This week Northumbria Police reopened around a third of the rape cases that had previously been dismissed in the last three years, around fifty four case were classed as ‘no crime’ instances and laid to rest. This may seem like a positive step for victims of rape, yet the reason for this recent exploration of old cases is that an audit has suggested that many of these cases were ‘no crimed’ incorrectly, often due to mistakes in the way allegations were recorded. Herein lies the inherent problem of rape prosecution: it is not taken seriously enough.
The sheer quantity of cases being re-examined in Northumbria alone highlights the police’s worrying lack of due care and attention in dealing with rape cases. It is difficult to imagine the same blasé attitude being adopted in the instance of a murder, so why is this any different for rape? There are of course many explanations for this, most of which link directly to the culture of victim-blaming. Despite purporting to support victims of rape, the police often isolate and undermine accusers, due to this belief that women are in part responsible for their own rape. The police force and Government are quick to dispel this idea in statements and targets and yet, the Government’s inactivity and refusal to apologise after the NHS victim-blaming poster scandal appears to display a large discrepancy between official policy and actual attitudes.
The worrying fact is that these attitudes are reflected directly in the judiciary, specifically in the form of judge Mary Jane Mowat. Mowat faced controversy recently after claiming that women were to stop drinking if they wanted their accusations to be taken seriously. Scratch the surface and it is probable we would find that Mowat is just one of many judges who hold similar views and see fit to judge rape trials guided by their own warped principles. The focus on the inane details in rape cases – what the victim was wearing, if they were drinking, how they behaved – often gains precedence over the real issue, which is, simply: was consent given? Reporting a rape is presumably traumatic enough, without the likes of Mowat doubting victims before they even pluck up the courage to come forward.
In some instances, victims are hesitant over a lack of clarity of what constitutes rape. This reluctance amongst victims to seek justice fails to be addressed; consider Richard Dawkins’ ‘sliding-scale’ of classifying rape. Date rape – according to Dawkins – is mild, while stranger-rape is more serious. Comments such as these are directly responsible for dissuading victims and more needs to be done to hammer home the message that any form of unwanted sexual encounter is rape – that way there can be no confusion.
For far too long, rape has been viewed a predominantly female issue and like many women’s issues, it has been easy to marginalise. This is not the case: men are also victims of rape, and the issue of rape is not by definition gendered – it is societal and requires addressing. It cannot be addressed however, while such a stigma exists around victims and the accusation process remains so hostile.
The re-examination of old Northumbrian rape cases is a positive step, but it is clear that wider issues and attitudes must be addressed to encourage victims to come forward and reassure them that their voices are being heard.