Friday 6 December 2019

Mini-skirts and drink are no excuse for rape

'With public opinion surveys showing more than a quarter of us think a woman is in some way to blame for being attacked if she was drunk, flirty or wearing revealing clothes, there’s always the very real possibility that jurors in rape cases are making judgments based on discriminatory attitudes.' (stock photo)
'With public opinion surveys showing more than a quarter of us think a woman is in some way to blame for being attacked if she was drunk, flirty or wearing revealing clothes, there’s always the very real possibility that jurors in rape cases are making judgments based on discriminatory attitudes.' (stock photo)
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

We've come a long way since the days when a rape victim might be called a liar until she backed down. But it all may still mean precious little to many if some victims still prefer to drop the charges, fearing they only have the flimsiest chance of being believed in court. Now the Director of Public Prosecutions wants the Supreme Court to clarify the law when men accused of rape claim the woman consented to sex. Until now, rape has meant having sexual intercourse without consent, regardless of whether or not force was used. Because there is no explanation of consent in law jurors have been left to apply their own opinions to trials.

This is why the issue of consent is grey and murky. It's why an ordinary nightlife, of lust and love, of banter and broken hearts, of occasionally drinking too much, may conceal a culture of cold, premeditated sexual contempt.

It's why women all over our country continue to be genuinely raped - by which I mean forced, by means of violence and intimidation, into sex they definitely didn't consent to.

Should cases make it to court we have seen victims facing counter claims about 'personal responsibility', 'mixed signals', and 'leading him on' because our legal interpretation of consent is still not clear.

With public opinion surveys showing more than a quarter of us think a woman is in some way to blame for being attacked if she was drunk, flirty or wearing revealing clothes, there's always the very real possibility that jurors in rape cases are making judgments based on discriminatory attitudes.

More than a quarter of Irish people polled for Amnesty as part of its Violence Against Women campaign believed women were responsible if they wore skimpy clothing.

Some 28pc thought they were "partially responsible" if they were flirting and, shockingly, one in 12 thought a woman was wholly responsible if she was known to have had many sexual partners. Some 5pc of men and 3pc of women believed a woman was "totally responsible" for being raped if she was drunk.

So to some, a woman is 'guilty' if she's been swanning down the street in a mini-skirt.

None of us are totally immune from these flawed narratives because we've been told so often and so loudly that preventing assault is a woman's job, that rape is only rape when a stranger drags you into a dark alley with a knife at your throat.

It would be welcome indeed for the law to set out clearly what is and what is not consent.

At a stroke, it could put paid to warped attitudes about consenting sexual behaviour to decision-making by juries, affording them a far clearer view of where responsibility and blame truly lie.

Irish Independent

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