‘Why was Cambridge grad put on trial?’

// 10 March 2008

In the annuals of sexist reporting of trials for rape and sexual assault, this piece by the Daily Mail has got to be one of the worst I’ve read in recent history.

Now, the young man in question – 23 year old “Cambridge graduate” Jack Gillett – has been found innocent by a jury of his peers, so let’s get that out the way at the start. We are looking at the way the case was covered and the comments of the judge in the case.

First off, the headline:

Why was Cambridge graduate ever put on trial for sex assault after drunken night of passion?

This is a news report, not a comment. How deeply offensive and irresponsible for a national newspaper to run a headline like this, in a climate where it is nearly impossible to convict anyone of rape, where we know that women are put off reporting sexual attacks and where we know that men can carry out assault with barely any thought of the consequences. Shame on the Daily Mail right from the start.

Then we get to the way that Gillett has been portrayed. Of course, victims of sexual assault and rape have a right to anonymity, so the press cannot report much about the woman in this case. However, we can surmise from the facts reported that she is also a student, probably at Cambridge. Now, the story mentions the fact that Gillett goes to this respected institution four times. The story also describes his “English teacher” father and “respected artist” mother. What I mean is that the story plays up the man’s respectability for all it’s worth – the implication being “it’s an outrage that this ever get to court – he’s a nice boy who’s studying at Oxbridge!”

But we can also suggest that the victim is from just as ‘respectable’ a background. I’m not suggesting, as Gillett’s mother(!) did, that she should not be anonymous. I’m suggesting that the newspaper capitalised on this to push its own dangerous agenda of portraying the case as an expensive waste of time, and rubbishing the woman who gave evidence.

But after a three-day trial this week, a jury took just two and a half hours to throw out the £50,000 case.

What is especially hideous here is the repeated implication that the case should never have got to court – blaming the woman involved for having the audacity to tell her story.

Now we get to the judge’s summing up before the jury.

In his summing up, before the jury of eight women and four men retired to consider their verdict, Judge Hawkesworth said: “This is a story as old as time itself. Boy meets girl. Then the kissing starts.

“There are two irreconcilable accounts and that is all you have to decide.

“Be cautious when taking into account discrepancies in motive. False accusations can be made in revenge. Sometimes they’re made for no reason at all. People’s fantasies can be boundless.”

Yeah, he really said that!

Let’s get to the only bit of the story which related what happened, and you can judge yourself whether it is totally unreasonable for this to end up in court:

They began kissing but she said Mr Gillett, who admitted having several pints earlier that evening, became increasingly aggressive and pulled off her clothes.

“I was telling him to stop over and over again. He was pressing down on me quite hard, simulating the sex act,” she said.

She claimed he had forced his hand into her pants when he “suddenly seemed to hear me” and agreed to stop.

Mr Gillett insisted it was only at this stage that she asked him to stop, which he said was “absolutely fine” and he did.

(Via Anna)

Comments From You

Alex Corwin // Posted 11 March 2008 at 12:37 am

I read a very similar account in the daily telegraph that made me spit with anger (incidentally on the same page was an piece scaremongering about a rise in late term abortion that induced more spitting!)! The whole tone of the piece was ‘poor poor oxbridge student, his mother says he is a good boy and he goes to a top university, so how dare a woman accuse him of anything…” It many ways it reminded me of a story that was told at reclaim the night in Manchester about the setting up of the Rape Crisis centre in Brighton, when someone commented “But we don’t have rape in Brighton” (I know, painful isn’t it!!!).

It doesn’t matter if he is an student at a top university, he could still have sexually assaulted that women.

And as for the judge’s comments…!!! That is exactly the kind of attitude that is in desperate need of change!

EBaezaChavez // Posted 11 March 2008 at 1:34 am

I saw this story in the Mail and thought it was really irresponsible reporting. All the aquittal means is that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove otherwise.

I’m sure young women everywhere especially at Cambridge have far better things to do than make up malicious stories for their own gratfication and the reporters in the Mail know this.

This implication that the money spent on prosecuting was a waste is a really dangerous one. Another reason for women to avoid reporting rape and sexual assault– that they shouldn’t “waste” public money?!?! The state has a duty to protect women and prosecute those that contravene the laws protecting women (even if it fails absymally to do so).

Also it feeds into this false conciousness, that “nice” respectable boys don’t rape or attack women, only monsters dwelling in dark alleys.

I’m not saying this guy was guilty, but perhaps the Mail should be asking if the law came down a little harder on the Ian Huntley’s and Steve Wright’s when they first sexually attacked women, maybe things would never have got as far as they did. No doubt they were both considered “nice” “respectable” boys at some point also.

Austin Anderson // Posted 11 March 2008 at 10:25 am

“Another student revealed he had shared a bed with the slightly-built blonde on two occasions, weeks before”

We see, as time and time again previously, an implication that if one is sexually active then this somehow gives excuse to the other to not need to seek consent, that sexual assault is somehow lessened due to a previous consent, and this does require a very real change in the public consciousness and it disappoints (but does not surprise) me that in no newspaper I have yet read on the trial, including those in Cambridge, have yet picked up and discussed this.

