Woman’s credibility in rape trial “shot to pieces” due to group-sex fantasies

// 13 January 2010

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The BBC website has details of a rape trial at Preston Crown Court that collapsed after MSN chatlogs of the complainant’s conversations showed she was “prepared to entertain ideas of group sex with strangers” where her “morals go out of the window”. The article states that the prosecutor, Michael Leeming, formally offered no evidence after reading the excerpts and that Judge Robert Brown ordered the jury to return not guilty verdicts for rape and conspiracy to rape against the five accused men. It is also reported that he said “this case depended on the complainant’s credibility” and “not to put too fine a point on it, her credibility was shot to pieces”.

Exactly how this woman’s credibility could possibly be ruined is not made clear in the article, leaving the frightening implication that any woman who talks frankly about her fantasies on the internet is obviously going to consent to whatever sex acts might be presented to her in real life and will be viewed as guilty of lying if she says someone raped her. If so-called “credibility” can even be lost from mere talk and fantasy, we’ve little hope of tackling the old misogynistic idea that women who have had real-life sexual adventures are “sluts” who somehow can’t be raped (i.e. a go-ahead for would-be rapists due to their victim apparently having no “credibility” anyway).

The course of events according to the BBC website was that the complainant had agreed to visit one of the men after meeting him on MSN and “alleged she wanted to just have sex with him, but was then raped by the others”. It has been suggested by some comments on Reddit, that the credibility was perhaps lost due to the woman lying to the police about her talk of group sex fantasies during an online chat with one of the men.

Again, any such dishonesty is not made clear in the article but are we seriously supposed to believe that the police definitely wouldn’t have made the very same judgement about credibility that the Judge in this case seems to have made on the strength of what we know in the article? Yes, such a lie would obviously raise questions about the testimony but discrediting the complainant completely and not allowing the evidence to be heard seems to indicate, at best, an unwillingness to acknowledge the kind of attitudes that make rape victims reticent about coming forward in the first place. After all, it’s those attitudes that could, in theory, lead a genuine victim to feel like she couldn’t be honest about a conversation that, in any case, should not have compromised her bodily autonomy and right to say no or stop sex at any point. A right that everyone -woman or man- surely has.

I’ve been looking for accounts that give more detail on the case than the short BBC article and all I can find in addition is an article on the Bolton News site stating that the prosecutor was “particularly concerned about one chatlog entry which referred to (the complainant) as prepared to have intercourse with six men from Ireland who wanted to travel to the woman’s home” and that “in another entry, she candidly admitted she was not comfortable engaging in group sex with men she knew but was perfectly happy to indulge with strangers”. I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed by both male and female friends. Would sharing such thoughts in a web chat mean they could be waiving their right to justice if they’re ever raped? Does it mean that sex against their will can never be acknowledged as rape because they’ve shown they are -or might be- capable of sexual transgressions and that makes them anybody’s, anytime?

Unfortunately, I suspect a typical answer to that would depend on whether the person in question is a man or a woman.

Thanks to @Sajarina for drawing our attention to this on Twitter

Comments From You

rexen // Posted 13 January 2010 at 8:59 pm

Yeah I admitted having had masochistic thoughts to a co-worker without realizing he believed this meant “please rape me.”

Fantasy and reality are two very different things. People can have sexual feelings while being raped and that does not mean that they have consented. But it’s confusing for people who’ve experienced rape because your body (or at least my body, and I imagine some others out there) can have a turned on response to attack. This can come along with fear, confusion, sorrow, horror, guilt and misery…

It doesn’t mean (in my case) that I like being raped. Personally I don’t.

The reality though, is that among people who participate in s&m and bondage stuff, a rape case would be very confusing to handle.

People who role play rape… ? How would you decide as an outside person if it were real or not? It would be nearly impossible. S&m-ers often emulate all the same stuff that happens in rape, so if someone violated the “safe word” I don’t see how you could ever really prove it in trial.

There are some gray areas in defining rape.

What if the woman agreed and then changed her mind at the last minute? How on earth would you prove that? It SHOULD be illegal; if there is not consent, or if consent is revoked, it IS illegal.

The problem is how to you prove one way or the other when there is literally no evidence?

If our law system wants to maintain innocent until proven guilty, then the rights of people who cannot be PROVEN to have raped someone have to be upheld.

But this case DOES make it sound like if someone has a fantasy about someone, that gives anyone else in the world the right to do whatever is in the fantasy to them.

That is NOT the precedent we want to set!

Redheadinred // Posted 13 January 2010 at 9:14 pm

I read this too, it made me sick. We’re on our own, ladies. The law system is not going to help us… What can we do?

This kind of thing scares the hell out of me, because who hasn’t written about these things in their diary or talked about them to people? But it can be twisted to make anything seem likely. I used to have a close male friend and we talked about sex when we were chatting online. Doesn’t mean it would be ok for him to rape me, or invite his mates around to rape me.

This just makes me so hopeless.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 13 January 2010 at 9:25 pm

The fact this female rape survivor made a number of statements publicly, concerning ‘rape fantasies’ prior to five men being charged with raping her, has no relevance whatsoever.

Talking about ‘rape fantasies’ is totally different to giving free and informed consent, given the woman was on her own and had only agreed to meet one adult male for the purpose engaging in sexual activity. Not forgetting of course, the power dynamics because what could one woman do on her own when she was in a strange apartment with five men who clearly thought they were entitled to have sexual access to her body.

The judge did not see it as relevant that the five accused should have been cross-examined as to how they came to be in the same apartment as the one male the woman knew she was meeting. Did this woman know when she entered the apartment there would be five men not one, ready to engage in sexual activity? Did she agree to sexual contact with five men? We’ll never know because these men were acquitted based solely on circumstantial evidence which was not remotely related to the crime these men had been charged with.

But of course any woman who can be shown to have engaged in ‘rape fantasies’ means the woman cannot be raped but has given present and future blanket consent to any male/males that they can freely rape her since it is no longer rape but merely male sex right.

What one says and does are two totally different things. One might say ‘I’ve been thinking about robbing a bank but unless I have actually made preparations and subsequently robbed a bank I have not committed a crime. Not so when it concerns female survivors of male sexual violence, because unless they are 110% pure from male-centered definitions, then the woman/women are deemed ‘non-rapeable.’

I wonder if these males also subscribed to ‘rape fantasies?’ Did any of them post messages to the website saying they fantasise about forcing a woman to engage in sexual activity. Did any of these males say they had fantasised about how erotic it is to commit ‘rough sex’ on a woman? Again we’ll never know because the judge directed the jury to acquit these men based solely on circumstantial evidence.

Abyss2hope.com has an excellent post in today’s blog wherein Colombia Supreme Court has ruled that sexist bias in rape trials will no longer be permitted. Would that our legal system too outlawed such blatant women-blaming and excusing/justifying male sexual violence against women.

Nor should we forget that although these men have been acquitted that does not mean the woman’s charge against these men was false. What it means is that in law her accusations could not be proved. Therein lies the difference between claims ‘women routinely lie’ when men charged with rape are acquitted. The legal system was not set up to apportion blame but to prove beyond reasonable doubt (male-defined of course) whether or not a crime had been committed. It was not set up to hold women accountable for male violence committed against them, but many judges, juries and defence counsel clearly believe otherwise.

polly // Posted 13 January 2010 at 10:16 pm

The report of the case says the prosecuting barrister formally offered no evidence. In other words the crown prosecution service effectively made the decision to withdraw their case. If the prosecution offered no evidence then the judge had no choice but to direct the jury to acquit. So the judge didn’t make a decision about credibility at all, it was the CPS.

HJ // Posted 13 January 2010 at 10:18 pm

I only saw this because I happened to be surfing around the BBC website whilst I was bored. This made me sick to my stomach.

Like you Holly I spent some time seeing if I could find a better article with more info on why “her credibility was shot” but came up empty handed.

As someone who has talked about fantasies (not rape but I guess it wouldn’t make any difference) online this makes me very worried.

I feel so sorry for the woman in question.

Louise // Posted 13 January 2010 at 10:39 pm

So unless you fantasize about straight, vanilla, missionary, monogamous sex you’re screwed ?

What bout the alleged rapists_ what do THEY fantasize about ? I bet the judge didn’t consider that.

Butterflywings // Posted 13 January 2010 at 10:57 pm

Thanks for this. Yeah, I know, scary isn’t it. Fantasies are just that, fantasies.

JenniferRuth // Posted 14 January 2010 at 9:25 am

I’m really glad The F Word picked up on this. It’s hard to state how angry this made me.

It is hard to believe that having sexual fantasies means that you wave away your right to give or withdraw consent to sex. Then again, I look at the low conviction rates for rape and I wonder how often this line of reasoning is used in court.

