My car was stolen, but I didn’t report it to the police. I know who the thief is. We’ve gone out for dinner more than once: I see him every day at work. Last time I went out for the evening with him, I felt I was over the limit and I let him drive my car. This time, when I gave him my keys, he got into the car without me, locked the doors, and just drove off. He abandoned it, tank empty, miles away. The police eventually contacted me and I had to pay a fine for illegal parking and the towing costs, and then the car had to go to the garage for repairs. But what’s the point of telling the police the car was stolen? I’d let the man drive the car before, I know him socially, I was drunk both times when I let him drive me home and the time he just drove off without me. No one would believe me, would they? It’s a really gorgeous car, anyone would say I shouldn’t drive it where people might see it and want to drive it themselves. And I didn’t exactly say “No” when he got in and drove off without me. He might not have known I didn’t want him to do that – maybe I didn’t give clear enough signals. So really, it’s my fault – it wasn’t theft at all. I did get the car back, eventually.
Yeah, that makes sense.
If I’m talking about rape.
10% of car thefts turn out to be false reports. 2-8% of reported rapes turn out to be false reports. Yet if you google on “car theft” you don’t find pages and pages of sites of people warning of the risk of false car theft reports – of how predatory car owners will lie that their car was stolen when they had totally given their consent and just wanted to get revenge on the car driver – of how easily a false accusation of car theft can ruin a car driver’s life.
The only reason the above analogy makes sense to you at all is because
We live in a culture where sex is not so much an act as a thing: a substance that can be given, bought, sold, or stolen, that has a value and a supply-and-demand curve. In this “commodity model,” sex is like a ticket; women have it and men try to get it. Women may give it away or may trade it for something valuable, but either way it’s a transaction. This puts women in the position of not only seller, but also guardian or gatekeeper ….. Women are guardians of the tickets; men apply for access to them. This model pervades casual conversation about sex: Women “give it up,” men “get some.”
The commodity model also functions as an all-purpose rage apology. The logical conclusion of this model is that rape is narrowly understood and consent is presumed. Under the commodity model, consent is not necessarily enthusiastic participation, or even necessarily an affirmative act. If someone tries to take something and the owner raises no objection, then that something is free for the taking. To this way of thinking, consent is the absence of “no.” It is therefore economically rational to someone with this commodity concept of sex that it can be taken; rape is a property crime in that view. In the past, the crime was against the male owner of women (let’s not sugarcoat it; until very recently, women were in a legal way very much legal property, and still are in many places and ways). Even among more enlightened folks, if one takes a commodity view of sex, rape is still basically a property crime against the victim. “Toward a Performance Model of Sex”, Thomas Macaulay Millar
And where property crime is committed by a rich and powerful person against a hotel maid, it’s barely counted as a crime at all. Such as The Strauss-Kahn ‘Rape’.
Nafissatou Diallo talks about the events of 14th May 2011 and her work before that day:
Some of Diallo’s most upbeat moments in the interview came when she recounted the small promotions and credits available at the Sofitel for a job done well. She was supposed to clean 14 rooms a day for a wage of $25 an hour plus tips, according to her union. It’s an achievement, Diallo said, to get a whole floor of your own because it saves the time wasted going up and down in the elevator to clean random individual rooms. Another maid had gone on maternity leave in April, Diallo said, and she’d gotten the 28th floor. “I keep that floor,” said Diallo. “I never had a floor before.” When every door has a “Do Not Disturb” notice, maids save precious minutes by going to the hall closet and quickly refilling their cleaning carts with soap, towels, and other amenities. Diallo’s eyes lit up talking about the routine and about her colleagues. “We worked as a team,” she said. “I loved the job. I liked the people. All different countries, American, African, and Chinese. But we were the same there.”
“I don’t want to hurt him,” she told us. “I don’t want to lose my job.”
Forensic medical examination of the maid’s body still showed the marks where DSK had grabbed her: DNA tests of the sperm on her dress showed a match for DSK; all interviewers, from her supervisors to the security staff to the New York police, say the maid was visibly, terribly traumatised.
