Justice for Survivors
Posted on April 22, 2012
Last Friday Wales and Sheffield United striker Ched Evans was convicted of rape and given a five year sentence. By Sunday lunchtime the hashtag #justiceforched had started trending on Twitter, and not only had the victim in the case been subjected to some of the most heinous misogynist abuse imaginable, she’d also, in complete contempt of UK law which grants lifetime anonymity for rape survivors, been publicly named.
A quick glance through the hashtag feed (if you can stomach it) shows how rape culture is alive and well in this country. It also shows how completely ignorant so many people are of the laws on rape, specifically the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and the statutory definition of consent that’s contained within it:
“Section 74 defines consent as “if s/he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.
The CPS provides this legal guidance on the issue of consent:
- The 2003 Act provides a clear definition of ‘consent’ for the purposes of the law of rape, and by defining it with reference to “capacity to make that choice”, it sufficiently addresses the issue of consent in the context of voluntary consumption of alcohol by the complainant;
- If, through drink (or for any other reason) the complainant has temporarily lost her capacity to choose whether to have intercourse on the relevant occasion, she is not consenting, and subject to questions about the defendant’s state of mind, if intercourse takes place, this would be rape.”
So, it couldn’t really be much clearer could it: if a woman is too drunk to consent to sex, then any intercourse that takes place is rape.
Sadly though, I suspect that even if we printed the legal definition of consent and the CPS guidance in sodding great neon letters and posted it on every billboard in the country, we’d still see a significant proportion of people claiming that a drunken victim of rape is simply a “slag”, and was “asking for” everything she got. Because despite all the hard work that’s going into dispelling rape myths such as this one – the one that says that women somehow “provoke” rape by their appearance or their behaviour, myths like these still prevail.
It never ceases to amaze me whenever I write about this subject how so many people are quick to jump in to try and deny the prevalence of these rape myths, or to deny that we do in fact live in a rape culture. Feminist writers are frequently accused of exaggerating the problem by discussing rape and sexual violence in such terms, or else we’re accused of putting women off from reporting rape and sexual violence by painting a wholly unrealistic picture of the reception they can expect to receive if they are brave enough to attempt to report the crimes perpetrated against them.
Well try telling that to the victim in the Ched Evans case, or to the women in the Assange case. Try telling that to Nafissatou Diallo, or to a host of other women who have taken just that step only to find themselves slut shamed and vilified, not only on social networking sites like Twitter, but in the mainstream media and in courtrooms the whole world over.
Because if anything is putting women off from reporting, if anything is making them think twice about seeking justice, it’s not feminists doing it, it’s the reception they see other women get when they try to do the same.
Ched Evans is now a convicted rapist, and yet he’s being bombed with messages of sympathy and support. His victim meanwhile is facing opprobrium and hate, for no other reason than she’s a woman who dared to try and seek justice for a crime that was committed against her.
There’s got to be something seriously wrong in our culture when the response to a crime can become so twisted in this way. And there’s got to be more that can be done to ensure not just that survivors seeking justice get all the support and help they need, but that anonymity for rape survivors means just that.
@stfumisogynists has documented a lot of the Twitter response to this case on the Little Tweets of Misogyny Tumblr (Trigger warning!)
The Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline is open from 12-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm every day of the year: you can call them on 0808 802 9999