2012: the year when it became okay to blame victims of sexual assault

The myth that women can be held responsible for men’s sex crimes has returned,  writes Laura Bates

At Caernarfon Crown Court earlier this month, a 49-year-old man was convicted of raping a teenage girl. Jailing the rapist, the judge told him: “She let herself down badly. She consumed far too much alcohol and took drugs, but she also had the misfortune of meeting you”.

It was the latest in a wave of examples of  victim-blaming, a phenomenon that Christina Diamandopoulos, of the Rape Crisis charity, describes as the “myth that women are responsible for men’s sexual behaviour. From this stems the idea that what a woman wears, says, where she goes, or what she does can make her responsible for the crime committed against her.” The problem is compounded by common misconceptions, such as the idea that all rapists are strangers, who attack in dark alleys at night. In fact, Ms Diamandopoulos says, “most rape is committed by partners, ex-partners and men who are known to the woman”.

In August, the MP George Galloway publicly dismissed allegations of rape and sexual assault against Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder, he said, was guilty simply of “bad sexual etiquette” when he began to have sex with a sleeping woman who had previously consented; his actions were “not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it”. The law clearly states otherwise.

After news emerged of the sexual abuse of young girls in Rochdale, one victim told Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: “Quite a few people rang social services: school, the police … even my own dad … basically they told my mum and dad that I was a prostitute and it was a lifestyle choice. And because I was only six months off turning 16, they wasn’t [sic] going to do anything.”

In April, after the footballer Ched Evans was convicted of raping a woman who was too drunk to consent, his victim faced an appalling backlash of online abuse. Twitter users called her a “money-grabbing slut” and circulated her name so widely that she was forced to change her identity.

In America, the Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin has claimed that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy, saying that the female body has ways “to shut that thing down”. Considering this year’s rash of high-profile incidents, Ms Diamandopoulos says: “As we succeed in raising the issues of rape and abuse directed at women and girls, we are meeting a backlash of sexism.”

Holly Dustin, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, agrees: “While the law on rape and sexual consent is clear, some of our politicians and other leaders seem to have failed to notice the progress that’s been made.”

Meanwhile, this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival made headlines for featuring a high number of jokes about rape and domestic violence. Such “jokes” are also endemic online.“We must wake up to the way that social media enables and magnifies abuse and harassment of women,” Ms Dustin says. The popular social news website Reddit has entire categories dedicated to “raping women”, “hot rape stories”, and “choke a bitch”. And an article on the student website UniLad in January said: “Eighty-five per cent of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.”

Jacqui Hunt, of Equality Now, says: “We absorb messages from all around us every day, so what some might dismiss as harmless banter takes on a completely different quality when it forms part of a general culture of demeaning, pejorative and prejudicial reporting on women.”

In fact, these jokes and media slurs could even be having an impact on rape conviction rates. Alison Saunders, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, told The Guardian this year that widespread “myths and stereotypes” about rape victims may give jurors “preconceived ideas” that could affect their decisions in court. When victims were “demonised in the media”, she said, “you can see how juries would bring their preconceptions to bear”.

Worrying evidence suggests that victim-blaming attitudes may also be infiltrating the very institutions victims rely on for support and justice. In October. Ryan Coleman-Farrow, a former Metropolitan Police detective constable, was jailed for 16 months for a string of failings relating to rape cases, including falsely claiming that a rape victim had dropped charges.

In a revealing interview with The Independent, Brian Paddick, a former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Met, said of his time as a serving officer: “There was a pervading male-dominated macho culture which was generally unhealthy, particularly when it came to issues of violence against women. In my evidence to [the Leveson Inrquiry] I talked about a review of rape investigations I did … We found significant differences for outcomes in rape cases in different parts of London, but we weren’t allowed to say that in the final report… The results were watered down, and I honestly believe that victims of rape in London had a poorer service from the police in consequence.

“I felt the police were not taking rape investigations seriously enough … I remember when, as a serving police officer, a more senior officer asked me to accept an officer on transfer against whom an allegation of rape was made. ‘They met at a dance and went home together and were playing strip poker, so she was asking for it really,’ he said. In another case, a woman was followed from a party into the women’s toilets and, as the woman tried to push the door closed, the man forced his way in and raped her. One of the investigating officers suggested to me: ‘Sounds like she left the door open deliberately.’ ”

It will not be easy to tackle such deeply ingrained ideas. “We need nothing short of a revolution in our approach to sexual violence,” Ms Dustin says. But although the attitudes revealed have been worrying, the fact that such stories have been so prevalent in the media this year is a sign of progress, she believes. “The scale of revelations about abuse of women and girls in the Jimmy Savile case may have begun to turn the tide.”

As awareness grows, says Ms Diamandopoulos: “We have to get together as women … to grow the seeds of the fightback, which has already started, with organisations such as Rape Crisis, Object, Everyday Sexism, Mumsnet and others. Together, women have moved mountains before – we can do it again.”

Outspoken and outdated in their own words

"Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion... It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but  whatever else it is, it is not rape."

George Galloway, 58, the Respect MP for Bradford West, speaking in August about the case against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. His comments led to the resignation of the Respect Party’s leader, Salma Yaqoob.

"If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

The Republican Congressman Todd Akin, clarifying his views on abortion in cases of pregnancy arising from rape. He subsequently lost the Missouri Senate seat in November’s US elections.

"I think that sometimes, you know, us guys who are a bit older, who are, shall we say, tactile - which is not a terrible thing to be. In the old days, you put your arm around somebody and gave them a little kiss or a cuddle."

DJ Dave Lee Travis, 67, defending himself against allegations of sexual offences after being released on bail in November by police involved in the Jimmy Savile investigation.

"Money-grabbing little tramp."

A tweet by the Sheffield United footballer Connor Brown, after his team-mate Ched Evans, 23, was jailed for five years in April for raping a 19-year-old woman. The woman was named more than 6,000 times on Twitter and Facebook  – in a clear breach of her guaranteed anonymity as a rape victim.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain