Deborah Orr: The shameful truth about women and sexual crimes

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The Independent Online

After John Worboys had been found guilty of drugging and attacking 12 female passengers in his black cab, the judge thanked 75 women for coming forward with evidence. Now that Kirk Reid, pictured below, had been found guilty of stalking and sexually assaulting 25 women, the police say they believe he is behind at least 71 attacks that are known to them.

Both men had highly distinctive methods of selecting their victims, and many women reported incidents over a number of years before the two men were charged. The Metropolitan Police admit that their specialist Sapphire team, assembled to deal with sexual crime, should have identified the predators much earlier. Certainly the reputation of the Metropolitan Police has been tarnished by these contemptibly inadequate investigations. But the problem does not stop there.

Somehow, society manages to express its revulsion against sexual assault by stressing how awful it must be for a man to be accused of such a heinous crime, rather than for a woman to undergo it. I wouldn't even know Peter Bacon's name, for example, if the Daily Mail had not this week trumpeted it in an effort to argue once again that it is invidious for an innocent man accused of rape to be named, while his alleged victim remains anonymous.

Actually, that practice is invidious, but not for the reasons that the Daily Mail argues. It is awful that the law is obliged to acknowledge that one of the psychological consequences of being the victim of a sex attack is a quite unwarranted feeling of shame, and awful that this highly debilitating injury is then used as propaganda by people who appear to believe that accusations of rape are something that women routinely manufacture in order to humiliate men.

With a rape conviction rate of just 6 per cent, few women can be unaware that it is not a particularly effective technique. I'm not saying that false accusations of rape never happen. But an unproven allegation of rape is by no means always the same thing as an unjustified slur on a person's good name.

A few months back I was talking to a friend who had just completed jury service in south London (where most of the above attacks took place). He had sat for a trial in which a 15-year-old girl had alleged that a middle-aged man has sexually assaulted her on an underground train by pressing his erection into her thigh. The defendant, who had been picked up after the girl had described him to police, was found not guilty. He said that the girl must have felt only his bulky mobile phone.

What sort of man presses his crotch into a girl at all? Even on a crowded train, people have the option of turning their bodies away. Having little regard for the comfort or reticence of others is not a crime, and in this case, it was one person's word against another's, not least because the police had failed to secure the CCTV footage that might have helped them to find witnesses.

Yet when I suggested that the man could well have been guilty, all those involved in the conversation were horrified. "What can you do," said one man, a lawyer, "when a person has a hammer over his head, and his life could be ruined?" I'm not in favour of finding people guilty when the evidence isn't there. But the implication was that since the hammer had fallen on the girl's head anyway, a lack of justice for her was far less important.

Unfortunately, especially in cases involving sexual assault, the person telling the truth is sometimes disregarded, while the person who is cynically lying is championed. In those cases involving Reid and Worboys, it is easy to see that this attitude is far too pervasive. The complaints of women were not treated with sufficient seriousness, even when mounting evidence was there to be pieced together. No wonder so few women feel it is "worth it" to report assaults to the police at all.

By contrast, the woman who took Mr Bacon to court woke up in bed with him one morning, and decided she had been too drunk to have consented to intercourse. Technically, intercourse with a woman unable to give consent is rape. But how the Crown Prosecution Service thought it could get a conviction is beyond me. This, after all, was one person's word against another person's failure to recollect. The woman in question may have believed that hers was a test case. Instead, it was a dangerous side show that has hogged headlines even as the horrible reality about how the criminal justice system fails the victims of sexual crimes is being graphically exposed.

A serious point hides behind the bingo balls

I went with some friends to an evening of "gay bingo" last weekend. The event was compered by bearded drag queens, who made ever such a fuss when the number 69 came up, and jumped en masse into an outdoor swimming pool as a finale. They would not have "passed".

It was striking that these festivities were a parody of recent gay culture, rather than an expression of contemporary mores. No one should feel nostalgic for the days when discrimination against homosexuality was endemic. But gay bingo still felt like it had arrived at the fag-end of an admirable era.

The National Portrait Gallery is mounting an exhibition of Gay Icons in the summer, and the timing is perfect. Some of the camp greats will be represented, like Quentin Crisp. But gay culture is part of the national mainstream now, and the heroic suffering that once defined and nurtured it is largely part of the defiantly colourful past. The show aims to celebrate that, offering serious circumstance for those who are not so keen on bingo.

Letting children's wild minds roam

I've always maintained that short books make good films, while long books make bad ones. As evidence I submit Coppola's Apocalypse Now, inspired by Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and De Palma's Bonfire of the Vanities from Wolfe's novel of the same name. Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are is a very short book indeed,but I'm nevertheless quite sorrowful that it is getting the Hollywood treatment.

Sendak, who is now 80, once told an interviewer that sometimes, painfully, he only wrote one word in a day.

Conrad wrote 800 words a day, and even that is considered a bit on the tardy side. But Sendak's excuse is that in his books, on occasion, only two words appear on an entire page, and sometimes for pages and pages no words appear at all.

Those unfamiliar with Sendak's 1962 masterpiece need not reproach themselves, unless they have children, for Where The Wild Things Are is one of the finest children's story books ever created. It tells the story of "The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind" – new page – "and another" – new page, "and was sent to bed with no supper for his trouble. Alone in his room he goes into a fugue and imagines himself sailing off ... through night and day" – new page - "and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are". New page.

The wild things, drawn wonderfully by Sendak, who was an illustrator of children's books before he began doing his own narratives too, are huge phantasmagorical creatures, scary and cuddly in equal measure. Unbelievably – to the jaundiced modern eye – they were complained about when the book was first published, by parents who considered them too disturbing for their children to see.

Now they are to be recreated as nine-foot tall costumes inhabited by adults, with facial expressions provided through computer-generated imagery. The award-winning special effects man, Howard Berger, has refused four times to work on the film, even though the book inspired him to enter his profession. He says that filming Wild Things is "a horrible idea" – and I'm with him on that.

The magic of the book is that it is about a child's imagination, and also sparks the imaginations of other children. In the book the "Wild Things" have no names, but in the film the lead monster is called Carol and "teaches Max what love really means" – because we haven't had a children's film about that before, have we?

I know I don't have to see it, or take my children to see it. But I feel sad for all those children who will read the book and gaze at the pages depicting Max in a "wild rumpus" with the creatures, mediated by the action they saw in the film instead of what they provide, like Max, with their own wild-thing minds.

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