Media bias, courtroom misogyny and police incompetence: how rapists get away with it

Trigger warning

We Mixed Our Drinks blogged yesterday on the tabloids’ fondness for reporting ‘cry rape’ stories, and observed:

“when the media continues to publicise such cases yet ignore the majority of shocking and disgusting attacks against women…we end up with the situation we have at present, where a woman who has been raped is automatically assumed by many to be a liar simply out to ruin an innocent man’s life.”

I wonder to what extent this media bias affected, for instance, the respondents to Amnesty’s 2005 survey on attitudes towards rape. The headline finding was that a third of people believed women are partly responsible for rape if they flirt; but it also revealed depressing levels of ignorance about rape statistics. Only 4% of respondents thought the annual incidence of rape was over 10000 – Amnesty quoted the British Crime Survey to put the correct figure at more like 80000. 11% thought it was under 1000 cases a year. When asked about the conviction rate, the average estimate was 26%, whereas the true figure tends to hover around the 6% mark.

Why – as we should never stop asking – is that real figure so low? Could it be related to the fact that a tenth of British people think less than a thousand rapes occur each year? Does the ‘flirts are asking for it’ mentality find its way into the courtroom?

We know it does. And we got a timely reminder last week, when – as Holly Combe reported here – a rape trial collapsed after it emerged that the complainant had discussed group sex with strangers on MSN. As Peter Tatchell points out,

‘The judge and prosecutor appear to have come close to suggesting that the alleged victim had, by sharing her group sex fantasies, invited the rape; that given her racy sexual mores she had only herself to blame.’

Our justice system assumes women who report rape are lying if they have – or have discussed having – an adventurous sex life. The media assumes women who report rape are lying unless – as Hannah at We Mixed Our Drinks puts it – ‘the rape victim happens to be beautiful, white, virginal and wealthy’. But surely those charged with protecting us and pursuing the guilty must take each reported rape seriously, and do their best to collect relevant evidence…?

…We should be so lucky. The Guardian reported today on the IPCC’s findings in the case of John Worboys, a cab driver whom the police first questioned about sexual assault in 2003, then allowed to rape at least 85 more women over five years.

One of the women, ‘Anna’, describes how she was treated – by Worboys and by the police (again, severe trigger warning) – on this video.

‘Anna’ did everything you’re supposed to do. She got a licensed black cab home (because as everyone knows, thanks to Transport For London’s victim-blaming campaign of recent months, getting an unbooked minicab is asking to be raped too). She reported her assault. She did everything she could to try to bring her attacker to justice.

And what did the police do? Read the IPCC findings. They laughed. They assumed from the start that she was lying. They failed to collect evidence; they failed to search Worboys’ home; they failed to question him properly; they failed to give Anna any accurate information about the case. It’s damning.

Then read what the IPCC recommend. Making information available for victims online; regular case updates with victims, sharing of information and intelligence with local agencies where there is a risk to the community; formalising structures to encourage women to report to third parties. Regarding the complaints against individual Met officers, the commission upheld complaints against five out of eight, recommending two should be given written warnings and three should receive words of advice. That’s it.

These recommendations bring the responsibilities right back to the victim. Never mind that Anna, and many other women, did report being raped, and were met with nothing but humiliation. Never mind that more than 80 women went through an ordeal that would not have happened if the police had done their jobs. Forget the idea that they should lose their jobs. Nope – it’s all about encouraging women to report, in the face of a system that could not be more discouraging.

Meanwhile, the media gets away with making rape invisible; the courts get away with deciding which women have the right to complain when they are raped; the police get away with mocking rape victims; and rapists get away with rape. The justice system is rotten with misogyny from beginning to end.

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