The Telegraph reports today that a woman was sentenced to 8 months in prison for falsely retracting a rape accusation. Not falsely accusing, falsely retracting a claim. The full story can be read here, and Rape Crisis’s statement here. Briefly, the woman went to the police, and reported that her husband had raped her 6 times on 3 occasions. Several months into the trial, she contacted the police to drop the charges. When the court proceeded, and she was arrested for perverting the course of justice, she admitted that the allegations had been true but she had been emotionally blackmailed by her husband’s family to drop the charges so he would receive a lesser penalty.
This story is chilling on a number of levels: it continues a trend of women being prosecuted when rape cases they have brought fail, and on a wider scale makes women far less likely to come forward. Unless you’re raped by a complete stranger in a dark alley, you can expect clouds of doubt, questions about your behaviour, and whether you brought it upon yourself. If you know, or even worse, you’ve dated or previously consented to sleep with your rapist, you can expect the sympathy to dwindle. If you had a drink beforehand, or were wearing, well practically anything, ditto. Stranger rape accounts for a small fraction of rapes reported, and yet it’s still viewed as a yardstick by which to judge how much someone has suffered. Never mind the emotional torment bound up in being raped by someone you’ve trusted, or even loved. Whoopi Goldberg was able to claim that Roman Polanski drugging and raping a minor wasn’t “rape rape” without much backlash.
And the way society views rape by someone who is known to you, and assumes that you could have prevented it, is massively damaging. I can count, from the top of my head, 11 women I know, myself included, who’ve been raped. They all knew their rapist, two-thirds were raped by an ex-boyfriend. None of them went to the police. It all came down to one reason: they knew they wouldn’t be believed, or if it did go to court would go nowhere due to lack of evidence. What evidence can you provide? Several of them had been drinking before being raped. Some had shared a room with the perpetrator. None of us felt able to go to the police. Perhaps most worrying is that two of them were law students.
I can’t see this getting any better under the current government with their grandstanding over anonymity for defendants in rape cases, and the fact that forces are now being pulled up for handling rape cases abysmally shows how rotten the system is. But I know that everytime the tabloids report and vilify a woman who’s been prosecuted, women read the story, and a large number decide there’s no point reporting rape.
As a friend asked recently: where are the headlines for women who don’t come forward, for fear of not being believed?