The Cambridge Union Society decided that they had to hear from Dominique Strauss-Kahn on “The global financial climate, globalization and the Eurozone” (they had also been eager to hear from Julian Assange). At the talk, Will Lawn, a third year student at King’s College, asked for DSK to explain Diallo’s “vaginal bruising the day after you met her”. Various versions of DSK’s reply are quoted in the Telegraph and the Guardian and at most length in the Varsity:
“The District Attorney of New York as the prosecutor, and he decided to dismiss the case because he said the lady was lying. That’s it. After one and a half months, the district attorney wrote to me saying, ‘I’m sorry, we were wrong.’ And took another month to do the paperwork, and he dismissed the charges. So, what do you want?”
[Update, 15th May: On 1st May a judge ruled that Nafissatou Diallo’s civil suit against Dominique Strauss-Kahn could go ahead: DSK had tried to claim diplomatic immunity. Now DSK is counter-suing Diallo for $1M in “damages”.]
From the perspective of a rape survivor and one of the protesters outside the CUS:
We stood in the cold, we made jokes about how the numbers would be misrepresented, we shouted through megaphones as we strode through the streets. But as we settled outside the building that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was hiding in something really special happened. For me, it was one of the most powerful and inspiring experiences I’ve ever had. Strangers came forward to share their experiences of sexual assault and rape with a crowd of 150ish people on the megaphone. I’m not a Cambridge student, I didn’t know many faces but at that moment I felt safe enough to share my own experiences, which doesn’t happen often. It was raw and sincere and the most heartfelt thing I’ve heard in a space like that. I will never forget it. The stories continued and as survivors merged back into the crowd they were greeted with embraces and warmth. There is nothing that the former head of the IMF can say that is more important than what some of those speakers shared with us and we gave them the best platform we could.
So what’s the answer? Do women lie about rape? According to Joanne Archambault, a former sex crimes unit supervisor, the answer is fairly simple: “[False reports] are not a problem. They happen, but they’re not a problem.” Research has shown that only roughly 2 to 8 percent of rape reports are untrue, (for car thefts, another felony offense, that number is about 10 percent [pdf].) Two to 8 percent is a pretty small number to justify the climate of fear around false rape reports.
Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said that at almost every step there was a lack of care for the victim. “A woman who is raped has to go to the police to get a forensic examination, and that is virtually never with a female doctor,” she said.
“If they need emotional support, they have to seek support services themselves. If they need medical treatment, they have to access that themselves. There is no co-ordinated support for women when they report a sexual assault to the police. That is deterring many women from coming forward in the first place, and also perhaps explains why some victims drop cases after they have been reported.”
Legal experts also claim prosecutors treat some rape cases as sexual assault, a lesser crime, because they believe it is the “best bet” for landing a conviction. That, they say, is especially true where victim and offender know each other. Fiona Raitt, professor of law at Dundee University and a former practising solicitor, said: “If prosecutors can get a plea to a lesser charge, it is likely they will feel that’s a good move. They may feel it is worth saving women from the trauma of a trial at the expense of a rape conviction, even though that will mean a lesser sentence for the perpetrator.”
Four groups (End Violence Against Women, Equality Now, Object and Eaves) gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry in December, calling on Leveson to
move away from addressing the concerns of celebrities and other victims of alleged phone hacking by News International and look at the daily treatment of women, which they say contributes to a society where rape can only be committed by evil strangers down darkened alleyways and where a woman is valued only because of her body.
Some of the evidence, taken directly from material available in tabloid newspapers for sale to anyone in any newsagent, was censored by the enquiry because it was deemed too obscene to broadcast via the BBC’s Democracy Live before the watershed. This was a joint submission from anti-sexualisation campaign group Object and Turn Your Back on Page 3 which charted “a week in the life of the Sun, the Daily Star and the Sport”.
It highlighted an article on 14 November when the Sun trialled “invisible shaping bum boosters” by testing men’s reactions when a woman bent over at work, and, according to the groups, “eroticises a form of sexual harassment making it appear that it is what women should, and do, seek from men”.
