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The BBC website has details of a rape trial at Preston Crown Court that collapsed after MSN chatlogs of the complainant’s conversations showed she was “prepared to entertain ideas of group sex with strangers” where her “morals go out of the window”. The article states that the prosecutor, Michael Leeming, formally offered no evidence after reading the excerpts and that Judge Robert Brown ordered the jury to return not guilty verdicts for rape and conspiracy to rape against the five accused men. It is also reported that he said “this case depended on the complainant’s credibility” and “not to put too fine a point on it, her credibility was shot to pieces”.

Exactly how this woman’s credibility could possibly be ruined is not made clear in the article, leaving the frightening implication that any woman who talks frankly about her fantasies on the internet is obviously going to consent to whatever sex acts might be presented to her in real life and will be viewed as guilty of lying if she says someone raped her. If so-called “credibility” can even be lost from mere talk and fantasy, we’ve little hope of tackling the old misogynistic idea that women who have had real-life sexual adventures are “sluts” who somehow can’t be raped (i.e. a go-ahead for would-be rapists due to their victim apparently having no “credibility” anyway).

The course of events according to the BBC website was that the complainant had agreed to visit one of the men after meeting him on MSN and “alleged she wanted to just have sex with him, but was then raped by the others”. It has been suggested by some comments on Reddit, that the credibility was perhaps lost due to the woman lying to the police about her talk of group sex fantasies during an online chat with one of the men.

Again, any such dishonesty is not made clear in the article but are we seriously supposed to believe that the police definitely wouldn’t have made the very same judgement about credibility that the Judge in this case seems to have made on the strength of what we know in the article? Yes, such a lie would obviously raise questions about the testimony but discrediting the complainant completely and not allowing the evidence to be heard seems to indicate, at best, an unwillingness to acknowledge the kind of attitudes that make rape victims reticent about coming forward in the first place. After all, it’s those attitudes that could, in theory, lead a genuine victim to feel like she couldn’t be honest about a conversation that, in any case, should not have compromised her bodily autonomy and right to say no or stop sex at any point. A right that everyone -woman or man- surely has.

I’ve been looking for accounts that give more detail on the case than the short BBC article and all I can find in addition is an article on the Bolton News site stating that the prosecutor was “particularly concerned about one chatlog entry which referred to (the complainant) as prepared to have intercourse with six men from Ireland who wanted to travel to the woman’s home” and that “in another entry, she candidly admitted she was not comfortable engaging in group sex with men she knew but was perfectly happy to indulge with strangers”. I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed by both male and female friends. Would sharing such thoughts in a web chat mean they could be waiving their right to justice if they’re ever raped? Does it mean that sex against their will can never be acknowledged as rape because they’ve shown they are -or might be- capable of sexual transgressions and that makes them anybody’s, anytime?

Unfortunately, I suspect a typical answer to that would depend on whether the person in question is a man or a woman.

Thanks to @Sajarina for drawing our attention to this on Twitter