Leading article: Myths and outdated attitudes

Related Topics

There is something rather depressing about yesterday's call by a coalition of women's rights groups and politicians for a public debate to challenge the myths and stereotypes concerning the crime of rape. What is depressing is not the message itself – there is no graver deficiency in our criminal justice system than its pitiful rape conviction rate – but the fact that such a demand for action still needs to be made in our times of supposed sexual equality.

The Fawcett Society, in its meeting yesterday with the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, demanded government action to educate juries and to improve police evidence-gathering procedures. Anti-rape campaigners have been calling for such reforms for years. Giving juries instruction on the likely behaviour of rape victims following an assault is plainly needed. Victims of sexual assault do not always run straight to the nearest police station and a failure to do so does not, as far too many juries believe, imply a false accusation. We also plainly need more competent evidence-gathering from the police if more effective prosecution cases are to be mounted. The police have become more understanding towards complainants in recent years, but there is still a culture in many police stations in which victims are routinely disbelieved.

In fairness, the Government recently pledged to double the number of sexual assault referral centres by 2011, which should help on the evidence-gathering front. And ministers are looking into giving juries more information about the psychological effects of rape on the victim. But, given the scale of the problem, these can be regarded only as baby steps.

What is required is an administration prepared to stride towards this challenge with real conviction. We must hope that Britain's first female Home Secretary will summon the political will to mount a complete overhaul of the present, failing system.

Yet this is not a problem that can be cracked by ministers alone. This is an issue for our society as a whole. Policemen and women come to their job with certain preconceptions; so do jurors. It is these preconceptions that are doing the damage. We need a shift in attitudes to rape similar to the overhaul in society's views on the acceptability of drink-driving. The pernicious belief that women who get drunk, or wear revealing clothing, somehow "bring it upon themselves" needs to be confronted and demolished. So does the widespread belief in the ubiquity of the malicious accusation.

Increasing the rape conviction rate will need more than technical reforms of our justice system; it requires nothing less than a revolution in society's attitudes towards women.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £140 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

English Teacher (Full time from Jan - Maternity Cover)

£100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: This good to outstanding school...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain  

Abortion is safe, and it should be as available as easily as contraception

Ann Furedi
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album