Thursday, 11 November 2010

DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON'T...


It's never a great week to be a victim of sexual violence in the UK, but this week is particularly awful and shocking...


This is thanks to the news that a woman in Wales has been jailed for eight months for making a false retraction of rape claims against her husband after feeling so intimidated by him and his family that she felt it was best to withdraw her allegations. The police and CPS felt the case against her husband was strong enough that it was scheduled to go to trial when this woman was imprisoned for a false retraction. She is now in prison and the charges against her husband have been dropped, despite the fact that a false retraction suggests to me that the original allegation must have been true.


This case means that women can now be prosecuted and imprisoned for both reporting an allegation of rape and withdrawing an allegation of rape if the police and CPS deem them to be false. I am not naive enough to believe that false allegations don't exist, but I'm also aware enough of the massive failings of the police and the CPS in investigating so many rape cases, that I just don't trust their judgement. In my experience, neither the police or CPS is actually on the side of the victim, just what suits their agenda better at that time. The Metropolitan Police in particular have been reprimanded on more than one occasion for 'no criming' allegations of sexual crime at a very high rate. This essentially means that although an allegation has been made, the police decide (often without any investigation at all) that nothing actually happened and write it off without it affecting their statistics. It has long been suspected that 'no criming' has been used to avoid difficult to investigate cases fouling up the unsolved crime rates. It also has the handy of side effect of allowing police officers and the CPS to see the person who made the allegation as a liar and score points with an arrest or charge against them for perverting the course of justice. In the current climate of league tables, an arrest is an arrest and who cares if it's against a frightened vulnerable victim who has just seen their allegation of sexual assault dismissed like an inconvenience?

This attitude helps no one and simply helps foster a culture of disbelief against victims that is used to legitimise the police being able to get away with not bothering to investigate allegations of sexual crime. After all, if all women are lying about rape and going to prison for it, then why should the police bother spending their resources investigating mere lies? And if people in authority say women are lying, it becomes much easier for the papers (step forward the Daily Mail) and the people who comment on them to tar all women with the same brush and disbelieve everything they say.

But the problem is that in the majority of cases, these women (and it is primarily women) aren't telling lies. Like me, they not only had the audacity to 'get themselves raped', but to do it in an inconvenient and awkward fashion that requires some actual detective work to make things clear. Instead of treating them with respect for coming forward and refusing to be intimidated by their attackers, the police sees them as a pain in the arse for not managing to be assaulted on CCTV by a perfect stranger with at least 3 witnesses and irrefutable physical evidence. So they punish victims further by ignoring what evidence there is because it isn't just handed to them on a plate and then they try everything by hook or by crook they can to get the allegation to go away.

I'm sure by now you're sympathetic to the plight of these victims, but assuming that I'm a teensy weensy wee bit biased here and making things seem much more sinister than they really are. And you know what, maybe am I, but that's probably because I've experienced this first hand when I reported my first rape.

My rapist threatened me and my female flatmates if I went to the police about what he'd done. I believed him and since he'd raped me in the kitchen of our house, he definitely knew where we lived. For three months I tried to deal with what had happened, but it became apparent that living in a permanent state of fear was causing me to fall apart. I decided that I needed to take back control and that meant reporting the crime against me. Having no idea how to do such a thing, I turned to Google and found an email address for the Met who advised me to go to the police station that housed the Sapphire Unit for my borough and report in person. I was assured that the gap between the attack and reporting wasn't a problem.

I plucked up the courage and went off to Clapham police station and made probably the biggest mistake of my life. From the outset the police were dismissive, criticising me for coming at lunchtime, making me wait almost an hour and half before I saw a Sapphire officer. It only got worse from there, interrogating me repeatedly as to why I hadn't reported earlier and seeming to dismiss it when I explained about the threats. They rolled their eyes and sighed when I explained I no longer had the forensic evidence and went completely silent when I identified my attacker and where he worked, looking meaningfully at each other and leaving the room for another 45 minutes.


When they came back in, they told me I could leave. I asked them if I could tell my flatmates that they would be expected to be interviewed, assuming this would be the next step after arresting my attacker. I was told that no one would be being interviewed and that I needed to go away and think very carefully about what I was saying and make a decision about whether I wanted it recorded in a statement next week and the consequences of that decision to me. Too distressed to go home I sobbed my way to a friend's house, discovering the only way to get a seat on a rush hour bus is to howl like a banshee and drip snot everywhere. (So tough do I think I am I had forgotten to bring any tissues...)


After several days I plucked up the courage to go home and tell my flatmates that despite what the police said, they should expect to be interviewed about what had happened that night. I just didn't believe the police would do nothing. And I could scarcely believe what happened next.


My housemates went ballistic when I told them I had been honest with the police that there were drugs in the house the night I was attacked. Instead of being glad that a violent attack against their friend was being taken seriously, they panicked that they were going to get in trouble with the police. When I pushed them to look at the bigger picture, it all started coming out....