Judge Robert Brown said “Not to put too fine a point on it, her credibility was shot to pieces.” All I can think is how can he question her credibility? Really? He’s the one who thinks that a woman with a sexual history or sexual fantasies is unable to be raped. I question his credibility to do his job. His line of thinking is exactly the same as those who think a woman wearing a short skirt or kissing a man at a club is “asking for it”.

Woman are regarded as if we are in a permanent state of consent for sex which we can withdraw by saying “no” – but the rules for when and how we can say “no” are always changing to benefit the rapist.

Feminazery also wrote about this:

http://dmhatingfemisfromhell.blogspot.com/2010/01/thi-s-fucking-disgusts-me.html

Holly Combe // Posted 14 January 2010 at 9:47 am

@Polly. Yes, the BBC article did say that the prosecuting Barrister formally offered no evidence. I included that detail in the blog entry and, though I don’t know the technicalities with regard to exactly how it would work, it makes sense when you say that would have led to the Judge’s direction to the jury to acquit. However, it seems the Judge did not stick to explaining why he had no choice and, according to the article, actually made a point of making dramatic comments about the woman’s credibility. Provided that account is accurate (and the lack of “credibility” doesn’t relate to an omission of details on the complainant’s part that wasn’t reported on), I’d say he played a role in damning her character. I’d also argue this would be a demonstration of the kind of attitude that surely stops rape victims from coming forward in the first place.

Helen // Posted 14 January 2010 at 9:48 am

@Louise – even then, by extension of the logic in this case you must therefore be constantly willing to engage in straight vanilla (etc) sex, and if you ever try and refuse it people can force it on you without it “counting” as rape.

Utterly appalling.

cim // Posted 14 January 2010 at 11:31 am

Holly Combe: The prosecutor’s own statement also basically boiled down to “Oh, I don’t actually believe the victim now either.”, so it wasn’t just the judge taking part in victim-blaming here.

What makes it even worse is that, according to my MP, all rape trials nowadays are prosecuted by “senior and highly trained specialist prosecutors”. After this I’m wondering what, exactly, they’re trained in.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 January 2010 at 12:04 pm

@Cim. Yes, you’re absolutely right about the prosecutor’s statement. The BBC article made that clear and, in retrospect, I should have highlighted it too.

Hexdoll // Posted 14 January 2010 at 1:22 pm

If this was any other crime that didn’t involve sex the precedent this sets would be unacceptable.

Would it be OK to steal money from a philanthropist? Well they were giving it away to people they barely know so it must mean that they don’t care who it goes to.

Ms F // Posted 14 January 2010 at 1:26 pm

@Jennifer – wasnt it group sex fantasies that she was ‘caught’ out as having, not rape fantasies?

Who the hell doesnt have fantasies?

To be honest I feel the same as Redheadinred about this, just bloody hopeless.

Claire // Posted 14 January 2010 at 1:49 pm

Another point to make is what triggers certain fantasies. Although I am not saying that there is an absolute correlation, it has been widely researched that many childhood sexual abuse and rape survivors have violent sexual fantasies. The theory is that the fantasy may be a way of them regaining control over the past experiences. Survivors self-help books frequently discuss the difficulty of separating violence from desire and sexual satisfaction and how this difficulty can cause a whole host of problems, forcing some into celibacy and some into severe risk taking promiscuity. I don’t know if this could have been the case here, but what is certainly indicated here is that the reason for any fantasy is not going to be explored, even momentarily, before a judgement is made. Can rape and CSA victims not mention these matters now for fear that it will be brought up against them in future violent sexual attacks – which are statistically more like to happen to them than to the rest of the population?

Holly Combe // Posted 14 January 2010 at 2:08 pm

@Claire. I think that’s a relevant issue that, as you say, raises some worrying questions for someone who has been abused and might be experiencing some of the thoughts and fantasies you describe. Indeed, it’s also a concern for anyone who enjoys non-standard or sexually violent fantasies (for whatever reason). However, as Ms F mentioned, the issue here was this was an apparent fantasy about group sex, which is not the same thing because group sex can be consensual and mutually enjoyable. True, having group sex in real life could end up necessitating a degree of risk-taking but how much would depend on the situation.

Belle // Posted 14 January 2010 at 3:56 pm

@Hexdoll

‘Would it be OK to steal money from a philanthropist? Well they were giving it away to people they barely know so it must mean that they don’t care who it goes to.’

Spot on. That sums up my feelings perfectly, thanks :) Mind if I use that when trying to explain to people just what is so wrong about this case? grrr

Gina // Posted 14 January 2010 at 4:03 pm

This is so disturbing. I thought fantasies were just that – fantasy!! Just because you fantasise about something does not mean you want to actually do it. And if you do, it should still be on your terms. But not according to judgie-boy. And yes, what about the ‘fantasies’ the men involved could have had? Look at all the porn sites where women are raped and abused. Why don’t they criticise and blame men who like that kind of stuff, and worry (justifiably, in a lot of cases) that they will act out their fantasies?!

Makes me sick.

Rostova // Posted 14 January 2010 at 4:11 pm

Even if all females stopped wearing makeup, clothes and shoes which anyone might consider sexy, stopped going out, stopped drinking alcohol and refused to discuss any fantasies they might have, they would still get blamed for being raped.

My fantasy is that one day rapists will be blamed and held to account for their hateful, misogynist beliefs and actions.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 January 2010 at 4:40 pm

@Hexdoll and Belle. I thought that was nice and succinct too. But how messed up is it that society seems better able to accept a person’s ownership of their money than it is a woman’s ownership of her body? How messed up is it that we have to use money or material goods as an example to demonstrate our right to bodily autonomy? Another sticking point I have with the example is that it could play into the hands of sexists who like to make out women don’t really like sex and see it as something we “give away” as a favour. I appreciate it isn’t meant in that way though.

makomk // Posted 14 January 2010 at 10:02 pm

Jennifer Drew: no, the prosecutor (not the judge) didn’t see it as relevant to have the five accused cross-examined. He would already have had access to their statements to the police – complete with any attempts they made to trip the suspects up – and the decision was hopefully based partly on this. (Of course, since this is a rape prosecution we’re talking about, all bets are off…)

At a glance, this looks like it could potentially be more than just a case of treating “sluts” as unrapeable – for example, if the accused told a consistent tale of consensual, enthusiastic group sex that matched up with the evidence.

[Also, what’s with the closing remark in the blog post? Male-on-male rape isn’t exactly handled well, and female-on-male rape is not even legally rape as far as I can tell.]

Hexdoll // Posted 14 January 2010 at 10:58 pm

@Belle feel free to use it

@Holly Combe It is completely messed up. I agree that material goods are not the best thing to compare consensual sex to since it’s ordinarilly it diminishes from neither partner but enhances both (although society may have you believe otherwise). Mostly I was trying to demonstrate how these two separate things are treated inconsistantly. A woman’s body is her own, even more so than a philanthropist’s money is their own, yet some would deny even the basic authority that the law acknowledges of a person over their money to a woman over her own self.

HalfTheSky // Posted 15 January 2010 at 2:50 am

Hello

I think this is a very frightening judgement. I would definitely want to know more about the reasoning behind the decision that her credibility was “shot to pieces”. Given the government’s current interest in reducing violence towards women and girls it seems very bad that this woman’s case was not prosecuted. Perhaps there was a valid reason for this specific case but I think it is very important for the CPS to highlight that this should NOT set a precedent for judging someone’s credibility based on his/her fantasies/previous sexual activity.

I’m curious about the content of the msn messages. Surely there must be a record of her arranging to meet the one man, in which case it would show that – well, she only expected one man! If she is comfortable discussing fantasies of group sex with strangers it seems inconsistent that she would then not say outright that it was what she wanted when she met him. Unless, of course, it wasn’t. In which case she was raped.

I visited http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/communications/complaints.html#_07

This gives information about the procedure for complaining about the way a case was handled – this one certainly seems to qualify.

Email: complaints@cps.gsi.gov.uk

Address:

Robert Marshall

Chief Crown Prosecutor

P.O. Box 237

8th floor

Sunlight House

Quay Street

Manchester M60 3PS

FeminaErecta // Posted 15 January 2010 at 9:00 am

Utterly appalling. What are we going to do about it?

JenniferRuth // Posted 15 January 2010 at 10:16 am

Does anyone think it would be worth writing to our MPs about this?

I really do want to do something…

Hey Ya // Posted 15 January 2010 at 12:55 pm

Quay St isn’t far from where I live. I’d really love to set up a protest outside the office, this is so disgusting.

Or we could all just sent a note or card saying ‘fantasty doesn’t equal consent’ or something. And complain.

