Media bias, courtroom misogyny and police incompetence: how rapists get away with it

// 20 January 2010

Trigger warning

We Mixed Our Drinks blogged yesterday on the tabloids’ fondness for reporting ‘cry rape’ stories, and observed:

“when the media continues to publicise such cases yet ignore the majority of shocking and disgusting attacks against women…we end up with the situation we have at present, where a woman who has been raped is automatically assumed by many to be a liar simply out to ruin an innocent man’s life.”

I wonder to what extent this media bias affected, for instance, the respondents to Amnesty’s 2005 survey on attitudes towards rape. The headline finding was that a third of people believed women are partly responsible for rape if they flirt; but it also revealed depressing levels of ignorance about rape statistics. Only 4% of respondents thought the annual incidence of rape was over 10000 – Amnesty quoted the British Crime Survey to put the correct figure at more like 80000. 11% thought it was under 1000 cases a year. When asked about the conviction rate, the average estimate was 26%, whereas the true figure tends to hover around the 6% mark.

Why – as we should never stop asking – is that real figure so low? Could it be related to the fact that a tenth of British people think less than a thousand rapes occur each year? Does the ‘flirts are asking for it’ mentality find its way into the courtroom?

We know it does. And we got a timely reminder last week, when – as Holly Combe reported here – a rape trial collapsed after it emerged that the complainant had discussed group sex with strangers on MSN. As Peter Tatchell points out,

‘The judge and prosecutor appear to have come close to suggesting that the alleged victim had, by sharing her group sex fantasies, invited the rape; that given her racy sexual mores she had only herself to blame.’

Our justice system assumes women who report rape are lying if they have – or have discussed having – an adventurous sex life. The media assumes women who report rape are lying unless – as Hannah at We Mixed Our Drinks puts it – ‘the rape victim happens to be beautiful, white, virginal and wealthy’. But surely those charged with protecting us and pursuing the guilty must take each reported rape seriously, and do their best to collect relevant evidence…?

…We should be so lucky. The Guardian reported today on the IPCC’s findings in the case of John Worboys, a cab driver whom the police first questioned about sexual assault in 2003, then allowed to rape at least 85 more women over five years.

One of the women, ‘Anna’, describes how she was treated – by Worboys and by the police (again, severe trigger warning) – on this video.

‘Anna’ did everything you’re supposed to do. She got a licensed black cab home (because as everyone knows, thanks to Transport For London’s victim-blaming campaign of recent months, getting an unbooked minicab is asking to be raped too). She reported her assault. She did everything she could to try to bring her attacker to justice.

And what did the police do? Read the IPCC findings. They laughed. They assumed from the start that she was lying. They failed to collect evidence; they failed to search Worboys’ home; they failed to question him properly; they failed to give Anna any accurate information about the case. It’s damning.

Then read what the IPCC recommend. Making information available for victims online; regular case updates with victims, sharing of information and intelligence with local agencies where there is a risk to the community; formalising structures to encourage women to report to third parties. Regarding the complaints against individual Met officers, the commission upheld complaints against five out of eight, recommending two should be given written warnings and three should receive words of advice. That’s it.

These recommendations bring the responsibilities right back to the victim. Never mind that Anna, and many other women, did report being raped, and were met with nothing but humiliation. Never mind that more than 80 women went through an ordeal that would not have happened if the police had done their jobs. Forget the idea that they should lose their jobs. Nope – it’s all about encouraging women to report, in the face of a system that could not be more discouraging.

Meanwhile, the media gets away with making rape invisible; the courts get away with deciding which women have the right to complain when they are raped; the police get away with mocking rape victims; and rapists get away with rape. The justice system is rotten with misogyny from beginning to end.

Comments From You

Bee // Posted 21 January 2010 at 12:38 am

The IPCC’s findings and recommendations are pretty disgusting. The written warning is their wake-up call? What a joke.

earwicga // Posted 21 January 2010 at 9:00 am

The IPCC’s decisions are always a joke. They are effectively police PR. See HarpyMarx’s blog for her continued criticism of them.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 21 January 2010 at 11:43 am

Excuses, excuses and yet more excuses because as we are constantly told it is always women’s fault and women’s responsibility to prevent men from committing sexual violence against them.

