19 September 2006

A sad story

An 18-year-old woman was convicted yesterday in Cardiff Crown Court of making false rape allegations. (Attempting to pervert justice).

She was dancing at the house of a stranger she met in a bar, and claimed she had been drugged and raped.

In the normal way of things this case would just have dropped into the 94% of reported rapes that do not lead to a conviction - the figure that Carol is so upset about.

What made it different is that one of the four defendants had phone-video-camera footage that proved the allegations were false.

Even without it, the case would quite likely not have made it to trial. If it did, her personal website on which she described herself as a "wild girl" whose hobbies were "sex and pole-dancing" would have been used by the defence. It would perhaps have been suggested that if that evidence had been disallowed, a conviction might have been more likely, and that such a change would improve the 6% conviction rate.

I do not mean to suggest that all or most of the 94% are false allegations of this kind. But I am sure some of them are. Lack of evidence is not a "technicality": If the only evidence that a crime took place is the word of the alleged victim, and the accused says it didn't happen, no reasonable justice system will be able to provide a conviction.

Imagine that she was really telling the truth. In that case, she would be equally unlikely to see the men convicted. There's simply no way she could prove what really happened.

Andrew Hall of the Criminal Bar Association was quoted in the Times story Carol linked to saying "In my view the system generally works, in that guilty people are generally convicted and innocent people are acquitted." I don't think I would go that far. I suspect a lot of rapists are acquitted for lack of evidence, but I don't think the criminal justice system can do anything about it.

That's not the same as saying nothing can be done about it. I addressed this issue before at great length a year ago, here and here. We have thrown off the restrictions or repressions of sexual behaviour that were previously the norm, and while they were to some extent the product of superstition, bossiness or patriarchy, they were also protections from real danger. The existence of law and morality do not remove the neccessity of protecting ourselves - that is why we lock our doors. Women who behave like C.S. did are running the risk of being raped (not that that reduces responsibility of rapists), and men who behave like these four men are running the risk of being falsely accused (not that that reduces the responsibility of the false accuser). Casual sex with strangers is dangerous in more ways than one. While people behave the way these five people behaved, the 94% is here to stay.

I will repeat the position I took a year ago:

The whole old-fashioned customs of slow courtship can be seen as a mechanism from protecting women from unprovable rapes, and men from un-disprovable false accusations. It can also, of course, be seen as the rituals of a society not at ease with sex, and again as the result of seeing women at least in part as being the property of men. Return to the past is not an option. But wishing away problems that are eternal does not help either. The idea that we should only have intimate contact with a person if we have already publicly demonstrated a close association with them seems to me neither repressed nor sexist - it is a costly restriction on our freedom that protects us from some dangers


(footnote: I have not named the girl here - in the perhaps arrogant hope that this blog will still be around and searchable in years to come, I do not want to be providing information about her to search engines. She's been idiotic and done herself a lot of damage, but she's 18 and still has a life ahead of her. For the same reason, I deplore the newspapers' decision to publish photographs of her in her underwear to illustrate the story).

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