However, in response to the section of the blog which said,

“Let’s get to the only bit of the story which related what happened”

Unfortunately the only section quoted here was the woman’s testimony. Whether or not the writer of the blog believed the woman’s testimony was true or not, it is a dangerous summary (in not including the man’s testimony) in a similar (but much less far reaching) way to the Judge’s summary where he implied that it was likely that it was just sexual politics between the two of them (i.e. not including the woman’s testimony).

Genevieve // Posted 11 March 2008 at 12:08 pm

I hate the whole assumption that it’s wrong for a woman to report that she was sexually assaulted because it’ll “ruin the dude’s life”–if the dude didn’t want his life to be ruined by an accusation of sexual assault, he shouldn’t have committed sexual assault, he shouldn’t’ve come NEAR to doing so. It’s not like there’s some ‘gang of malicious harpies’ roving around accusing random upwardly mobile dudes of sexual assault when they didn’t actually commit it. There’s just a few women who almost certainly WERE sexually assaulted, whether they can prove it or not, trying to seek justice in what is supposed to be a just system. But even the fact that these ‘life-ruining’ accusations fly mean that it’s NOT a just system–if it were, the dude’s reputation and career prospects would be the LAST thing on peoples’ minds.

Denise // Posted 11 March 2008 at 1:51 pm

There was another awful piece in the Daily M (choose your euphemism) last week by someone named Carol Sarler, who was basically blaming the partner of Levi Bellfield for his crimes, and saying if she’d reported him raping and beating her years ago he would never have gone on to murder women. Apart from the staggering stupidity and callousness of THAT, my question is, what do these people want?! You can’t have it both ways. Call all rape complainants liars, but condemn women who don’t report it as irresponsible and to blame for the rapists crimes?!

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 11 March 2008 at 7:50 pm

I knew that graduating from Cambridge meant you were a FIRST CLASS HUMAN BEING.

I didn’t know it ALSO meant you were INCAPABLE OF CRIME.

Oh, the advantages of (Cambridge) Higher Education!

AlexMagd // Posted 17 March 2008 at 8:52 pm

The Mail is a funny one (well actually, not funny at all). They take every opportunity to mark down Oxbridge students as toffs and rich kids and then leap to their defence in an instant. It leaves me very confused.

Anyway, the way this was reported was absolutely shocking and had the writer of the Mail article actually been to Oxbridge I highly doubt he would have been so keen to point out that Oxbridge education = wonderful, perfect human being. I go to Oxford and it’s terrible for sexism and outdated attitudes.

So what if he was intelligent? It doesn’t mean he can’t sexually assault and rape people! Whether he did or not depends on the evidence but the way it’s been reported really really saddens me.

David Space // Posted 28 March 2008 at 1:03 am

The article certainly was as idiotic as you’d expect from the Mail. But it’s also worrying that people here seem to assume the guy was guilty. Yes, the conviction rate for rape is low (though no lower than for murder, for instance) but that doesn’t mean we should start assuming anyone accused is guilty.

A policeman interviewed on Women’s Hour a couple of weeks back claimed that false accusations amount to a “very very tiny” number of cases. In other words he was claiming that almost every man accused of rape should be considered guilty, even if acquitted. The question he was pointedly not asked was “how can you possibly know that?”

Jess McCabe // Posted 28 March 2008 at 8:39 am

I don’t think it’s an assumption that the man was guilty, David. But it seems to me that the judge’s comments, etc, could be evidence that the trial was prejudiced in favour of finding him innocent.

Of course, we don’t know what happened, we weren’t there. But what we do know, is what the judge told the jury. We know that lots and lots of rapists do get away with it, because the minuscule number successfully prosecuted in this country bear no resemblance to statistics on the number of rapes. We know that the process of going through a rape trial for a woman who has been attacked is not exactly an incentive to report rape, that it is a massively underreported crime partly for this reason.

We can’t draw any conclusions about this particular case, other than, with those facts in mind, the judge was irresponsible in what he said, and the newspaper was irresponsible in how it reported the trial.

Sally Anderson // Posted 5 April 2008 at 11:07 pm

Let’s get to the only bit of the story which related what happened, and you can judge yourself whether it is totally unreasonable for this to end up in court:

They began kissing but she said Mr Gillett, who admitted having several (four exactly, several hours earlier)pints earlier that evening, became increasingly aggressive and pulled off her clothes.

“I was telling him to stop over and over again. He was pressing down on me quite hard, simulating the sex act,” she said.

She claimed he had forced his hand into her pants when he “suddenly seemed to hear me” and agreed to stop.

Mr Gillett insisted it was only at this stage that she asked him to stop, which he said was “absolutely fine” and he did.

My question is -How can you judge for yourselves what actually happened? Were you there? Were you in court hearing the testimonies? From where do your assumptions come? (and assumptions they are). Carry on making your ‘judgments’ but remember that you don’t know what happened…and does being a ‘good Oxbridge’ boy mean he must be guilty? Sounds more like sour grapes. And she must be innocent because she brought the case? I read the jury were eight women and four men; they came up with the ‘not guilty’ verdict. The power lay with her to to accuse him. How can he protect himself if her accusation wasn’t true? According to most of you here he hasn’t a chance either to protect himself or to prove his innocence. Shame on you. Maybe she did a most violent thing against him by accusing him of something he didn’t do.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds