Yesterday\x92s T2 covers another story, terribly important and individually upsetting for those concerned, both alleged victim and alleged attacker but horribly familiar to those unconnected with them.
The tale is told from the point of view of a father. His 13-year old boy, Jamie, is alleged to have forced Sarah, the 15-year old girl in question, to perform oral sex on him. Jamie denies this, saying the act was consensual \x96 a drunken teenaged fumble \x96 and that she \x91cried rape\x92 so that the boy she really fancies wouldn\x92t go off her (he did). Sarah has subsequently modified her allegation. Having originally said that she was crying and resisting, she has now said that she didn\x92t know that Jamie didn\x92t know that she was an unwilling participant (although she still maintains she was unwilling). The police, on these grounds, have recorded the incident as \x91no crime\x92.
This is an awful situation whichever way you look at it. My gut reaction is to feel dreadful for the girl, not only the alleged victim of a rape attack, but now accused of \x91crying rape\x92 in a national newspaper (names have been changed \x91to protect identity\x92 but you can bet your life anyone who knows the pair of them realises who the story\x92s talking about). There are several objectionable points in this individual article, but it raises wider questions of the way in which we react to rape within the criminal justice system.
This is a moral minefield. What of this boy? He stands accused of a crime that\x92s notoriously difficult to prove, and equally difficult to disprove. Officially there\x92s been \x91no crime\x92, but he stands under a cloud of \x91no smoke without fire\x92 suspicion and now, thanks to his Dad\x92s article, so does she.
As feminists we realise that countless numbers of women who have genuinely been attacked find themselves unwilling or unable to pursue a prosecution, much less get the courts to secure a conviction. Women discover the process to be so distressing, with such little chance of success, that they routinely modify or withdraw their allegations when they become aware of this depressing fact. Even when they do press on, the conviction rate is woefully low.
The majority of rapes, as we know, do not involve being dragged down a dark alleyway and held at knifepoint by some passing psychopath. Many, many rape cases come down to a question of consent. Her word against his. "He raped me" vs. "She loved it".
There are some shameful court cases which discriminate against women over men, there are juries who still believe that if a woman is a \x91slut\x92, wears \x91tarty\x92 clothes, has slept with someone before, than it\x92s not rape (even if they realise it was against her will). Far, far too many people still believe that women casually make rape allegations out of spite (\x91a woman scorned\x92 syndrome) or out of hungover remorse. This is an abhorrent generalisation and, as feminists, we have challenged this, and will continue to do so.
It is an outrage that in a case where a woman has withdrawn or modified an allegation, or where a court has failed to convict, she risks being accused of \x91crying rape\x92 when we know the numerous other reasons which could explain her change of heart.
But it\x92s equally outrageous that we should assume anyone to be guilty of anything which remains unproven in a court of law. My gut feeling is that a very small percentage of failed prosecutions are actually \x91crying rape\x92. Nevertheless, we cannot assume that women accusing men of rape are telling the truth. This sounds controversial, even anti-feminist, but it isn\x92t. I\x92m a feminist because I care about people’s rights. To consider people \x91guilty until proven innocent\x92 is a violation of a most fundamental human right.
If it\x92s one word against another, what can we reasonably do?
I grapple with this problem all the time. Nobody seems to feel they will receive fair treatment from the law as it stands. Women don\x92t believe they have any chance of securing justice through it. Men who continue to protest their innocence feel that a failed conviction leaves them under permanent suspicion of having \x91got away with it\x92. Both are probably true. On a societal level, I believe men are \x91getting away with it\x92 on an epic scale. I\x92m scandalised that the rape conviction rate is so low. I genuinely believe that countless women are being failed by a criminal justice system which cannot convict the men who we know to be attacking them in their thousands.
But on an individual level, when yet another individual woman fails to get a conviction, it is unthinkable that we should assume that individual man guilty in this greyest of grey areas. Someone who has not been convicted of any crime cannot be allowed to walk around under a permanent cloud of mistrust.
There isn\x92t an easy answer to this question. But I\x92ll continue to groan whenever I see headlines like yesterday\x92s in T2: \x91Our son, a malicious girl, and a rape that never was\x92. Whatever we think about the issue, we know the type of story the media prefer to report. They\x92re sticking safely to the fantasy black and white world of \x91thwarted ex-girlfriend cries rape\x92 and \x91my knife-point stranger-rape hell\x92 when the reality of the average story, I suppose, is somewhere in the complicated, messy, space between the two extremes.