I really feel like doing something too, that poor woman needs someone on her side if even her own lawyer wasn’t.

cim // Posted 15 January 2010 at 1:00 pm

JenniferRuth: I wrote to my MP about this a couple of days ago. The text of my letter is at http://refusingthedefault.blogspot.com/2010/01/no-justice-as-usual.html

I also had a look at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/UKgovernment/PublicConsultations/DG_170463 to see if there were any relevant consultations, but couldn’t find any currently open.

http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/prosecuting_rape.pdf is the set of standards for rape prosecutors. There’s an address on page 43 for suggestions for suggestions for improvements to be sent to.

Kelly // Posted 15 January 2010 at 2:02 pm

Women your culture HATES YOU!

I’m up for taking drastic action for this travesty, it sounds like a milestone for the acceptance of sexism and that woman probably thinks she’s on the planet of apes right now.

The word should get out, F word should organise something ?

Just a reminder girls, your culture hates you.

fuddyduddy // Posted 15 January 2010 at 2:32 pm

First this would be a terrible prescident.

Second I think the judge’s hands were tied if the prosecution presents no evidence but I wonder if he could call a mistrial and give the CPS time to consider.

Third unless there was evidence that her fantasies had been shared with the accused then they should be ruled out-of-order and not even mentioned at the trial.

Fourth if you want to complain to the defendants the BBC helpfully provided their addresses.

I suspect that the defendant must have shared her fantasy with one or more of the defendants allowing him a dubious defence. However if there was more detail then it is possible that the prosecutor wold only have done the defendant more harm by proceeding with the case

gadgetgal // Posted 15 January 2010 at 2:37 pm

@cim – excellent response to your MP – will you let us know if you get a reply?

Rose // Posted 15 January 2010 at 3:06 pm

Sometimes I’d rather post on the Daily Mail then on the F word, because you allow comments like this:

Marcomk: ‘[Male-on-male rape isn’t exactly handled well, and female-on-male rape is not even legally rape as far as I can tell.]’

The f word isn’t a feminist website so long as it kids itself the majority of male posters make some decent point. Paired with the attack at any unwillingness to abide by seventy unspoken rules if you’re a feminist, there’s the allowed derailing, anti -feminist comments.

It’s not debate if you allow comments to straw pick at serious issues. These are anti- feminist, not well- meaning debate.

I’m not the only feminist annoyed by the troll comments you allow. A troll isn’t necessarily ‘feminstz sUck!’

Together with other things it’s really unfriendly here, I pity you if you think it’s a nice place for debate. I’m betting there’s a lot more feminists in the UK, but they’re put off commenting here.

Holly Combe // Posted 15 January 2010 at 4:08 pm

Good to see action on this in place. I hope your letter gets a response Cim…

@Makomk. My closing remark related to the gap that seems to exist between common perceptions of how women are expected to behave in order to enjoy sexual bodily autonomy and the level that men seem to be encouraged to expect as a given. I don’t see many people telling men that going out alone in certain places, talking openly about sex, getting drunk to the point that they don’t know where they are or dressing in revealing clothes is in any way “asking to be raped”. It also also seems to me that this presumption of sexual bodily autonomy for men plays a major role in it not being well-handled when men are raped. I’d say that, sadly, it is typically seen as a shameful thing that happens to women who “often bring it on themselves”.

Conventional society still seems to to frame men as basically less rapeable than women, with an expectation for men to be “manly” (i.e. ever-ready to assume an active role during a sexual encounter or defend themselves against being over-powered). That’s part of the problem, in my view.

Holly Combe // Posted 15 January 2010 at 4:42 pm

@Rose. I posted Makomk’s comment this afternoon because I wanted to make the point above. As it turned out, I wasn’t able to reply immediately so, in retrospect, perhaps I should have delayed posting the original comment as well. (As I’m sure you’re aware, we don’t get paid for blogging here and have other things to fit into our lives.)

Every poster here, regardless of whether they’re female or male, is expected to keep messages reasonably friendly. There are no unspoken rules here.

Kez // Posted 15 January 2010 at 5:19 pm

@Rose – as far as I can see, makomk’s post did not identify whether the poster was male or female. As for “The f word isn’t a feminist website so long as it kids itself the majority of male posters make some decent point” – really? I have seen many male posters make valid and sensible points on this website, and others who have asked genuine questions from a desire to understand further. I have also seen “trolling” comments by both men and women. And I have very rarely seen anything here as hateful as regularly appears, apparently unmoderated, on the Daily Mail website.

I would be disappointed if there were a policy of discouraging male posters.

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 15 January 2010 at 6:14 pm

When I heard about this, and heard that the prosecution decided not to enter a formal case, I went and looked up the figures for attrition of rape cases.

Of those that are reported to the police:

9% are deemed by the police to have been false allegations.

After the investigation stage and CPS stage, only 14% reach trial. A lot of the dropped cases (around a third of those that get to the investigation stage) are dropped because the complainant is afraid she won’t be believed ([sarcasm]and of course this case is going to tons to help that figure! [/sarcasm]). The rest are because either the police or the CPS feel there is not enough evidence to proceed.

This case reached trial. There was evidence that convinced the police and the CPS that this could be brought to trial successfully. Regardless of the chatlogs, there was a case to be answered. The prosecutor refused to enter that case, effectively passing judgement on his own client. We aren’t given the details, but I imagine that the judge, on having no prosecution case entered, informed the jury that since they had heard no prosecuting evidence they had no choice but to return “not guilty” verdicts.

Juliet // Posted 15 January 2010 at 6:43 pm

Rose, a while back I remember reading quite a few commenters on the F-word protesting against what they saw as male troll comments. I thought sometimes they did have a point. But I believe the F-Word bloggers responded to that (some comments they allowed just to illustrate the kind of attitudes out there) and I am sure there are a lot of comments which don’t get posted. As Holly says, they are not paid for blogging/moderating here and have other things to do, like earning a living.

I do feel impatient with and ignore occasional male commenters who plead ignorance and/or ask a lot of questions because (maybe it’s just me being paranoid) I often suspect this is a derailing, disingenuous, attention-seeking ploy because they know anything outright aggressive wouldn’t get posted. And any ‘whataboutdamenz’ questions, don’t start me! I don’t see the onus on feminists to inform/educate them. I don’t agree with you that the F-Word is an unfriendly place. And you no way ever! get the kind of hateful comments which are welcomed on the Daily Hate Fail site. Come on!

makomk // Posted 15 January 2010 at 8:49 pm

Holly Combe: yeah, that makes more sense, thanks. [ Technically, it’s probably more like “men seem to be required to expect as a given”, but the reasons why are way, way off-topic. ]

SnowdropExplodes: yep, those figures look right, but it apparently varies a lot depending on what area of the UK we’re talking about. Someone on another site linked this Guardian article, which is interesting. So, depending on the prosecutor, he or she might throw good cases out because the victim was “slutty”, or bring weak cases because they could potentially lead to a conviction.

polly // Posted 15 January 2010 at 9:15 pm

The CPS (and the police) often drop rape cases, this isn’t an unusual occurrence. But usually they decline to prosecute in the first case. For instance in 1998 when a woman said Ian Huntley had raped her it never got to court because the CPS dropped the case, after viewing footage from a nightclub where the woman had met Huntley

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3313501.stm

(allegations of rape were made against Huntley by five separate women. None ever got to court).

There is a possibility in this case though that there WAS a large discrepancy between the woman’s original statement to police and the e-mails. For example if she’d said to the police that she’d had no contact with the other men before, and the e-mails showed she had, or said to the police would never consider group sex, and the e-mails showed she would then her credibility WOULD be very damaged, and the chances of getting a conviction would be zero, practically speaking.

That’s why I think that there is a possibility here that the CPS realistically did have to drop the case. Since we don’t know the details we don’t know one way or the other though. And of course it still doesn’t mean she wasn’t raped – she could have had a fantasy she wanted to try but changed her mind confronted with the reality. It happens.

However it’s probably true that a lot of cases that should get to court never do. I can understand why this is, pressure on resources basically, the CPS is underfunded and understaffed, and that’s very unlikely to improve in the near future.

Anne Onne // Posted 15 January 2010 at 9:16 pm

I hope the victim, and others who have been put in the same, or worse situation by our system and society, get the support and peace they deserve. This is definitely a huge let down by the system. I wonder if they would assume men are guilty of rape if they admit to having had rape fantasies?

On the commenting issue: there is no one right way to run a feminist site, or moderate comments. Rightly, some sites are very selective with their comments policy, for example Shakespeare’s Sister being a particularly good example.

But given the F Word’s choice to be a voice for very varied aspects of feminism, with very varied opinions expressed by authors and commenters would make it hard to keep such a strict policy.