The IPCC’s findings are yet another deliberate attempt to hide how society and not just ‘random individual police officers’ continue to hold misogynistic views concerning the realities of how and why so many men continue to rape women with impunity.

I have lost count of the times reports are published recommending sweeping changes in the way our legal system continues to hold women responsible for male violence committed against them. The male-machine swings into action immediately any woman or girl courageously dares to report to police a man/men has/have committed sexual/physical/psychological violence against her.

Never are these reports acted upon, instead the patriarchal machine immediately deflects attention away from institutionalised bias and attempts to claim it is ‘not that bad really.’

Instead women are constantly bombarded with propaganda telling us we must ‘do this or that and everything will be fine.’ But it is not and until women as a group speak out and demand real change not continued excuses/justifications etc. nothing will be done.

I’m not forgetting the other propaganda tool – namely the male-dominated and male-centered media which very effectively promotes women-blaming and now widely proclaims the ‘real victims are innocent men who are routinely victimised by man-hating women determined to ruin a respectable man’s reputation! ‘

But this latest IPCC report will be swiftly forgotten and men will continue, if they so wish, to rape women with impunity – because you know – it is always women’s fault.

HarpyMarx // Posted 21 January 2010 at 12:25 pm

The IPCC do act like the PR section of the Met police. They are pretty spineless in their recommendations though they will argue it is not within their remit etc. etc. And that they can only do certain things etc etc. The IPCC are not rigorous nor objective when it comes to investigations of complaints…and certainly not objective nor independent when investigating the cops…

Cycleboy // Posted 21 January 2010 at 1:09 pm

There was a Radio 4 programme about the IPPC the other night. I have to say that, as reasonable as the head of the IPPC sounded, the IPPC did not come across as being particularly effective. He kept on repeating the mantra that they’d have some signiicant successes. No doubt they had but, a handful of successes versus an ocean of failures is not most people’s idea of what an effective complaints commission should be aiming for.

Beth // Posted 21 January 2010 at 1:34 pm

Argh this just makes me so angry – in my eyes the Met have colluded with the rapist by allowing him to commit further rapes. If they can jail mothers for allowing their violent partners to harm a child with their knowledge, then why not in this case? They plainly care nothing for woman who are being raped. Anna sounds like a very brave woman who has seen the underbelly of ‘justice’ and spoken up about it, thanks to her for that.

Louise // Posted 21 January 2010 at 7:14 pm

This is a key issue. Huge reforms need to be made, at police level as well as at court level. More importantly, I believe the education system should tackle the issue of rape and educate young people against a culture of female objectification and casual sexual violence. Boys rape partly because they see women_ and especially sexually liberated women_ as objects rather than individuals. We live in a culture where the female body remains a consumer product. We need to build a culture around sex that’s based on enjoyment, empathy, dialogue and mutual respect. And as women we need to relentlessly pressurise the government into bringing those much needed changes. This is one of the most important battles facing feminists today, and not just feminists but all women. I am amazed at the number of people I know (women as well as men) who have been sexually abused, yet not one of them has seen their case brought to Justice. Most cases as you imagine were not even reported, and those victims are struggling to move on with their lives. Meanwhile, the police arrests perfectly innocent people under the Terrorism act for putting jokes about terrorism on Twitter (see

Sometimes I feel we live in some absurd Orwellian nightmare.

To paraphrase Hamlet, “there’s something rotten in the Kingdom of Great Britain”.

Shea // Posted 21 January 2010 at 9:23 pm

The officers involved should have been sacked, its that clear. What they did was misfeasance in a public office, and a derogation of their duty to investigate and protect the public (and by the public I mean women). What Worboys did was a hate crime, the deliberate targeting of one group (women). How can the police ever expect women to report rape when this is how they treat complainants? Rapists like Worboys rarely spring from nowehere- he undoubtley had earlier convictions for sexual assualt, or harassment- the police should have “red flagged” him and the minute a rape complaint was made, fully and thoroughly investigated him.

The thing that saddens me, that isn’t mentioned above is that (and this comes from my own experience) is the extent to which victims of rape will try and justify what was done. I made so many excuses for my rapist, things I could have done differently, my modes of behaviour, conversations we had had, my error of judgment, my failure to read the signs, all the blame and responsibility I took on myself. When I think about this the idea that there are false claims of rape just seems ever more absurd.

