Joan Smith: Stalked, terrified and then disbelieved

The criminal justice system is extraordinarily lenient to men
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The Independent Online

What does a woman have to do to be believed? Tania Moore's ex-boyfriend, who had a history of threatening women, stalked her for a year before ramming her car and shooting her in the face. Ms Moore, a talented showjumper, went to the police six times during this period, handing over a bundle of threatening messages from her former fiancé, Mark Dyche. Last week, in a very unusual outcome, six police officers with the Derbyshire force were disciplined for failing to investigate Ms Moore's complaints; one was sacked, another demoted and four others were reprimanded.

I am shocked by this dreadful case, but not surprised. Running through the criminal justice system are ingrained beliefs which deny justice and sometimes threaten the lives of victims of harassment, stalking and sexual violence. They jeopardise women who are being terrorised by former partners, two of whom are murdered each week according to Home Office figures, and girls and women who are raped by ex-lovers or men they've just met. Ian Huntley, the man who committed the Soham murders, appears to have been a beneficiary of the credulous and prejudiced attitudes of law officers who failed for years to recognise him as a serial rapist; as a result, he became brazen enough to lure two girls into his house, kill them and give interviews to journalists afterwards.

I have some experience of the way the police react to victims of domestic violence, having watched in disbelief as a friend who was being harassed by an ex-boyfriend tried in vain to persuade her local police to act. The man verbally abused her and her friends, and assaulted her on the stairs outside her flat, only to have a police officer tell her: "It's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other". They didn't act even when she got a court order against him, and she had to sell her flat to escape the harassment.

One in four women will experience domestic violence, again according to Home Office figures, so why do the police so often fail to take it seriously? Before I answer that question, I want to turn to another event from last week, a trial in which a 22-year-old student president at Nottingham University was cleared of rape after having sex with an 18-year-old girl who got drunk at a freshers' ball and trusted him to make sure she got home safely. Jonathan Hagan was a "week one rep", a third-year student assigned to look after new students during their first week, so it's not hard to imagine how the young woman felt when she woke to find "I pulled the president" scrawled on her stomach in red marker, along with Hagan's phone number. She called the police and he was charged with rape.

On Thursday, a jury took only two hours to acquit him, which suggests they accepted his belief that she agreed to sex, despite her claims that she could barely stand, and that she was incapable of giving meaningful consent. Most of the commentary on this case has focused on the fact that the alleged victim was drunk, and it does indeed raise the question of so-called "drunken consent", but I believe there is a larger issue here.

Popular wisdom has it that women are constantly making exaggerated or malicious allegations against men, whether former partners or mere acquaintances. The criminal justice system shares this view, displaying extraordinary leniency towards men who are guilty of anything from a grotesque breach of trust to actual threats of murder. To read right-wing columnists, you'd think that men live in fear, perpetually afraid that nothing they say will be believed. What a joke: the truth, of course, is the other way round.

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