I agree trolling is annoying, and nobody should feel forced to educate people about an issue. However, if those writing a post, and some commenters feel that having a discussion (even one based on possible trolling) is worth having, it’s their right to choose to do so. It isn’t suited to every feminist site, but I think it’s important that different sites operate differently on this one. We tell ‘what about the menz’ commenters that THIS isn’t the right place to have that discussion because we hope or believe that it is being discussed somewhere. If it isn’t being discussed anywhere, feminism still loses.

Sometimes, we may want to have that discussion, marginal though it is to some of the issues we care about. I’m not saying all (or any) such type comments have to be discussed here, and of course what comments are allowed can depend very much on what the author of the post wants to be discussed. But I feel that if they wish to allow discussion in a certain direction, and there are commenters willing to talk, there needs to be a place in feminism for that, too.

I know the writers/moderators here try to balance giving people a chance to express their views and maintaining a supportive environment where minorities feel able to comment. They put a lot of thought into whether to allow some comments to be posted, and I think they deserve thanks and recognition for trying. It’s not easy to decide just where to draw the line with a provocative comment: what’s too off topic, what’s a good illustration of what women have to fight against or whether to let someone keep commenting if they’ve already been engaged in discussion with another commenter.

Rose // Posted 16 January 2010 at 12:52 am

Apologies where I caused offence, but I really don’t think it takes that much time to *not* submit troll comments. Trust me this site suffers because of them as well as the needless intolerance to other comments, usually from feminists.

I think any time taken to open a space to discuss feminism that isn’t attacked from all angles is important. IMo f word completely misses the point and takes a 1000 mile detour.

Yes Kez, other feminist sites do completely benefit from limiting male comments. We have nothing like this relaxed feminist space in the UK, so I think it’s worth calling up.

Claire // Posted 16 January 2010 at 2:49 pm

When I was raped, the police agreed to present the case to the Crown Prosecution Service. This is a feat in itself (though it shouldn’t be). Apparently 70% of cases are dropped by the police before even being referred to the CPS. Even if you assume that the 9% false rape allegations are truly false (statistics indicate that the rate is much lower at about 2% being the normal rate for false claims for almost every sort of crime barring murder), then that means the police are exercising a discretion over 60% of rape cases. Statistics published last year say that the police are “no-criming” at least one third of all rapes. So we don’t even get statistical acknowledgment of any wrong-doing. Our voices simply do not matter.

Anyway, having got through the hurdle of having the CPS review the case, I had a phone call from the police to say CPS wouldn’t take the case forward. They said that it would have boiled down to my word against his as there was no forensic evidence. On a case like this, the public purse couldn’t justify taking it forward to trial. Then the policeman said, “You mustn’t think we didn’t believe you”. So he believed me – a policeman experienced in investigating rape. But then he says they wouldn’t take it forward because of the difficulty of weighing up one person’s word against another. I was not given a chance to be believed. I am a credible witness – no record, no medical history, a decent job, evidence of other violence against me by the same man. I was not given justice. The next thing that happened is that Social Services, the Family court, CAFCASS etc say well if the case has been dropped by CPS that’s because there was no case to answer. And if there was no case to answer it’s because the woman was lying. That proves she’s a nasty vindictive cow – just like her rapist has been saying. And that’s what he goes round telling the neightbour’s and the local community. So not only do I not get justice, I get repeatedly and metaphorically slapped in the face by all those lovely supportive agencies that should have rallied round and repeatedly ignored by social groups who should have rallied round. The day the CPS dropped the case was the day Victim Support stopped calling. There was no case, so there was no victim, right? They could take me off their books. And remember I was one of the lucky ones who passed the hurdle of the police recommending the case for prosecution to the CPS. The only justice is in recovery.

If you are raped, you not be not believed by a large percentage of the population, men and women. That’s the ugly truth.

Cycleboy // Posted 16 January 2010 at 5:45 pm

I haven’t done any research to discover whether or not the judge did say the woman’s credibility had been “shot to pieces”. However, let’s just suppose that the CPS did drop the case for that reason.

Surely, the upshot of this logic is that the woman’s credibility would still be shot to pieces even after the case had been dismissed, as the actual date of her fantasies (or the expression of them) doesn’t seem particularly relevant. Therefore, when the men emerged unscathed from the court-house, what would be to stop them simply assuming that the woman would /never/ be believed if she complained of rape so they could simply march round to her house and do it again? And again. And again, as often as they wished, in the comforting knowledge that the woman’s testimony would not be believed.

And I thought legal training was supposed to engender logical thinking.

Kez // Posted 16 January 2010 at 8:08 pm

@Rose – as far as I can recall, I made no reference to “other feminist sites” (with some of which I am already familiar). I merely said that I, personally, would be disappointed at a policy of limiting or excluding male commenters on this particular site.

polly // Posted 16 January 2010 at 10:37 pm

I’m really sorry to hear what happened to you Claire. I’m fairly certain that if I was the victim of an ‘acquaintance’ rape, and there wasn’t any evidence of violence, I wouldn’t report it to police at all, and most women I know have similar views. I don’t know one woman IRL who has ever reported a rape or sexual assault to police. Not one.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 17 January 2010 at 3:43 am

i understand that something like that would sadly tarnish her word but… that should never mean it’s okay to say her whole credibility is shot to pieces. it might mean the case is because its so hard that her word against his they have to have him innocent till proven guilty, but it’s disgusting to make out that she couldnt possibly have been raped. id have liked to think that were there any evidence against the accused rapist, something like her fantasies wouldnt have counted at all.

Madam Miaow // Posted 17 January 2010 at 10:00 am

This is a form of burqa that we have in our “free” society.

If I were to admit to fantasies of sex with one man, does that mean that any man out there then becomes entitled to rape?

Should I ever have a frank grown-up discussion about sexuality, would that wreck my credibility in the eyes of “respectable” society, “respectable” society holding all the power?

What happened to her right to say no?

George // Posted 17 January 2010 at 12:50 pm

@ Claire – “If you are raped, you not be not believed by a large percentage of the population, men and women. That’s the ugly truth.”

That is so true. It’s actually terrifying. :(

Your case absolutely breaks my heart – but furthermore, experiences like yours really drive home why this sort of reporting is so evil. I want to get the journalist that wrote this goddamn article, and make him listen to 20 cases like this until s/he realises what actually goes on. I just hope that if people actually had one shred of empathy for the woman involved, then they might think twice about they way they speak about the events – it’s also baffling that this empathy never exists. Argh.

Elmo // Posted 17 January 2010 at 2:01 pm

I second Kez. It would be, imo, really bad to prevent male commenters from speaking (especially our allies, how would they feel?). I dont think a “safe space” always has to be a “no male space”. Also, remember most male commenters are actually worth talking to-some are trolls, who wont change their opinions (And I agree we shouldnt have to talk to them), but I beleive we can convince those who are just a bit confused and angry to change their views. Remember that guy in the November (I think) comments, who said he used to think feminism was sexist, until The F Word changed his mind? It would be awful if we couldnt do the same for other commenters!

Claire // Posted 17 January 2010 at 5:11 pm

Polly, thanks. What’s an IRL? I know we’ve had this debate before on this website and that reporting rape to the police is daunting and soul destroying and very off putting, but I would urge any woman who feels strong enough to do it. The police have a statutory duty to record crimes even years after they happen. It helps to add to the statistics if people report and that may eventually help other women.

Holly Combe // Posted 17 January 2010 at 6:02 pm

Claire, I think “IRL” refers to “in real life” (i.e. face to face)?

David // Posted 18 January 2010 at 10:06 am

The story behind the story is that the police and CPS apparently did not know about the existence of the MSN log. It was supplied to his defence team by one of the defendants and it was accepted as being true. I assume that it would never have come to court- and would never have been a story- had the MSN log come to light earlier.

Before you start arguing that MSN logs, written fantasies and the like should not be admissible in court, it does work both ways. I worked on a case where a man was convicted of rape essentially because he wrote stories about how he wanted to rape and beat young women. I have no doubt that he did do the rape, but those stories made the woman’s evidence more credible and made his evidence much less credible. It can be very useful evidence.

I think the real problem is that this woman admitted to the defendant that she wanted to have group sex with strangers and that she “lost all her morals” in that situation. Given that her word was that she only wanted sex with one man, and their word was that she wanted sex with all of them, it does unfortunately make her word less credible than theirs.

There’s a very real possibility that she did say no and was raped by these men, but there’s no evidence. There is evidence that she wanted sex with one man and that she’d told the other men she has “no morals” in a group sex situation. I don’t see how the CPS could have made any other decision.

