The results of a survey this week about rape led to much media comment—and baffled reactions about the attitudes it recorded among people in Britain.
According to the report by the Haven service for rape victims, 50 percent of the female respondents believed that victims should take some responsibility for their attack.
Large numbers of men also believed that women who have been raped were to blame in some circumstances.
Such attitudes are not a result of individual ignorance. They reflect a much wider view of women’s place in society and of systematic women’s oppression.
There is a long history of the legal system, judges, police chiefs and politicians trivialising rape or suggesting that women are to blame for it.
Until 1994 judges were obliged by law to tell juries that they should seek corroboration of the alleged crime as “women and small children tend to lie about these matters”.
These ideas continue to dominate the courts. In 2007, a judge allowed a paedophile who allegedly molested an 11-year-old girl to escape jail when the judge ruled the victim had “welcomed” his advances.
And today, although attitudes are officially more enlightened, it’s estimated that only 5 percent of women who are raped report it.
Just one in 14 reported cases result in a conviction.
As recently as last September, figures gained after a Freedom of Information request showed that some police forces failed to record over 40 percent of rape complaints.
Police in Durham said they only ruled five out of 130 rape allegations were not in fact crimes. Yet a further 83 cases were never officially recorded in the first place.
Many of the newspapers that affected surprise at the recent survey consistently portray women as mindless objects who are to be judged solely on their looks and then “won”.
For some people that encourages the attitude that women are things to be “bought”—or seized.
Others newspapers blamed women in different ways.
The Telegraph blamed the “uninhibited ‘ladette’ culture” for “fuelling a disturbing new ambivalence towards the crime of rape, particularly among women”.
The Mirror’s columnist Sue Carroll managed to use the report to attack Muslims: “A survey tells us half of women think rape victims are to blame for the crime because they wear short skirts or accept a drink…
“Who on earth did they ask, women in burqas?”
She went on to say that the issue was “mired in confusion” because of the views of “hardline feminists” and that it is “downright stupidity” to be “someone prevaricating over whether to say ‘no’ in a man’s bed”.
Is it any surprise, when such ideas are put forward as “common sense”, that many people end up blaming people who have been raped?
The continuing struggle for women’s emancipation involves an absolute assertion that, in all circumstances, no means no—and that rape victims need support, not scapegoating.