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The Wrong Kind of Rape

26th April 2012

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Ched Evans is the latest in a string of footballers accused of rape. Last Friday he was handed a five-year sentence, whilst team mate Clayton McDonald was acquitted of the same crime.

McDonald brought the woman back to a hotel and had sexual intercourse with her, followed by Evans, although it was held that she was too drunk to have given Evans consent. Not only does the case cast another shadow over the frequently revisited discussion about crimes in football, but seems to have divided the masses on the crime itself.

Reading Twitter feedback is interesting. There are the regulars, condemning football and every player involved, who have unsurprisingly been particularly scathing of both men. There are those claiming she shouldn’t have expected anything else, being intoxicated with two footballers. She went home with one, what’s the problem, they claim. There are many who are genuinely perplexed by the ruling. How, can one man have been acquitted while his friend is convicted of the same crime, in extremely similar circumstances? CCTV has shown the woman went home with only McDonald, who then eloquently texted Evans letting him know he had ‘got a bird’, inviting him back up to the room. At least this goes part way to explain the Court’s decision.

The most thought provoking comments are those questioning whether this was rape. Wasn’t this just another case of a young girl having one too many, regretting her escapades the next morning and crying foul? Wasn’t she in the wrong? Now, I’m not ignoring the fact that innocent men are often wrongly portrayed as rapists when women cry wolf. Not is it only morally unforgiveable, these actions can ruin lives forever. ‘Rapist’ is a desperately hard label to lose. But equally as damaging is the assumption that simply because a woman was drunk before intercourse, it can’t be rape.

The problem most people have with this case is that when we think about rape, we expect it to be ‘true’ rape; the masked stranger creeping behind you in the dark, putting a knife to your throat and giving you no choice but to submit. This is the image we associate with rape and when this is challenged, we panic. We become unsettled when the line between good and evil isn’t quite as clear. We can process the portrayal of a monstrous rapist lurking in the dark; we can condemn him and pity the victim. So what happens when the consent isn’t ripped from her?

It’s commonly forgotten that rape primarily occurs from a partner or someone that the victim knows. Rape during relationships is prevalent and simply because the attacker is someone you recognise doesn’t make the experience any less traumatising. Last year’s suggestions of Government plans to impose heavier sentences on rapists who attack in the homes of their victims were met by outrage, and rightly so. The reasoning behind it that there is more of a violation in your own home is flawed. Rape, wherever it occurs and whoever does it is the most personal and terrifying violation a woman can experience.

As students, going out and drinking heavily is part of our lifestyle. Hell, I’m writing this through a hangover. And I’m sure, girl or boy, anyone reading this has experienced someone getting a little ‘gropey’ on a night out. I won’t believe any of you if you claim you haven’t had the awkward moment of someone grinding on you in a supposedly sexy way. (If you haven’t, then it’s fairly likely you are the grinder. Shame on you.) But this is all in good fun right? Nothing serious. Perhaps you’ve even woken up with someone next to you in bed, a drunken one-night stand. Isn’t that what we do? Don’t we all know someone who does the walk of shame regularly? Although we’re quick to laugh at (and perhaps even congratulate) the successful person who managed to ‘get their end away’, it’s hard to imagine that this story has a sinister ending. Rape often happens when the victim is drunk, unaware that they want what is happening, changing their mind, and perhaps even pushing the partner off them. The law clearly states that as soon as consent is withheld, sex should stop. End of. I’m not suggesting that everyone who wakes up with a stranger in his or her bed is the victim of rape, of course not. It’s not uncommon for anyone to have a drunken mistake. Not everyone who thinks they made a mistake can go around claiming they were attacked, but attention needs to paid to those who were.

She led him on. What else did she expect? Many will argue that even if the women genuinely believed she was attacked, but she consumed a heavy level of alcohol and slept with someone this is not rape. It’s her fault, they’ll say. This argument is as flawed as those who claim that wearing provocative clothing leads to rape. It probably does encourage leering looks from men, yes. But nothing excuses rape. Ever. No one ever ‘brings it on themselves’ or deserves it because they are drunk. When she says no, stop.

Even in sober cases, despite the absence of physical violence, fear and threat can be enough to make a woman go through with something she doesn’t want. A law changing case involved two teenage girls who consented to have sex with men who had taken them back to their house. Whilst they didn’t want to do it, fear of being hurt or violently attacked was enough to make them submit. Whilst consent is clearly submission, submission is not consent. Just because these examples aren’t as cut and dry, doesn’t make them any less grave.

With shockingly low report rates, and even lower conviction rates, getting a rapist to prison verges on impossible. By the nature of the crime, one person’s word against another, they are increasingly hard to prove. Defence attorneys will turn a trial against the victim, questioning their story repeatedly, picking holes and making accusations, even delving into personal details about their sexual lives. Girls who are attacked when intoxicated suffer especially; memory gaps make perfect excuses for lawyers to dig away. The women look as though they are lying or can’t remember.

But what can be done? The Law Commission attempted to reform the law under the Sexual Offences Act in 2003 and address concerns that the old law favoured the defendant. But, realistically, that’s not the problem. A changing of words in the statute won’t adjust the outcome. The Courts setting new precedent will go some way to help, but until the appropriate case arises, the one on one trials and attacking of attorneys will make sure the arrests are still low. The appalling arrest rate says it all. 

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