Holly Combe // Posted 18 January 2010 at 4:27 pm

Thinking about Claire’s awful experience, it hardly seems surprising that online sex chat could potentially damage so-called credibility when, sadly, being perceived as a credible witness is already reliant on the prejudices and biases of Police Officers, Lawyers, Juries and Judges against those with less power (eg: without a “decent job”) or who don’t fit with their ideas of ‘normal’ (eg: with a non-standard medical history).

@David. From the available information, it does seem that the chatlogs were not previously known about. However, I still can’t find any detailed publicly available accounts of what you describe as “the story behind the story”. You say the case would never have come to court if the MSN log had come to light earlier. Well, that possibility is surely even more depressing than if the loss of credibility was simply due to information leading up to the event being withheld (as discussed earlier). After all, it hardly seems fair that the mere existence of such a conversation would outweigh all else to the point that the case would have to be thrown out. As you say, there’s a very real possibility that the woman did say no and was raped by these men. We’ll just never know because the prosecution denied the jury the opportunity to look at all the evidence and weigh it all up.

We’ll also never know exactly what the complainant meant when she referred to her morals “going out of the window” in a fantasy group sex scenario. Taken in context, this sounds distinctly like a reference to an abandonment of traditional, modest “good-girl” sexual morals in a group sex situation. No more than that. Anyone who claims such behaviour could possibly make a potential victim less credible is just indulging in a spot of plain old-fashioned slut-shaming and to assume any talk of morals must be more far-reaching than that (i.e an admission that one becomes willing to lie, cheat and treat others unfairly during or after a group sex situation) seems rather far-fetched and like a twisting of words to me.

With regard to written fantasies being admissible in court, I would say such evidence is highly contentious, whichever way it falls. In my opinion, any implication that the expression of our fantasies is as powerful -or perhaps even more powerful – than evidence of our actions and movements in convincing people of our guilt of a crime or “credibility” as a victim is, quite frankly, terrifying.

Troon // Posted 18 January 2010 at 9:05 pm

I am very loathe to comment on this (others here have suggested they think men simply see this differently, and our presence makes Claire’s willingness to talk even more brave), but talked about my shock at this with a female barrister who has acted for the CPS in other rape trials. I found her comments revealing , hope others do too, and reproduce them because, with the exception of David, nobody else posting here has, as far as I can tell, the professional expertise she had (and I don’t think David should stand for ‘all lawyers/policemen’).

On this case, she could not understand why judge or barrister believed credibility to have been destroyed: she was relatively happy that attempts could have been made to show the jury that fantasy did not equate to reality (after all, they all probably fantasised), and that in fact a woman who openly fantasised about group sex was less vulnerable to the standard defence approach of ‘regret’. She felt, however, that the messages would make the victim seem too abnormal for a jury to relate to, or to admit relating to, and that prosecution would as a result be very hard (again, I stress, I was trying to get her reading of practice here, her and my personal positions on the rightness of this are very different to her opinions on how it plays out in court with “a jury full of thick bastards”).

When I asked her the admissibility of fantasies generally, she said that in several cases she worked on fantasies of rape or extreme passivity have been ruled inadmissible, and the test used was often similarity to the actual incident. This isn’t particularly reassuring, particularly when seen in light of her ‘abnormality’ comments, but does I hope offer a tiny crumb of comfort for some of those worried that, in addition to all other barriers, any sexual fantasy recorded is automatically an excuse for rape. She didn’t see this ruling changing her ability to argue for the inadmissibility of fantasy, but was highly concerned about the use of ‘credibility’ as a shorthand for ‘unprosecutability’, as if this was an evidential matter for judges to rule on rather than a practical difficulty with jury trials in which those remote from victims’ experience judge and damn their lives. In her opinion, the trial should have gone on, even though a conviction was highly unlikely.

She didn’t want to post for fear of inadvertently revealing details which would allow cases to be identified, but is watching the site for further comments.

Anna // Posted 19 January 2010 at 3:26 am

‘I am unrapeable’.

How sad is that?

I was abused as a child, raped by two men when I was 17 (police, natch, did nothing past ask ‘if I’d sent out the wrong signals’) but more to the point with this case I have discussed rape fantasies openly and frankly with a partner. Also gang-bang (though not gang-rape) scenes.

This man is a good man (at least as far as sexual mores go), and for that I am thankful. However, had he brought five of his friends to the hotel where we meet up (longdistance – how sad is it I have to justify that?) and they had raped me – and it would have been rape, because I had consented to sex with him alone, and ‘rough sex’ with him in a certain time, place, and with safe-words – I would have no protection under the law.

He was quite happy to go along with the rough, forceful, faux-rape sex. Does that make him a rapist, or morally equivalent? Fuck no. It’s kink. Kink that is likely influenced by porn, and media, and everyone else – but personal, bedroom kink all the same. Engaging in this should not make the justice system toss me aside – yet it would.

Fuck you, CPS. Fuck you.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 20 January 2010 at 6:14 am

Even though I live in the U.S., this case provides yet more proof that reporting rape to the authorities is a big waste of time. Do-it-yourself justice is so much more satisfying anyway.

David // Posted 20 January 2010 at 10:20 am

I think people should be much more angry about the John Worboys case and the IPCC whitewash. That case is far more indicative of just how appallingly rape victims are treated in this country. There was plenty of evidence and several different victims and the police should have done more. Heads should have rolled.

@Holly and @Troon

I wouldn’t want people to think I speak professionally, although I do have some experience.

The problem with these cases is that there is often no concrete evidence of rape. The forensic evidence often merely shows that intercourse took place, not whether it took place consensually. Therefore the police and CPS have to rely on more circumstantial evidence to secure a conviction. It effectively boils down to who is more believable- the defendant or the victim.

Juries usually are “full of thick bastards” and I’ve seen rape trials swing on the basis of what the defendant is wearing. Turn up in a dapper suit and your chances of acquittal increase- juries seem to think “how can a man in a good suit be a rapist?” Turn up in a tracksuit and talk about how the victim “was a slut” and you’ll probably be convicted. Cases hinge on such tiny details, usually nothing to do with the facts of the case at all.

In this case the woman went to the defendant’s house for sex. The only difference between the two stories was that she said she said no to having group sex and they said she said yes to group sex. There isn’t any other evidence, except this MSN log that says she told the defendant that she loved group sex and had no morals. It is inevitable that this strengthens the defendants’ case, especially as she didn’t tell the police about the log before (probably because they’d have ignored her case).

I’ll be honest here, I don’t know what we can do to change things. It really upsets me that victims can’t get justice because they’ve had a drink (even if their drink was spiked) or because they knew their attacker or because they dared to talk candidly about their sexual fantasies on the internet. It is absolutely abhorrent and makes my blood boil. But I don’t really know what we can do to improve things.

Starting from a position of believing victims of rape would undoubtedly help get better evidence- there’s more likely to be evidence of force if an investigation is carried out within a few hours of the attack. But sometimes if the victim says one thing and the defendant says another, there’s no way of securing a conviction beyond all reasonable doubt.

Holly Combe // Posted 20 January 2010 at 3:35 pm

@politicalguineapig. It’s scary to think some people might be driven to that.

@David. On there being no other evidence: I’m assuming the prosecution must have had something to present, seeing as the case went to court but, like I said, we’ll never know now.

Claire // Posted 20 January 2010 at 4:46 pm

This is where I wish there was a civil remedy for rape where the burden of proof would be a balance of probabilities. Rape trials shouldn’t be flip a coin and decide who’s lying. Because with a less than 6% conviction rate for reported rapes, that’s calling 94% of rape complainants liars. I’d like to see the Scottish verdict of “not proven” used. For many cases where not guilty is the returned verdict it’s interpreted as the man is innocent, and therefore the woman is lying. Sometimes a question mark would be preferable. At least I’d have been heard. At least the rapist would have a question mark hanging over their head forever – after some prima facie evidence of course. That’s what I would have settled for. Case dropped doesn’t mean the man is innocent in most cases. It means there were factors that meant taking the case forward couldn’t be justified for the time and expense it entails.

Shea // Posted 20 January 2010 at 5:35 pm

Hi Claire,

I’m so sorry to hear what’s happened to you. I was also drugged and raped not long ago. I didn’t go to the police. I have experience of the medical and legal professions and I know that my case wouldn’t have stood a chance in court, (if it had even gone that far) as I knew my rapist very well. I also know two very close friends who have been raped (one at knifepoint by her ex-fiance) neither one reported it to the police.

I think the point is that more cases should be brought to trial and fully investigated. As much as I’d like to see the conviction rate go up, I can’t agree with the question mark. There are innocent men who are taken to trial, it must be soul destroying for them and to leave some lingering doubt over their innocence would be very unjust.

We just have to give the same justice and attention to the 94% of complainants who don’t get the fair treatment they deserve.

