Rape & the police & juries & drink
Jess McCabe // 17 August 2008
Lest we get too excited that a rapist ended up behind bars, consider the sobering news of an apparent drop in the number of rapes being reported to the police, and Neanderthal attitudes to women drinking among senior police officers and the general public, from The Guardian.
First, the police:
A senior adviser to the government has told the Guardian that in some parts of England and Wales cases which did not fall into the classic “stranger rape” category – such as those where the woman was drunk or was attacked by her partner – were being dismissed by officers with a “Life on Mars” attitude mirroring that of the 1970s TV detectives.
Dave Gee, the former head of Derbyshire CID, said a failure to take rape seriously enough went right up to chief constable level in some places.
The number of rapes recorded as crimes fell by 8% in the last year, with significant drops in six forces, said Gee, who advises the Association of Chief Police Officers. In one force the total for 2007-08 fell 40%.
He stressed that in some areas “fantastic” improvements had been made, but said: “The biggest single problem we face is with attitudes. We’ve still got cases at both police and CPS level the outcome of which is decided when they first receive the complaint based on what they think the credibility of the witness is.
“They don’t try to improve the credibility of the witness; they make a decision at the outset that ‘this is going nowhere’ and then the case is on a downward spiral.
“People are still being dragged kicking and screaming to the plate. They say they’re just being realistic but they’re second-guessing outcomes. Around the country you still have individuals who are charged with responsibility at a senior level who are cynical at best about rape in general. People are saying, ‘Is it a priority for me?’.”
It’s not like this is anything new, really, but it’s still shocking. We have a long way to go, if senior police officers effectively don’t see rape as a crime worthy of their attention.
Even if a rapist happens to come up against a police officer who does see sexual violence as a priority, there’s still the jury to contend with. From the mouths of the defence counsel:
Marion Smullen, head of chambers at One Inner Temple Lane, who frequently acts as defence counsel in rape cases, said: “However much politicians want to change the attitudes to rape, juries are still fairly judgmental where alcohol is concerned. It’s certainly something that helps me as defence counsel.”
A typical defence would be to argue that the woman consented to sex because she was drunk and then cried rape when she regretted it in the morning, she said.
“Women drinking is still regarded as not quite right by a lot of juries. If they think maybe the woman has contributed in some way by being drunk, they will be reluctant to send someone to prison.”
Miranda Moore QC explained: “Defence counsel will say, ‘You’d had a few, you were up for it.’ You might say, ‘Yes, I’m sure a nice girl like you like you probably wouldn’t choose someone like him if you were sitting round the dinner table, but it’s amazing what alcohol can do. You wouldn’t normally fancy him but you’d had a few and thought why not?’
“It’s something that strikes a chord with a jury – everybody knows there are a lot of things you might do drunk that you wouldn’t do if you were sober.”
Victims who had been drunk were seized on by defence counsel as “manna from heaven”, Gee said. Fears that alcohol consumption could wreck a case were used by some officers and individuals in the Crown Prosecution Service to decide a case was not worth bringing to court.
But a handful of convictions secured recently in cases where victims had been drinking showed that if detectives put the effort into securing the evidence and the CPS was “bold” enough, it could pay off.
“My advice to cops is: investigate. If someone gets their car nicked or their house broken into and their DVD player’s gone, then you start an investigation, irrespective of the respectability of the victim.
So, according to the general public, rape is fair punishment for daring to drink. And people say we live in a post-feminist world.