HarpyMarx // Posted 22 January 2010 at 10:48 am

Thanks for the plug re my blog Earwicga.

There are major problems with the IPCC (and don’t get me started on the Chair, Nick Hardwick!!) and their relationship with the police. the recommendations re the inquiry into Worboys are specifically technical and practical (though the question arises, why aren’t the police doing this anyway?) rather than investigating the misogyny that is entrenched within the police force, institutionally misogynistic.

And therefore demanding that radical changes are made etc etc. But the IPCC will argue that’s not part of their remit when it clearly is. Why have a complaints commission when you can’t demand changes re the way a publicly accountable institution is run.

And that’s the problem with the IPCC is that they have too much of a close relationship with the cops, they both come under the remit of the Home Office, when really the IPCC should come under the MoJ.

And those cops who laughed at ‘Anna’ should have been dealt with much more severely than ‘written warnings’ and words of advice (I mean, what the hell does that mean?) as it is obv. case of ‘gross misconduct’ and this is a sacking offence and even more so as they are publicly accountable people and what message does that reflect…

That doesn’t stop the cops as we know they get away with murder!

robo // Posted 22 January 2010 at 12:28 pm

this is a forum for men who have been falsely accused of rape. I encourage you to read with an open mind. This is the other side of the rape debate.

Ally M // Posted 26 January 2010 at 11:48 pm

At least we have an IPCC in this country. I have lived in jurisdictions where even this flawed level of accountability simply does not exist. Perhaps rather than just criticise, we need to think about what kind of reforms the IPCC needs, or what alternative systems we need to put in place to improve police accountability.

A J // Posted 29 January 2010 at 12:57 pm

The IPCC is significantly flawed, but it’s mainly because it lacks teeth, and is pitted against a police culture that becomes incredibly defensive and closed at the slightest sign of criticism. Like Ally M says, at least the IPCC exists – even just north of the border in Scotland, the equivalent body is so limited and wishy-washy as to make the IPCC look positively effectual in comparison! Changing police culture ultimately requires action driven by the upper reaches of the police themselves. The IPCC can have an impact in embarrassing them into changing, but it requires political and public pressure too. Even if the IPCC was made more powerful than it is now (which would be a good thing) it would not be a silver bullet.

Re the ‘cry rape’ stories (it’s a pretty awful term, whichever side of things you’re coming from), I do think the idea that the media are to blame for reporting them is a rather odd one. Where a man (or indeed a woman) has genuinely been falsely and maliciously accused of rape or sexual assault (and the cases reported in the media are usually pretty clear-cut), then I have a *massive* amount of sympathy with the victim of that false allegation. The consequences for them can be immense and long-lasting, and some within the feminist movement are far too quick to dismiss such situations as insignificant.

But just as importantly, each false and malicious accusation of rape makes it harder to bring those who are genuinely guilty of rape to justice. Real false allegations of rape should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, because, as well as the real and significant harm they cause to their victims, each one damages the cause of obtaining justice for victims of rape too. Pretending it is not an issue simply will not do – addressing it head-on is crucial to improving the prosecution of rape itself.

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood // Posted 30 January 2010 at 6:03 am

Of course being falsely accused of rape can be a life-destroying event – but the media coverage implies that these cases vastly outnumber incidences of actual rape, which we know is not true. There’s almost an implication that feminists are obliged to loudly condemn ‘women who cry rape’ in order to be allowed to get angry about rape, which to me loses sight of the real issue.

Kristin // Posted 31 January 2010 at 1:54 pm

Robo and AJ, the media are not to blame for reporting cases of men who are falsely accused of rape. Of course it is a terrible thing for any man to be falsely accused of rape, and he deserves justice. The problem is that the media search for and seize on any case of ‘false rape’ they can find and then focus on it to an extent which is completely unjustified, given that most genuine, reported (of course many cases are not reported) cases of rape do not even get as far a courtroom. There are many more victims of rape than victims who are falsely accused. That is a fact. The media are deliberately distorting this fact because they are misogynist and want to make women look like liars and fantasists.

Which, in turn, contributes to even fewer rapes being reported and making it to court. So there’s the problem.

I think you know this.

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