There are ways of improving the conviction rate, specialist prosecutors, training judges and juries to appreciate there is no “standard” response to rape. Disclosing the prior convictions of the defendant. Fully and thoroughly investigating rape in the first place by police forces. There could even be the disclosure of prior “not guilty” verdicts for the same offence , especially where the same defence- essentially that the woman is lying, is used.

I just don’t think there is the political or social will to do so. Rape is one the last taboos in our society and very few politicians seem willing to stand up and say it isn’t good enough because of the strong misogynistic sentiment around in this country. Until the zeitgeist changes I don’t think the justice system will.

sapph // Posted 20 January 2010 at 6:48 pm

@Redheadinred Indeed I agree with the drift of this thread, clearly fantasies do not consent make, and it is disturbing that the law should decide to the contrary.

However if I may venture to draw attention to your comment, as an aside from the general discourse

> who hasn’t written about these things in their diary or talked about them to people?

Well, not I! And I am not entirely vanilla in my own preferences, believe me.

It is an interesting assumption that everyone not only fantasizes about such things, but actually writes about it (if only to the privacy of her diary) and even discloses it to friends.

Clearly this is not the case. But to assume that it is provides a mental set which normalises it. Having and disclosing such fantasies in *NO WAY* legitimises those who would take advantage of them. But you don’t know what imagination and responses others may have. It opens a Pandora’s box.

This looks like gang rape to me and the comments against the plaintiff sound prejudicial, but outside of the legal case, she was putting herself at great risk, no? perhaps that is the turn on for her?

Naivete is not culpable by its nature, but meeting strange men in unfamiliar places and being surprised that it goes wrong?

This is not the same as walking home late at night, I do that frequently, was on the local Reclaim the Night march recently, this was stepping into the wolves lair.

Still culpable rape on the part of the men, but to not be aware of such risks on her part is er, unwise at the least, surely? No friend expecting her call ready to come to assistance if she didn’t ring at an arranged time?

And to assume that we all imagine doing such things, and talk about them, kind of makes them more ‘normal’ than they are, and is somewhat in denial about the riskiness of what she was doing.

Just speaking as a lesbian who likes to stay safe and not give abusers too many big chances.

This is not a comment about the legal case, it was gang rape in my opinion. It is about questioning expectations.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 20 January 2010 at 8:28 pm

Shea: I have a bit of a problem with your comment. You can either side with the innocent men (the minority) or the victims (the majority). I don’t see how you can side with both.

There must be some way to make rapist pay social consequences, and it’d be nice if more men were willing to side with women.

Elmo // Posted 20 January 2010 at 9:02 pm

@ Claire

Woo! Go Scotland! Our legal system rocks! (in this instance)

As long as the myth prevails that “real” rape is always a stranger in an alley with a knife, injustice will always truimph.

It’s just such a grey area, and people like to romanticise things- they like eye catching, dramatic stories with goodies and baddies. Take the Katherine Jenkins story- when she was a student, Jenkins was attacked, mugged and nearly raped one night. She was young, beautiful, alone at night time, and attacked by someone who was never caught. That makes a good story. It’s a black and white case. But most rape is never so straight forward and people dont want to face the ugly truth that ordinary, everyday people are rapists in comfortable surroundings, attacking friends and partners. They can’t face the fact that the victims aren’t nuns or beautiful opera singers. Basically, what it all comes down to is fear. If someone “innocent” is raped, then it’s rape and it’s wrong and they didnt deserve it. But if someone poor, or wearing a short skirt, or drunk, or with a “questionable” past is, then they deserved it and it’s their own fault.

People think like this because they can’t face the fact that the world is unfair- “as long as I don’t do what she did, I wont get raped, because I dont deserve it”. People pretend they have some control over the matter, because it’s very hard to face the fact that sometimes there is NOTHING you can do to prevent bad things from happening. The world ISN’T fair. Women ARE more than saints/whores. Rapists CAN be your best mate, or your brother, or your boyfriend. People are going to have to accept that, otherwise rape trials will continue in this appalling way.

rose_hasty // Posted 20 January 2010 at 9:23 pm

When I first started researching why we have such an issue convicting rapists in this country I was told a delightful tale by a qualified barrister. During their training they were all told a bullshit story of a woman whose husband told all his friends that his wife loved to pretend she didn’t want sex when really she did. He invited them over to rape her and they did. Undoubtedly the man was guilty of rape but the big dilemma was “were the other men?”.

It made me feel physically sick to think the people who heard this story now prosecute rape cases (or not in this example or in my experience, where the prosecuting barrister failed to say more than a few words over the 2 day trial).

This seems to be a very similar situation. She didn’t actually ever consent to sex with those individuals. Unlike in the example above she did HYPOTHETICALLY say she might enjoy group sex with an unspecified group, not that group. If the case had been heard that may have become clear. It’s irrelevant that she said she may hypothetically one day like to have sex with a group of men. Remember, even if she had agreed to have sex with each man and then changed her mind about each man in turn THAT IS HER RIGHT.

The case should have been heard, undoubtedly the jurors would have made the wrong decision but the prosecuting barrister, if nobody else, should have been fighting her corner throughout.

It’s time that someone in the courtroom in every rape case should be on the side of the victim. That’s what they’re paid for.

Holly Combe // Posted 20 January 2010 at 10:18 pm

@Elmo. I think what you say about people’s fear and unwillingness to face that it could happen to them is spot on. It’s something I suspect we’re all guilty of at some point in our lives. We distance ourselves from a victim of a crime and say it happened to them because they did something we’d never do.

@Sapph. Pragmatically, I suppose it is often a sad reality that the desire not to give abusers “too many big chances” does often end up influencing our behaviour. I suppose it does often lead us to avoid the kind of risk-taking that many men generally take for granted (eg: “meeting strange men in unfamiliar places” without telling anyone) but I think it’s way too easy for that to end up clouding the real injustice of rapists not having to take responsibility for their actions. I appreciate that we all have to try to survive in the real world –as it is currently constructed- and that you’re being careful to make it clear that what you say doesn’t negate from your opinion that this was rape. I just think it’s important that bringing the complainant’s conduct into a discussion like this doesn’t end up straying into the usual “what did she expect?” victim-blaming territory. For example, why bring up and question the notion of “being surprised that it goes wrong” when a woman meets “strange men”? Why tentatively say that not being aware of such risks on her part is “er, unwise at least”? Even with the best of intentions (i.e. to try to help each other avoid being raped) how far will that get us? You mention taking part in a Reclaim the Night march. Doesn’t the right to be out at night alone exist on the same scale as the right for our sexual fantasies and adventures not to be held against us? If questions surrounding our movements and what might be considered naive or unwise are always up for grabs in these debates, where does that leave us?

Re: Who hasn’t written about these things in their diary or talked about them to people?

My own interpretation was that Redheadinred was talking about non-standard sexual fantasies in general and the not-unreasonable concern (under the circumstances) that anything we say that doesn’t fall in line with safe, modest, sensible and traditional female “norms” could be held against us. Not everyone has the same fantasies and not everyone will want to express them. But we surely share the right to enjoy them as our own and we ought to be able to write them down if we want to without that presenting a risk to our sexual autonomy and safety.

Claire // Posted 20 January 2010 at 10:53 pm

OK, I know I will get shouted down by some of you and whilst I know how hard it was for me to report rape – and one of those times in a foreign language to two male policemen, I can’t tell you how hard it is for anyone else but PLEASE report rape. If no one reports rape, does that make rape more or less of an issue for government? Will the police be as bothered if the rate of reporting goes down? Will Rape Crisis get its funding? Does it make more or fewer people realise that it happens to “normal” people if no one reports it and it doesn’t hit the local paper? Does it take any rapists off the streets or warn any men that they might, however slim the chance, get caught. Please report rape. Unless women take it seriously, who else will? You can’t bemoan the justice system unless you have tried to report. I don’t want each of the men who raped me to re-offend. Are the chances slimmer (even only slightly reduced odds on current conviction rates) or the same if you don’t report that they will go on and rape someone else? Some rapists like to get away with it, they become more and more dangerous. Reporting rape is an ordeal. It can be deeply aggravating and you need support to do it. But we have to do it. Let’s make 13th February report a rape day. Go to the police station and say you’d like to report a rape. The police told me they had a statutory duty to investigate and to take a statement. It doesn’t matter if it’s historic: you can still report. Unless you report you can guarantee 100% that a rapist is walking free, unchallenged, and happy to rape again. If no one reported, we would all be at greater risk than we are now.

polly // Posted 20 January 2010 at 11:11 pm

Sorry, internet slang, IRL = in real life (not saying your experience wasn’t real life Claire, just meaning women who I know in person).

gadgetgal // Posted 21 January 2010 at 8:08 am

Personally I don’t think the idea of group sex is a particularly non-standard form of sexual fantasy – not just from my own perspective but just read some erotic fiction by women for women and it’s pretty commonplace. I guess that means we’ve all given our consent to everyone, everywhere, forever, then!

