Leading article: The stark truth about rape

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The Independent Online

It is hard to argue with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority's reversal of its decision to reduce a compensation payment to a rape victim on the grounds that the woman in question had been drinking. In reaching its original decision, the CICA wandered on to the treacherous terrain of identifying "contributory factors" to the crime of rape.

Questions of safety and personal responsibility are not irrelevant when it comes to rape. Women should be wary about drinking to excess and making themselves a possible target for those with criminal intent (although this applies to men, just as much as women). But such considerations should surely have no bearing on the question of whether a crime has been committed. Under the law, sexual intercourse in the absence of consent from both parties constitutes rape. The fact that a woman is inebriated does not make it less of a crime.

And the same principle, as the CICA has belatedly recognised, ought to apply to compensation. One might question the basic principle of the state making such payments to victims of violence, but to reduce an award on the grounds of alcohol consumption implies that some legal fault lies with the victim. Identifying alcohol as a contributory factor in rape is problematic in another significant way too. The majority of victims are raped, not by strangers, but by acquaintances; people in whose company they might reasonably feel safe enough to drink.

There is a further point. The most pressing problem when it comes to rape is not female inebriation, but the low conviction rate. And, often, this is a result of the failure of the police to investigate complaints properly, or to collect forensic evidence thoroughly. That brings us back to the particular case in hand. The person who attacked this woman was never caught. And the victim received an official apology from the Metropolitan Police. Two officers were disciplined over the way in which they handled her case.

It is welcome that the CICA has corrected itself over this decision to reduce compensation. But we should not forget that there are larger deficiencies in the criminal justice system when it comes to dealing with the crime of rape.

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