It criticised the same newspaper for presenting itself as a family product, offering a free toy on its front page while “containing adverts for XXX DVDs and Page 3 imagery”, and highlighted a article the day earlier which provided tips for women on “how to stop your man having affairs” which included the advice: “Men have three basic instincts – food, shelter and sex. If you nail that as a woman, there’s no need for him to look elsewhere.” Object said: “The gender stereotypes promoted in this article are reminiscent of the 1950s – pre equalities legislation.”
In another example from the Sport – sold unrestricted alongside national newspapers – two topless glamour models are shown among a group of cheering men in order to “brighten up their day”. One man is quoted saying: “It was a really cold day, so the girls’ nips were standing to attention!”
While convicted rapists are apostrophised in the tabloids as “sex beasts”, rape culture is treated as normal.
When I was interviewed on BBC Bristol the morning of Reclaim the Night 2011, the presenter accused me of being ‘alarmist’ when I said that we lived in a rape culture. I responded that I wasn’t being alarmist, but that the situation is alarming. I explained that in a society where 1 in 4 women are survivors of rape () and the conviction rate from incident to conviction is 6%, whilst sentencing remains low, and rape is a trope used across the media, advertising and pornography as something ‘ok’, then yes, we do live in a rape culture.
This week reminded me of the extent of the rape culture we live in. I’m sure you are all aware of the Unilad magazine furore, which started on Twitter and has been picked up by plenty of the mainstream media. It began with anger over an article called ‘Sexual Mathematics’, where the “journalist” wrote that if a girl doesn’t want to have sex with you, then you just have to do the maths. He states that 85% of rapes go unrecorded, and those are pretty good odds. In short, you might as well rape her, because chances are you’ll get away with it.
Alison Saunders of the Crown Prosecution Service talks about juror attitudes:
“You can see how some members of the jury can come along with preconceived ideas. They might still subscribe to the myths and stereotypes that we have all had a go at busting.”
And then there’s John Worboys, the black cab rapist.
Worboys was arrested and released without charge after the woman came forward in July 2007 and officers chose to believe his account, not hers. Seven months later he was arrested again when police finally put together years of missed intelligence. The IPCC report acknowledged “significant” work done in response to the failings in the Worboys case and that of another undetected serial rapist, Kirk Reid. But it called on the Met to address the perception that women are not be taken seriously when reporting rape and other sex offences, recommending better information for victims, case updates, and liaison with agencies where women feel uncomfortable going to the police. (Emphasis mine.)
According to Brian Paddick, the problem of Met police officers not taking rape reports seriously had been identified years earlier – but the report on the problem had been systematically edited and tidied up in order to make the Met look better than it actually was.
The IPCC identified “individual and systemic” issues within the Metropolitan police during its inquiry into John Worboys, a black-cab driver who remained at large to drug, rape and sexually assault at least 85 victims despite numerous women reporting attacks over many years.
The majority of rapes go unreported. Of those reported to the police, only one-fifth make it to court. Of those indicted to court, about one in three result in conviction. Rape Crisis Scotland estimates that rape has a 3% conviction rate in Scotland.
The requirement for corroboration in Scotland has a particular impact on sexual offences. Due to the nature of the crime, there are often few witnesses, meaning that, with the exception of rapes involving significant levels of violence, corroboration can be particularly difficult to find.
During a six-month period in 2010, 141 cases were reported to the National Sexual Crimes Unit where the accused was not put on petition (ie not prosecuted).
The Crown Office believes that in 67 per cent of these cases there was a reasonable prospect of conviction. This suggests that, due to the technical requirement for corroboration, cases with potentially strong evidence are not making it to court.
The (Nonexistent) Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Consequences of Enthusiastic Consent
[Update: Brian Granger (@NiceGuyBrianG) spent at least 24 hours over the 12th/13th March tweeting hundreds of times in defense of his idea that once a woman consents to a relationship with a man, he has the right to have sex with her whether or not she wants it, and it’s wrong for her to refuse, resist, or identify this as rape, even if the man uses force to make her. I storified part of his tweetathon, and then gave up. But as a constructive response to him someone set up a Just Giving page in his name for the White Ribbon campaign.]
PS I don’t own a car. I made up the first 245 words of this blog post on discovering that false reports of car theft are more common than false reports of rape.