I just wanted to write and say I remembered something when Claire mentioned civil litigation – I remember the whole OJ Simpson trial, and how he was found not guilty, but then the victims’ families privately prosecuted him and he was found liable and forced to pay them. Basically you don’t need the same amount of evidence and the judge’s decision will be based more on the balance of probabilities rather than using the “guilty beyond all reasonable doubt” line. I would think circumstantial evidence, like previous convictions or failed prosecutions for the same type of crime would even be admissible. In the event of a collapsed rape trial here (where the burden of proof is placed solely with the victim) would there be a possibility of then taking civil action? I know this is expensive, but with the lack of convictions and the unwillingness of the government to make any meaningful changes to the law as it stands maybe this could be something to push for in the meantime – i.e. making legal aid available in the light of a collapsed criminal trial. Even if the punishment isn’t as fair as sending them to prison, I find the idea of poverty for the rapist to be quite appealing.

Anyone know civil law and how that would work? Would it work here? I only really understand the US system, I know it’s different here, so maybe there’s a law preventing people from taking criminal cases to the civil courts?

polly // Posted 21 January 2010 at 10:08 am

During their training they were all told a bullshit story of a woman whose husband told all his friends that his wife loved to pretend she didn’t want sex when really she did. He invited them over to rape her and they did.

That isn’t just a bullshit story BTW Rose, it’s an actual case (R v Morgan) that actually happened. The case was about ‘reasonable belief’ and the court held that if a belief that a victim consented was honestly held it didn’t have to be reasonable to hold that belief. The defendants were still convicted actually, but the precedent held until abolished by the sexual offences act in 2003.

http://www.4lawschool.com/morgan.htm

Denise // Posted 21 January 2010 at 11:22 am

Rose hasty, that’s not a ‘story’, it’s an actual case that happened (sometime during the 1970’s or early 80’s I think). I remember reading about it in a criminal law casebook and being horrified.

It was no big dilemma for me, I personally thought the other men definitely were guilty. At the very least they’d have been incredibly stupid to have unquestioningly believed what the husband said. I do not believe that anyone really can’t tell when someone does or doesn’t want sex. Under ANY circumstances.

Holly Combe // Posted 21 January 2010 at 12:02 pm

This is a side-point but there seems to be such a lack of trust in women at the moment that I’m finding myself feeling anxious about Claire’s comment on devoting a day to reporting rapes that previously went unreported. I’m reading it and wondering if it is vulnerable to being wilfully misinterpreted by a media that seems to be hungry for evidence that women are ever-ready to tell lies for the hell of it. Because it doesn’t take much does it?

Claire // Posted 21 January 2010 at 12:43 pm

I think the whole idea about en masse reporting is to get the media to realise that THAT many women can’t be lying. The stories are always presented as far-fetched. Anyway, I didn’t suggest involving the media. Just add to the police statistics by reporting. It’s the police’s choice if they go to the media. My aim is to use police time legitimately with something they ought to be dealing with.

Anna // Posted 21 January 2010 at 1:06 pm

It happened back then, it also happened a few weeks ago, this time via the medium of craigslist:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/04/nc_man_accused_of_arranging_rape_on_craigslist/

also

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,583444,00.html

it apparently happens a lot..

David // Posted 21 January 2010 at 1:45 pm

I think Claire’s suggestion of everyone going to report rape on one day is fantastic.

My belief is that a lot of rapists get away with it because people don’t come forward. It’s easy for the police to believe the man if one woman says she was raped by a man- it’s a lot harder if 20 all say they were raped by the same man (although the Met tried bloody hard to believe Warboys…)

But I would never condemn a woman who refuses to make an allegation of rape. Three of my best friends have been raped (two at knifepoint- one by Antoni Imiela as far as she can tell now, one at school when she was 13) and none reported it. I fully understand why. But if more people reported it it would stop being a problem the police and CPS could ignore.

Some Thoughts // Posted 21 January 2010 at 2:13 pm

Claire Anna and Shea, so sorry to hear that happened to you.

And Anna you’re absolutely right, fantasy is not reality.

David, I think it’s possible to be angry about both cases. You’re right about the problem of evidence, but you get the solution right when you say: ‘Starting from a position of believing victims of rape would undoubtedly help get better evidence’. while some cases are essentially his word vs. hers, more probably have evidence that isn’t taken seriously enough. For example, evidence such as the woman having bruises is dismissed as ‘rough sex’.

Claire is right too, a not guily verdict is often interpreted as ‘she was lying’ when it just means that the jury felt the rape wasn’t proven – now some of the time they decided that based on rape myths, but even if there truly was not sufficient evidence, it doesn’t mean she lied, it is just a lack of evidence.

@politicalguineapig, I think it is possible to sympathise with both victims of rape, and those unjustly accused. Being accused of something you didn’t do is awful. Obviously such false accusations are rare, but they do happen. That said, I don’t think there is really a question mark over a man’s head if he is accused of rape, brought to trial but found not guilty. Most people will assume his accuser was a liar who maliciously accused him and he is innocent. It cuts both ways, in that I think the only conclusion that can be drawn is ‘we don’t know’. Statistically, it’s far more likely that he did do it and wasn’t convicted, than he didn’t and had a lucky escape. But anyone who wasn’t there at the trial doesn’t know what really happened, and it not justified in drawing conclusions.

On evidence – I remember this from watching The Verdict – the testimony *is* evidence. ‘Credibility’ is a loaded word and should never be based on irrelevant things, such as appearance, class, and sexual history, but how they seem and whether their story is consistent…are evidence.

I absolutely agree with Shea about the ways the conviction rate can be improved. I think they would increase convictions, without getting false convictions.

@Elmo, spot on about the way rape myths allow women to think ‘it can’t happen to me’.

@rose_hasty – ‘It’s time that someone in the courtroom in every rape case should be on the side of the victim. That’s what they’re paid for.’ Absolutely. We have some archaic laws – rape complainants aren’t even allowed to talk to their barrister beforehand! They just see themselves as represnting the Crown, not the y’know, victim. (Someone with greater legal knowledge correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not technically true for any alleged victim of a crime?)

Claire, I like your report a rape day idea but I have to say I agree with Holly’s concerns that the media will wilfully misinterpret it.

Kate // Posted 21 January 2010 at 3:47 pm

Very good point re. women and rape myths, and this is why defence barristers will often say they prefer female-heavy juries.

Kristin // Posted 21 January 2010 at 4:26 pm

Even when many victims of a rapist come forward the police still refuse to believe them. As with Worboys. Another example is Ian Huntley, who had a history going back years. Many of the girls and women he attacked did report him, but the police/CPS did nothing. If they had, he would not have been able to murder Holly and Jessica.

I personally can only conclude that the police and legal system, who reflect society’s attitudes, are in wilful, misogynistic denial. That is extremely difficult to fight.

Claire, Shea and Anna, I too feel very sorry about what happened to all of you. It is terrible.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 21 January 2010 at 4:28 pm

Claire: I never, ever said I intended to ‘let them get away with it.’ I think vigilante action would be a lot more effective than trusting the police.

Somethoughts: I agree that a false accusation ruins lives, but I’d rather not have rapists roaming free. So long as the legal system is on the side of the accused and not the victim, I’d rather believe the victim.

If I found out a man in my life had been accused of rape, I’d feel completely justified in cutting off all contact with him. Women cannot risk question marks.

Holly Combe // Posted 21 January 2010 at 4:44 pm

@politicalguineapig: I’m not saying I wouldn’t have the urge to retaliate against a rapist in such a way but pre-meditated vigilante action seems like a dangerous road to go down to me. I can appreciate some of the reasons behind it for people who have been raped or are close to someone who has but I think anything involving a mob is liable to end up attracting people who are just looking for an excuse to be violent towards someone and get a pat on the back for it.

I have to say the thought of a brutal and uncivilised society that condones people exercising their own justice as they please frightens me. Also, (as another side-point, because this digresses into the area of suspected paedophilia), there have been cases where groups of over-excited people who are keen to be violent have singled out loners who haven’t actually done anything wrong but have suffered from rumour-mongering and seem to fit with a sex offender stereotype. Bullying and bandwagon-jumping are big reasons not to support vigilante justice, in my view.

rose_hasty // Posted 21 January 2010 at 10:43 pm

Sorry just to clarify, the ‘bullshit’ used there was to signify my anger at the whole use of the example, not the fact that the case was made up. Reading it back I can see that’s not at all clear!