They didn't believe me that I had been attacked. Unsure of how the law would address what had happened to me, I had described it as an attempted rape ( I later discovered under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 that it would legally be seen as rape and began addressing it as that.) They demanded I tell them in detail exactly what had happened and when I tried to while retaing some privacy, they dismissed my details as lies and told me it didn't match what my attacker had told them. It became apparent that they had all been spending time with him without my knowledge and he had told them that I had got the wrong end of the stick and that I was a very troubled young woman who was threatening to say terrible things about him. Apparently he was so scared by this he felt he had to buy one housemate a Chloe handbag and take another on an all expenses trip to Spearmint Rhino. They had responded by letting him sleep in my bed while I was away in Belfast and happily partaking of the drugs he always seemed to have around, even though they barely knew him.

It was apparent that they simply didn't care what had happened to me. They veered between calling me a liar and telling me they would let my attacker back into the house to finish what he had started if I didn't go back to the police and tell them I had lied and that there were no drugs in the house. Terrified that they would call their new friend and let him do whatever he wanted, I barricaded myself in my bedroom that night and never spent another night there again, feeling safer to be homeless. I had lived with some of these people for three years and considered them close enough friends to have feared for them after being attacked. 

I went to the council to declare myself homeless and ask for help. I considered just packing up and going back to Belfast, but I was worried that 'running away' would make me look guilty. I accepted the offer of a sofa from two friends and went back to the police to make a statement that would involve me telling them the witnesses had threatened me.

My righteous indignation ran out of steam pretty quickly when the investigating officer handed me a pre -typed statement saying I was not persuing the allegation and allowing it to be recorded as a 'no crime'. Incensed that I had just lost my home over something that wasn't even going to be called a crime, I reminded her about the threats and how scared I was. She leaned over the statement and told me if I didn't sign it, she couldn't guarantee that the police would be able to provide the crime reference number the council needed to declare me in need of housing. Forced to choose between persuing an attack that had no witnesses and no forensics and having a roof over my head, I signed. I withdrew a perfectly true allegation of rape because the police bullied me into it. 

I was too scared, too bewildered and too confused to fight their request even though I knew it meant a self confessed serial rapist would go free without so much as a tap on the shoulder. I had no idea I was also setting myself up for the possibility of being prosecuted for making a false allegation, wasting police time or perverting the course of justice. Part of me is glad I didn't have that extra worry as ignorance can be bliss, but part of me is chilled to the bone that other women are not forewarned as to what the consequences of reporting a crime against them can be. No wonder 99% of the women posting on Mumsnet said yesterday that they would not report it if they were raped... 

With a 6% conviction rate, the risk of being prosecuted for both making and withdrawing an accusation, having your sexual history, alcohol consumption, mental health and choice of dress dissected in court, the possibility that the police officers involved will fake your statement and the fact that the average rapist gets 7 years and is out in just over 3, it is a minor miracle that anyone ever reports a rape. But yet the reporting rate is rising year on year. Women are refusing to be cowed by their attackers and are coming forward in record numbers to say that what happened isn't right and the people involved must be punished. They don't want other women to suffer as they did and they want to protect them by making sure dangerous rapists are taken off the street.

Instead of responding with integrity and respect for these women, the police, the judiciary and the government resort to bullying, ignoring and slandering them. They drop cases without warning, they destroy or fake evidence, they prosecute victims as liars and they withdraw funding from Rape Crisis groups. They treat victims like modern day lepers and allow rapists to continue violating women and destroying their lives without fear of punishment.


We need to keep up the pressure to prevent things getting worse. We can do this by writing to our MPs, questioning our police forces and donating to charities that help victims of rape. But we can also do it by challenging the propaganda of Daily Mail and its ilk. We can remind people that rape jokes really aren't funny. And we can believe any woman who confides in us that she's been raped, no matter what she was drinking, saying or wearing. They might be small steps, but they're all going in the right direction...

7 comments:

  1. I'm both glad and relieved to read this. I was raped by a member of staff at a place I went on work experience when I was 21 and still blame myself. At the time he pretended to be one of the good guys protecting my honour on my last night at the company from other guys there who had dishonourable intentions. A few of us got very drunk and went back to his, and when I was alone in a room with him he wouldn't take no for an answer. The grey area of the fact that I went back to his and was drunk is the reason I never reported it, even though I clearly said no plenty of times and afterwards tried to pretend that it was no big deal just so that I could try and forget about it. Now that I know that my suspicions of how it would be treated by police were probably right, I think this was sadly the best course of action. Meanwhile he probably thinks he's done nothing wrong, and may well have done it again.

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  2. Anonymous, I am very sorry to hear about your experience. Sadly it is all too common and instead of blaming women for (legally) having a drink we should be attending to their needs when they've had their lives turned upside down. Catching a rapist is almost incidental to not blaming and judging women.

    I genuinely hope you have someone you can talk about these feelings to whether that's an online support group, friend or therapist. But don't blame yourself for what he might have done since, you can't do anything about it!

    Good Luck!

