were with, or what they drank. It’s uncomfortable but these figures have to open our eyes to the fact that bias is clouding the eyes of the police and allowing rapists to continue without recrimination. This is even more frightening when it is considered that the recidivism rate of a rapist amounts to 15 such crimes.
Then there is the issue that when a rape case comes to court, the victim is simply viewed as a witness. As such they are not entitled to representation within court. Often a victim has to not only repeatedly relive what has happened to them, but also has to have their entire character torn apart. They often have to sit there, able to view their perpetrator and have to be told that it didn’t happen, that they wanted it to happen. It is an absolutely traumatising experience.
If any more proof is needed that “not guilty” does not equate to innocence, then I will leave you to consider that in the last few months, in Manchester alone, two women have committed suicide after the man they accused of raping them was found innocent. It is difficult to imagine that they would have committed such a dreadful act if they had not experienced such trauma previously. The way the criminal justice system treats rape needs a dramatic overhaul and it needs it now.
*Update* Some tosser on Digital Spy: http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1939708&page=16 thinks that a) I’m suggesting that no one is ever innocent and that b) it is better that 99 rapists go free than one innocent man be jailed.
In answer to a) of course people can be innocent, but 1. it takes a shit load of evidence to even try someone in the first place. 2. Because we do have a system which relies on the burden of guilt I am suggesting that we should never treat those accusing rape as if they are guilty of lying etc. because we can just never know. To quote Shakespeare “Discretion is the better part of valour”. I am also suggesting that we need a complete review of how we treat people who have made an accusation of rape. In answer to b) The recidivism rate for rape is 15. That means that if 99 people go free 1485 people would be raped. As a rape survivor I can say, hand on heart, that I would much rather see one innocent man jailed than 1485 people be raped (which can lead to life long trauma).
Fuck it- extra added rant. I did not create the legal system which asks for proof of guilt, not innocence, with the very important clause of “beyond reasonable doubt”. It doesn’t really matter if some dude has decided that I’m saying that no one therefore can ever be seen as proven innocent, it isn’t me who is saying it. It is our criminal justice system, which, whilst I think it needs to treat accusers better, does rely upon logic in the sense that you cannot prove a negative i.e you cannot prove innocence. This is why in the British legal system we ask for jurors to find guilty or not guilty, rather than innocent, based upon available evidence and the minds of the jurors. Until we can employ verifiable psychics to be the jurors or come up with a Ray Bradburyesque memory machine, that is just the way it has to be. I didn’t make it so. It just is.