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UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

I heard of a police officer interviewing a woman who was complaining of being raped and remembered waking up to find she was having sex with a stranger.

“Do you remember giving consent?” he asked.

“No, I don’t remember much about anything” was the reply.

“Well then, you could have consented,”

How do we assess consent? If we don’t understand the nature of consent, then we cannot make progress in eliminating violence against women, particularly sexual violence and rape.

If a woman cannot remember having sex last night, then she must have been either extremely drunk, drugged, asleep or suffering from a mental incapacity problem. In each case she is not capable of giving consent and has by definition been raped.

It is estimated in the UK there are 128,000[1] victims of rape per year. Less than 20%[2] of these victims report the crime and less that 1% of these ends in a conviction.

In June 2021 the government published “The end-to end rape review.” “Rape and sexual violence are horrific and devastating crimes that can impact victims for the rest of their lives. When victims take the brave step of reporting the crime, they expose and may relive their deep and personal trauma, in the interests of justice and protecting others. We need to deliver for them and the public: investigating and prosecuting these crimes professionally, diligently and with empathy, ensuring that victims of this awful crime get the support they deserve. The Rape Review has found that in too many cases this simply does not happen.”

1 in 2 victims who report to the police drop out of their own case. Some of the key reasons given were feeling disbelieved or judged, the negative impact on their mental health, and a fear of giving evidence in court.[3] We also know that this crime is perpetrated at a higher rate against disabled women and those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or other[4]

This review has suggested many improvements to the criminal justice system and victim support. As Soroptimists we need to be aware of these and apply pressure to decision makers to work at speed to implement the recommendations.

Rape is the tip of an iceberg of violence and abusive behaviour. This is preceded by sex coercion, threatening behaviours and groping, which in turn is preceded by stalking, non-consensual photos and revenge porn. Cat calling, rape jokes and “boys will be boys” attitudes, along with victim blaming – she was drunk, wore a short skirt, was flirting – are at the bottom of the iceberg; and then there is banter, the commonest excuse for abusive behaviour of any kind.

These less serious actions reinforce and excuse behaviours higher up and we should be aware of this and call it out. Every woman I know has been the subject of some sort of sexual innuendo, an unwanted touch or been in a room listening to “banter.” Socially we remain quiet and don’t want to rock the boat or make a scene – or become the object of the “fun.”  While women are not innocent in this respect, more than 90% of sexual violence is perpetrated by men against women and they need education. It is our responsibility to educate, empower and enable – let’s do it.

 

Domestic abuse obviously includes rape within an intimate relationship and forms a large part of the unreported crime. Understanding issues around consent and relationships need to be taught from a young age and respected. Teaching children they are in charge of their bodies is important. They need to understand that stop means stop – even when we are innocently playing with them. The teaching of respect is the responsibility of every family and school. We should do our best to make sure this occurs.

Equally there is an urgent need to reassess how we understand domestic abuse, and to stop considering it to be a ‘couples’ problem’ or ‘social work’. Society needs professionals who are supported with strong referral options, widespread training, and strong leadership or the issue will remain a crisis hiding in plain sight. Two women are being murdered each week in the UK by an intimate partner, present or ex. (Office for National Statistics). Drastic action is needed to address this.

Much work is being undertaken to right the wrongs around rape; to prosecute perpetrators and support victims. We can play our part by educating, empowering and enabling those around us and not remaining silent. Remember, the world suffers a lot not because of the violence of bad people but because of the silence of good people. Let us work to allow women to feel safe enough and confident enough to speak up and make November 25 truly meaningful.

Liz Dominey
Chair UK Programme Action Committee

 

[1]  Based on combined data for 2017/18 and 2019/20. ONS, Sexual offences in England and Wales overview: year ending March 2020, March 2021

[2] Office for National Statistics, March 2021, Nature of sexual assault by rape or penetration, England and Wales: year ending March 2020 6 Home Office,

[3]  Victims’ Commissioner’s Office, 2020, Rape survivors and the criminal justice system, London

[4] Office for National Statistics, Sexual offences victim characteristics, England and Wales: year ending March 2020, March 2021 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationand community/Crimean justice/articles/Crimean justice Crimean justice/march2020