And for once, a good idea! Ashley’s last post about asking the victims from Abu Ghraib for their thoughts about the release of the photos got me thinking in general about how all of our talk (I, the media, etc.) surrounding the issue of sexual violence gets so wrapped up in theory and anger and statistics that we sometimes forget to consider the pragmatic needs and desires of the actual survivors. There is an impulse to shy away from such discussions, as of course everyone’s experience with assault is different and can be influenced by a huge number of factors, and we never want to tokenize or make assumptions. However, it is rare that I’ve come across (criminal justice-related) policy decisions that are informed by a large-scale survey of those who have been/will be most impacted by that policy’s success or failure. Usually victims of violence are thrown into the policy debate individually by policy makers as a political tool, such as using one child’s rape and murder to pass laws that will make a given politician look “tough on crime” during an election year.
Britain might be taking a different, and far improved route. Disturbed by the fact that England and Wales’ rape conviction rates now hover around 6.5%, (the general criminal conviction rate in England is 34%) the “policing standards watchdog, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary,” will perform a “rape audit” next year. Details are scarce, but the idea is that “[r]ape victims are to be asked why they feel that they are being failed by the criminal justice system.” If done sensitively and thoroughly, this could provide us with a wealth of important information on rape survivors’ experience with the criminal justice system and open doors for effective interventions. The Guardian cites police, prosecution, and jury skepticism of rape victims’ reports as likely reasons for the low conviction rates. Hopefully the unfortunate realities unearthed by such an “audit” will help to sway public opinion and inform professional training on the issue.
And speaking of public opinion…let’s look at the comments at the Times Online’s “audit” article, shall we? As I write this, there are currently 30 comments. Of these, 10 comments are concerned with false rape allegations—i.e., “the 2% to 9% false allegation rate reported here is bullshit, it’s really much higher” or “what about punishment for all of the women who make false allegations??!?!?!” (for the record, judging by the names of these commenters, all of them appear to be male). Amongst these 10, and in about two more comments, there is also the general feeling that you can never really make an honest rape conviction since it’s always a case of one person’s word against another (and don’t forget about the influence of alcohol!!!!). Jim from Ipswich sums up my thoughts with his comment: “Interesting that, out of the 3 (male) comments here so far, 2 pose questions of the victim and not the agressor. Perhaps this accounts for the results the article discusses.” Thank you, Jim.
To end on a couple of less anger-inducing comments (or rather, still incredibly upsetting and infuriating just in a very very different way):
My daughter was repeatedly raped by her violent (now ex) partner who is still very aggressive towards her. Not only were the rape allegations belittled (she is pregnant as a result of the rapes), the ongoing abuse is being dismissed by police as trivial & insignificant. No wonder she’s suicidal!
AJP, St Albans, UK
I am a detective and I investigate rape daily. I can confirm that in my policing area false allegations represent a minute proportion of complaints. The vast majority of complainants are very brave and deserve justice. The difficulty is in reaching the required burden of proof on consent.
John, Hampshire, UK
(h/t abyss2hope, That’s Why I’m A Feminist)