This was still being told as a ‘dilemma’ in 2006. I’m disgusted that anyone can imagine up a reason why there may be a defence for a group of men raping a woman in these circumstances.

Obtaining consent to have sex with someone isn’t as complex as some people would have us believe.

You can’t get consent from someone’s husband, from the way someone dresses, from the amount someone drinks, or from a hypothetical conversation someone had with some guy you know.

polly // Posted 21 January 2010 at 11:20 pm

I understand what everyone (particularly Claire) is saying here, but I would never blame any woman for not reporting a rape in the current legal system.

I knew a woman who was raped at knifepoint in a public park, by a stranger. Obviously a very dangerous man. She didn’t report it. Because she knew she would be cross examined on her sexual history, and she was a lesbian, who had previously had a boyfriend, and had had an abortion. Hardly unusual or sensational, but she didn’t fancy being ripped to pieces in court.

I heard about another lesbian who did report an indecent assault, and the man was found not guilty. Because the defence barrister said she was a lesbian who’d made the whole thing up because she hated men.

And so on, and so on. Yes we need fair trials, but that shouldn’t involve making it impossible to report rape. We’ve seen the Ian Huntley case cited above, and the striking thing about that, apart from the fact that if one of those cases had been followed up two ten year old girls might not have been murdered, is the lack of sharing of intelligence. A point that was made at the time

The problem with rape is that it’s a crime that is largely one person’s word against another’s in most cases as to consent. But if males are basically having serial allegations made against them, there should be some mechanism for a)noting that, and b) allowing allegations of separate attacks to be heard together.

Jane O'Neill // Posted 22 January 2010 at 12:07 am

You all have to remember that the CPS and the judge cannot let a trial continue if they believe that it is no longer possible for a case to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

From what little information is available online, it seems there were no injuries or other physical evidence. The only evidence that was available, aside from testimony, is the victim saying in writing that she would like to take part in an orgy.

This does not mean she wasn’t raped (and the judge did not say she wasn’t), but it would make it impossible for a jury to rule out the possibility that she wanted to have sex with those men.

It would be five men saying she took part in an orgy and her own words saying she would like to take part in one against her statement that she didn’t, supported by no physical evidence. The jury could not have convicted safely.

That is what it boils down to. No jury could look at this case and say “We are 99% sure she was raped.”

Holly Combe // Posted 22 January 2010 at 9:38 am

Jane, I think people are aware that the judge cannot let a trial continue if the existing evidence, or lack of it, tells them it is no longer possible for a case to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. However, I can’t find anything in the available articles to suggest there were “no injuries or other physical evidence” or that there were only the testimonies to go on until the chatlogs emerged. Sure, it may well be that there really wasn’t any evidence of physical injuries etc (again, neither the jury or the public will ever know now) and that this indeed was -as you say- part of what left the Judge with no choice but I’d suggest any talk about that is purely speculative. Of, course, it might be that you’ve picked up on some information about the case that others have missed. Do you have any links you can post to help fill in the gaps?

rose_hasty // Posted 22 January 2010 at 10:53 am

@Jane – I’m not sure you understand the objection being levelled here. The change which resulted in the trial being stopped was the evidence of her prior online conversations. I don’t believe that a trial should be stopped because someone once made a hypothetical statement about enjoying group sex. It’s the equivalent to saying that a woman who is raped by one man is less credible if she has said in the past that she would enjoy one-on-one sex. Ridiculous.

@Polly – I totally understand why any woman wouldn’t report a rape but i’d also say to any woman that, whilst it was deeply unsettling for me to report being raped, I am better off for having done it. However women shouldn’t be afraid of being cross-examined on their sexual history as they shouldn’t be asked about that anymore. I have heard it has still happened since the law changed, however we should be making sure women know they do not have to answer these questions in court.

SomeThoughts // Posted 22 January 2010 at 12:40 pm

politicalguineapig – I agree, I wouldn’t want rapists roaming free either.

To clarify, what I was saying was that *most* people would assume a not guilty verdict means the man was innocent, not that they’re right to do so. I just don’t think assuming he did it is any better. Anyone who wasn’t involved and doesn’t know the people involved, is not qualified to decide what happened. Unfortunately, there is ambiguity.

I am not talking about situations where someone does know the accused, accuser, or both – in that case, they can make a judgement, and wouldn’t be human if they didn’t come down on one side or the other. (Of course, that can be influenced by sexism, not saying they’d always be right).

I personally would be inclined to believe the woman as well, by the way; I’m certainly not saying women commonly go around making false accusations, as the tabloids think.

If a man I knew was accused of rape, I’d feel justified in being wary of him, too. I might cut off contact (if that’s possible). I damn sure wouldn’t be alone with him…

I can understand though why many women think their partner/ brother/ son/ friend/ colleague etc. couldn’t have raped someone, ‘he’s a nice guy, and nice guys don’t do that’…damn rape culture. There are unfortunately situations where women have to remain in contact with their rapist, as he is a friend, acquaintance, colleague etc.

I would like to see a culture where women who allege rape are believed, and yes, everyone who knows a man accused of rape should, unless they have serious reason to believe he didn’t do it, condemn him, and certainly not go around insinuating the woman lied.

I can just sort of understand how difficult it is.

Anna // Posted 22 January 2010 at 12:40 pm

Exactly, polly. My friend’s ex was (probably) gang-raped about a year ago; she worked at a bar, her last night there, one of the patrons bought her a drink at ~7pm and the next thing she knows its 4am and she’s lying on the street outside the pub bleeding. She reported this to the police, for them to drop the case on the spot when they realised a) she is a lesbian and b) she smokes weed.

Ah, justice system, we barely knew thee.

Personally I wouldn’t advise women report to the police – if you want to, of course go right ahead, but if you have doubts that your police force will treat you with anything less but the utmost dignity and respect then I wouldn’t bother. It’s like being assaulted all over again.

polly // Posted 22 January 2010 at 4:48 pm

Hi Rose, I appreciate what you’re saying but what should happen and what does happen, (as Anna’s story shows) are two different things.

The second case I described was about three years ago, but the judge still allowed the defence barrister to argue that the woman in question had made a story up because she was a ‘man hating lesbian’.

I wouldn’t tell a woman not to report a rape to police if it’s important to her, but I don’t think women can rely on the justice system at all, basically.

Politiclguineapig // Posted 22 January 2010 at 4:57 pm

Holly Combe: The problem, as I see it, is that’s it’s a choice between vigilante justice and no justice at all. Sure in theory, the legal system works. In practice..hah!

Somethoughts: I know it’s not all cut and dried. It just really riles me up when women in a rapist’s life defend him, or in some cases, enable their man. The ideal is to have men who rape treated like social pariahs, not studs.

rose_hasty // Posted 23 January 2010 at 9:57 am

I totally appreciate what you’re saying too Polly. The problem I found was that there were no objections to unreasonable behaviour in court such as insinuations about the clothes I wore and leading questions asked by the defence QC to the defendant. The judge seemed more inclined to ‘object’ (though I think that’s not technically what it would be called) than the prosecution. I agree that me saying “victims shouldn’t be asked those questions” isn’t enough. I certainly felt too weak to protect myself from them and still remain a credible ‘witness’. Perhaps we need someone with the woman from start to finish who can object to any unreasonable questions or treatment? We certainly need prosecution barristers who are up for the fight in a rape trial.

polly // Posted 24 January 2010 at 1:55 pm

I think the bottom line Rose is that the CPS is very poor at prosecuting rape. The focus has always been on the police response and how poor that is, but if the CPS don’t show the will to go ahead (and have suitably skilled and properly trained prosecutors) nothing will improve

cim // Posted 15 February 2010 at 6:49 pm

I’ve now had a reply from my MP: http://refusingthedefault.blogspot.com/2010/02/reply-from-my-mp.html which refers to this government review of the handling of rape cases: http://www.equalities.gov.uk/stern_review.aspx

Littlegoose // Posted 1 April 2010 at 10:21 am

I was totally horrified to read about this, I have a trial starting in 3 weeks as I was raped 18 months ago, it was similar circumstances to what happened with this person apart from the fantasies, I left a club with a guy and his mates thought it was acceptable to join in! As soon as I realised that it wasn’t just the guy I had given consent to I withdrew my consent but as thy carried on it is seen in the eyes of the law as rape.

I am petrified of having to face these animals in court and stories like this is the exact reason why only 1 in 5 women report this crime in the UK.

I have to agree that women are not treated fairly where this henious crime is concerned, Although the police have been brilliant I know that I am going to have to go through every aspect of my personal life in court – Which again is not fair – My personal life should show no reflection and have no impact on what these so called men did to me and their subsequent trial.

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