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  3. As a retired police officer, I want to say that I was moved by your courage in eloquently sharing your experience. I am sure it is true. Your perceptions seem reasonable and realistic and accord with my experience in every way. Forgive me for remaining anonymous, but it would help no-one to give my details. I just want to assure you that many of us know what happens and feel a sense of shame and responsibility. You rightly pick up on the appalling attitude of the officers, but (without defending them) I'd like to emphasise the complexity of the situation you have well described. It is indeed a problem of perception for us all - not least the self-appointed, appalling moral guardians at the Mail - but the problems extend throughout society from 'friends' to government. From my understanding, there was no way you were ever going to get a conviction in your case. The system just wouldn't work for you; the law is not designed to do this. Just as we are supposed to throw our hands up in horror at one person convicted wrongly, we should equally be appalled at one victim left without justice. You do point to the truth of some (very few) false allegations and so the system is geared to the rights of the accused and you have to face the trial of 'proving' your lack of consent when the acts are agreed as fact. You are realistic in pointing to the difficulties the perceptions of drugs might cause; look at your so-called 'friends' reactions... never mind a Jury's judgment. The Government and 'Society's' obsession with proving value for money through performance figures produces much of this distortion and is one of the fundamental issues. In addition to your excellent points for dealing with the phenomenon you describe, we all need the courage to contemplate the figures for rape as they are, not as we'd like the to be. The truth, as they say, will in fact set you free. Lies do nothing to help the situation. The problem is the difficulty of proving rape to a criminal 'standard of proof' but this does not mean that rape does not happen. It does, and we need to find a way to deal with that reality and help those affected on their way to recovery, whilst prosecuting those against whom there is evidence and - more than anything - continuing to educate everyone to understand that other humans are not born for their amusement at any level, but for respect, love, compassion and care. I am doing some work that might help a fraction in this regard, in time. Your story might help in ways that we cannot yet contemplate. Truth shared can do that. Thank you.

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  4. Anonymous (2)

    Thank you for your comment. I am delighted to hear from someone with another experience of reporting rape to the police.

    I feel I should clarify a few things. I think I knew when I went to the police that my attacker would not be charged or jailed. I could see the flaws in the case. But I did expect to be treated with dignity, respect and for him to at least get a talking to that might have put the wind up him. With the exception of the talking to, none of these things would have cost the officers involved more time or money and frankly, should come as standard.

    I am delighted to hear someone as thoughtful as yourself is doing some work in this area. I wish you success and thank you for your support. It means a lot to me.

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  5. Hi - Anon(2) here... I think your expectations for your treatment are entirely reasonable and understandable. Dignity and support should be non negotiable rights, but the issue of 'warning' someone is legally problematic. There is either a power to arrest and interview or not. If the man is interviewed and there is not enough evidence to proceed, he may become even more assured - I know of more than one rape suspect who brags about the times he's been arrested and not charged. And he tells some of the girls he goes with in advance as a 'warning' I guess too. If officers go and talk to a suspect with a view to 'winding' him, they may get a complaint for harassment or even a writ (yes! believe it or not!) and although this might concern some men, my experience tells me that men like your 'offender' would only regard it as a game in which he continues to win. Look at his strategy in grooming your friends... he has no rules to obey, the police have many constraints. Men who rape are often game-players who thrive on risk.

    One tactic the police have been trying to employ is setting up a database of arrests and intelligence on people who stack up complaints, but this is fraught with human rights issues - and a database of rape complainants might be regarded by some as necessary too.

    I believe that more people in the criminal justice system care than it might appear and I can assure you that the issues are understood at least cognitively; but officers and CPS are human beings, with all the strength and fallibility that implies too.

    I really hope that your story helps explain the difficulties to others and that you feel the strength of healing that can come from meaningful sharing. You have made a difference. I wish you well.

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  6. Anon 2, you make excellent points about the difficulty of speaking to suspects when there is little evidence. I'm aware that I have a slightly fantastical notion about certain aspects of this because a) I'm biased and b) I've never heard it from a copper's point of view before.

    Your ability to immediately see my attacker as a devious bastard who thrives on risk makes me feel so much better. What chance did I have against that? Even I can't blame myself for that.

    Thank you for making me think afresh about the subject and issues raised. It's been extremely enlightening and useful!

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  7. Gherkingirl, people like you, who are willing to face issues and seek the truth are on a path to self - and other - healing. I am so very happy to hear that you are less inclined to blame yourself. You did nothing 'wrong' to blame yourself for. All power to you in taking the positivity from your story and sharing it with others. You will help many with your courageous decision to publish. Please take comfort in knowing that an inability to help victims does not always indicate heartlessness or lack of desire to castrate these poor excuses for mankind! And, know too that an inability to do the job as well as we'd like, causes many officers great distress. Before you give a (possibly deserved) cry of 'serves them right' please know that there is more care than you might imagine. We all have partners, daughters, sisters, mothers... and having to bear the smug look on the face of a released rapist is sickening. Believe me. But in the end it is you and the ones who survive who are the real winners. There is some brutal truth in 'whatever does not kill you makes you stronger'. All the best for the rest of your positive life.

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