Sad reflection of society’s view of rape

Consent cannot be taken for granted: Sheffield United striker Ched Evans was jailed for five years for rape.
Consent cannot be taken for granted: Sheffield United striker Ched Evans was jailed for five years for rape.
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It took only seconds for Sheffield United’s star player to be found guilty of raping a 19-year-old girl before the backlash came.

Friday’s jailing of Ched Evans for five years became one of the UK’s most talked about subjects on Twitter. News websites were inundated with readers’ posts.

While some showed no sympathy for the convicted 23-year-old, many more, including that of Evans’ United team mate Connor Brown, were crude and vicious attacks on the teenage victim.

Though the jury at Caernarfon Crown Court had listened to seven days of evidence and believed the girl police have described as severely traumatised from her ordeal, the bigoted view of some was that she was wholly or partly to blame – because she was drunk.

Their tweets, texts and comment posts are a sad reflection of society’s view of women who claim they were raped while intoxicated. Research has already found 30 per cent believe a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk.

Such beliefs have a dramatic effect; cases of rape are seen as difficult to prosecute successfully if the victim was drunk by police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Research suggests that jurors often take the view that it is ‘reasonable’ for a man to assume that silence represents sexual consent, even if the silence was due to the fact that the woman was totally intoxicated.

Yet the Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out the statutory definition of consent as “a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.”

In the case of Ched Evans and fellow footballer Clayton McDonald, who was found innocent, the prosecution claimed the victim could not have consented to sex because she was drunk.

Jo Wood, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales says: “If a woman is too drunk to give consent, then consent can not be taken for granted. Not saying no, is not consenting.

“The myth is that the woman was drunk, or took drugs or had a bad reputation that she was to blame because she was taking a lift, or was wearing tight clothes. She probably got what she was asking for.

“But the reality is no woman asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. And if she is unconscious or her judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally she is unable to give consent.

Estimates indicate alcohol is now involved in 34% of reported rape cases, and drugs in 12 per cent of cases. Prosecutors, police and rape counsellors all agree society’s attitude needs to change.

Victims too frightened to come forward

The shocking scale of rape in Britain was exposed last month after a study suggested as many as one in 10 women have been raped – and 80 per cent of victims are too frightened to come forward.

Concerns over low conviction rates, shame and embarrassment stopped them from reporting their ordeal to police, a UK survey by website Mumsnet revealed.

A British Crime survey in 2010 found there is a new rape victim every 10 minutes and 104,000 rapes every year in Britain. Yet the UK also has one of the lowest conviction rates in Europe at just 6.5 per cent. Last year just 13,000 rapists were convicted, representing attacks on just 0.5 per cent of UK adult women.

The Crown Prosecution Service only charge around a third of cases where the victim does not withdraw during the police investigation. Of those cases, the conviction rate is only 58 per cent. Yet research in 2005 suggests the rate of false allegations of rape are no higher than for those of other crimes.

Why do so many rape victims never see justice - or rapists be dealt justice?

The Chief Crown Prosecutor in the UK believes: “‘The demonisation of young women is contributing to the failure to secure more convictions of suspected rapists.”

Says Jo Wood of Rape Crisis: “The ‘rules’ imposed on women’s behaviour allow rapists to shift the responsibility for rape onto women and discredit them. Most perpetrators of rape are seen as victims of malicious allegations, carelessness or stupidity.

“There is no other crime in which so much effort is expended to make the victim appear responsible. Imagine the character or financial background of a robbery victim being questioned in court. There is no excuse for sexual violence against women and girls - it can never be justified.”

After the prosecution of Ched Evans, Nita Dowell of the Crown Prosecution Service in Wales confirmed this view: “Evans took advantage of a vulnerable young woman who was in no fit state to consent to sexual activity.

“It is a myth that being vulnerable through alcohol consumption means that a victim is somehow responsible for being raped. The law is clear - being vulnerable through drink or drugs does not imply consent.“Rape is a damaging offence, but it can also be one of the most difficult to prosecute.

“The Crown Prosecution Service, in partnership with the police and other agencies, is working hard to help dispel the myths and stereotypes that exist around the issue of rape.”

Says Jo Wood: “At Rape Crisis, 90 per cent of the women we see have not reported what happened to them to police.

“There are a number of reasons why. Many are nervous about going through the criminal justice system and giving evidence in court while others are worried they will not be believed and the perpetrator will be let off.

“Many believe they were partly at fault for what happened to them because the myths that society perpetuates about rape has conditioned them to think that way. Self-blame is the thing we have to deal with before we help women move on from what happened to them and get their lives and their confidence back.”

Public attitudes

Nearly a third of people (30%) say a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk

A third (34%) of people in the UK believe that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner

More than a quarter think a woman was partially or totally responsible if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing.

Where to get help

Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Service.

Helpline support –

0114 2447936 Tuesday 2pm-8pm, Thursday 6-8pm. At other times, leave a message on the 24 hour answer phone and a counsellor or helpline support worker will return your call as soon as possible.

Sheffield Police: Tel: 101.

Samaritans 0114 2767277 (24-hour phone line)

For emergency contraception or pregnancy termination - Central Health Clinic: 0114 2716811

For legal advice - Sheffield Law Centre: 0114 2731888

To check for sexually transmitted infections and free treatment - Genito-urinary Clinic: 0114 2766928

Rape Crisis national free helpline: 0808 802 9999, 12-2.30pm, 7-9.30pm

www.rapecrisis.org.uk

Women’s Aid, the charity working to end domestic violence against women and children: Free 24-hour domestic violence helpline 0808 2000 247.

www.womensaid.org.uk