Jul 26, 2008
World - Rape,there is never an excuse,ever!
The Italian ruling that it is not possible for a man to rape a woman wearing tight jeans was finally overturned this week, but Julie Bindel finds little to celebrate while sexual assault trials still focus on the behaviour of the victim.
It has taken almost a decade of feminist campaigning to overturn one of the most ridiculous rulings on rape in Europe, so forgive me if I don’t sound too grateful. This week, judges at the Italian Court of Cassation reversed a ruling that went like this: if you wear tight jeans it is impossible to be raped, because you would need to help the man get into your knickers.
Seriously, this belief has been enshrined in case law since 1999. It is a bit like the old saying here that goes, “If you don’t want to be raped, just cross your legs.”
The ruling came about as a result of a line of defence run by a 45-year-old man accused of raping a young woman during a driving lesson. He was convicted, but on appeal put forward a defence that the victim must have consented, as her jeans were too tight for him to get into by himself. The judges agreed, and his conviction was quashed.
The same defence has been used successfully in rape cases since, but luck ran out for the latest man to try it when he was accused of sexually assaulting his partner’s daughter, aged 16, by pushing his hands down the front of her jeans. Using the 1999 case, he argued that he could not have committed the alleged acts against the will of the girl because her jeans were too tight. But the court did not accept his excuse, ruling that “jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt.”
It would be comforting to think that Italian attitudes to rape are behind the times. Unfortunately, though, there are countless examples from around the world of women being blamed for rape. It’s either because of what we wear or how we behave; it’s who we sleep with, or it’s what we drink.
“Blame culture” attitudes towards rape victims are widespread: according to a poll of young people carried out by Amnesty International last year, more than a quarter of those asked said that they thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing.
A survey in Ireland earlier this year on attitudes to rape found almost 40 per cent of the 1,000 adults questioned believed rape victims themselves bore some responsibility in certain circumstances — if, for instance, they wore sexy clothing or were flirting.
Even the director of public prosecutions for England and Wales, Ken MacDonald, told the London-based Guardian that young women’s “promiscuity” and heavy drinking contribute to low rape conviction rates. And one of Scotland’s most senior lawyers, Donald Findlay, recently commented that in cases of sexual assault, courts should no longer assume that a girl under 16 is “vulnerable”. He claimed that “many such girls know more about sex at 13 than [he] did at 23”, and that defence lawyers should, in certain trials, be able to refer to how an alleged victim was dressed.
All this helps reinforce the myths that rape can be due to a “misunderstanding”. Rubbish. Men are not “confused” about what is consent and what is not: but many will use it as an excuse, and many more let them. And however much pressure is on women to dress sexily to titillate men, they are severely punished for it.
In South Africa in February, for example, four women wearing miniskirts were sexually assaulted at a taxi rank in Johannesburg by a group of men. They were forcibly stripped and paraded naked, while the attackers shouted to passersby that the women “wanted” this treatment.
Some men seem almost hysterically worried about preserving women’s honour and chastity and yet more than a few of them commit acts of rape. Either way, it is all the fault of women. In Nigeria, a senator has drafted a bill which would result in women being imprisoned for three months if they display their belly buttons, breasts or wear miniskirts in public places. In Poland, meanwhile, one legislator has announced plans for a bill that would ban miniskirts and other “enticements” with the goal of reducing street prostitution and rape. He called for the miniskirt ban as part of an overall crusade against the “enticement to sex” by women in public. In northern Malaysia, a directive from a conservative city council has forbidden women from wearing high heels or brightly coloured lipstick in order to “preserve their dignity” and avoid “incidents like rape and illicit sex”.
Debates about Muslim women and the veil often centre on women making themselves vulnerable to assault. Sheikh Taj Din al-Hilali, the most senior Muslim cleric in Australia, was criticised for a sermon in which he likened women who did not wear the veil to uncovered meat that attracted predators. But where is the message to men, telling them that a woman displaying her arm or ankle does not mean she wants to be forced into sex with anyone who has a mind to?
In Britain, we hardly need wonder why the rate for rape convictions is so low when we hear stories like the one that came from some mock jury trials, staged as part of a research project on attitudes to rape and documented in a report by the Economic and Social Research Council in 2006. A “juror” said that, “a woman’s got to cooperate with a man to be able to do it, to have intercourse, unless he thumps her or what, and he didn’t — there was no bruising on her body anywhere. I would say she was probably pissed but at the same time she more or less consented.”
The problem is clear: but what do we do about it? Will women have to give up and walk around encased in a full suit of armour? No: instead, we need to challenge these views: to take, for example, the U.K. government to task when it, on the one hand, admits we are at crisis point with the pathetically low rape conviction rate but, on the other, creates public awareness campaigns around drink-spiking that put the onus on women to protect themselves.
Scotland has the right idea. This summer a new campaign challenging people’s attitudes to rape is being launched by Rape Crisis Scotland with funding from the Scottish government. Posters will be displayed across the country in an attempt to challenge the idea that women are somehow to blame for being raped if they have been drinking, wearing revealing clothes or have been sexually active.
Scotland’s justice secretary said that it was “hard to believe” that in a modern Scotland there are people who still think that if a woman is dressed in a certain way or has been drinking it’s her own fault if she is raped. For how many decades have feminists being saying this? Why has the message not got through? And how many more women will be raped because men can pretend they are “confused” at the “mixed messages” put out by women who dress up to the nines for their own enjoyment?
Let’s be clear; women have the right to go out, dressed outrageously and be gagging to pull a man for sex. Consensual sex. Women do not want to be raped. Ever. All rape is “real rape,” even if she is wearing a skirt up to her neck, has her breasts on show and is drinking and flirting like crazy. Rape is sex without consent. Which part of that is difficult to understand?