Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body - Sara Pascoe (2016)
We need to change how rape is tried in courts.
You will be aware of the very low conviction rates for this crime. Only 5.7 per cent of reported rapes end in a guilty verdict. We’re all familiar with this, we mutter and complain and shrug our shoulders – or we are furious with the unfairness of it, but we don’t know what to do.
The system has to change. We have to demand it.
Rape cannot be tried like other crimes, it is not like theft or driving without a licence. Juries and judges already understand the clear-cut rules of property ownership or traffic law, it does not confuse them. Conviction rates for rape are stupidly low because (as with all criminal charges) guilt has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and with rape, doubt is too easily created. There are very often no witnesses; it is her word against his. To create doubt the victim is denigrated, she is attacked, she is insulted. This does not happen with the victims of other crimes, and it should not be permitted when trying rape.
There is a widely held assumption that some women lie about being raped for attention or to exact revenge. Such cases are often reported in the media. They capture the public imagination. All the legal statistics show that the rates for false claims of rape are exactly the same as false accusations of any other crime – about two per cent. Yet people saying they were robbed or hit by a joyrider are not routinely accused of lying in court They’re not all called liars because a very small percentage of people sometimes lie.
There should be separate courts for crimes involving sex.
The current system is a failure. It punishes all victims and very few offenders. It is unjust. With specialised rape courts, perhaps more people would report the crime and would be willing to seek justice.
In these new courts, judges and juries and magistrates must be given specialist training in the behaviour of victims so they understand how fear and shock affect the body and the memory. They must be taught the ranges of response to personal violence. They must be addressed by experts so they become able to assess trauma. The people working in the new system must all understand that fear often makes people unable to fight and scream. That shock often means a victim does not report a rape, or even tell anybody for a period of time.
There must be adaptations to the burden of proof that are specific to crimes involving sex.
During rape trials, defence lawyers should not be able to directly cross-examine victims. There should be mediators who are able to put the questions across, making them less emotive and painful. The lawyerly tactics are an unnecessary part of rape prosecution and should be removed. Words are used as weapons to discredit – to pressurise women into dropping their charges. No part of a woman’s sexual history is relevant to a rape case. Lawyers should be given heavy fines for any type of sexual shaming or insinuation. If they repeatedly offend they should be struck off, sent to prison, thrown in the sea. People who report their car being stolen are not questioned about how often they’d let someone borrow it. A boxercise class would not be brought up to discredit you if you were claiming you’d been punched.
Our culture’s misunderstanding of female sexuality is being used against rape victims.
Children’s sexual education needs vast improvement.
Every year in secondary school children should be taught together about consent. The lessons could involve analogies, philosophy and ideas. They should involve questions about empathy – how do we know what other people feel? How do we know when we have hurt somebody? Older children would then have lessons that extended these ideas towards sexual behaviour, discussing complex ideas of right and wrong and how to respect boundaries while giving and receiving pleasure. They should be taught about the difference between active wanting – desire and arousal – and passivity, allowing somebody to do things with your body. Children of fifteen should then be allowed to debate the ethics of pornography and prostitution: what is consent when it is paid for? Can consent be bought? If someone is financially desperate and someone else pays them to do something they don’t want to, was there consent or was there coercion? Or force?
Societal attitudes to sex could be changed within a generation. And it would be interesting too.