Society fails women by not believing rape victims, campaigner says
Society must stop “failing” women by assuming rape victims are lying, a campaigner who helped shape the Government’s landmark review of serious sexual offences has said.
Emily Hunt, an abuse survivor and independent adviser to last summer’s End-to-End Rape Review, also said jokes about rape continued to create an atmosphere which do not help victims.
She said she was boosted by signs of a reverse in the dismal slump in rape convictions, after the Government last year said it was “deeply ashamed” of the downward trends in bringing sexual offenders to justice.
But she said there remained room for improvement, and added that the greatest “rape myth” was that women lie when saying they have been raped.
Speaking to the PA news agency on the one-year anniversary of the Rape Review, Ms Hunt, 42, from east London, said: “We are all failing when we’re not believing victims, and when we’re not having the conversations around believing victims, and when we’re not holding people up on bad behaviour.
We need to be changing the conversation and we need to make sure that more people are understanding that if somebody says they've been raped, they've been raped
“We’re in a place where we’re just not doing enough as a society on this. And there really is only room for improvement.”
She said it was “much easier to believe that somebody is over-egging a bad night out or has buyer’s remorse” than believe someone has been raped.
“But all of the research shows that that’s not actually what happens,” she said.
“So for me, when I think of ‘rape myths’, that’s the first one … that is where everything else flows from.”
She added: “We need to be changing the conversation and we need to make sure that more people are understanding that if somebody says they’ve been raped, they’ve been raped.”
Her comments come as the most recent Crown Prosecution Service figures show tentative progress in obtaining justice for rape victims.
Data from October 1-December 31 2021 showed a 4.6% increase in the volume of suspects being charged with rape – 550 in total, up from 526 the previous quarter.
The number of rape convictions also increased from 407 to 467 during that time.
But there were just 1,557 rape prosecutions in the 12-month period for 2020-21, down from 4,643 for 2015-16.
And Home Office figures released in April showed the lowest charging rate of all offences continues to be for rape, with just 1.3% of 67,125 offences recorded by police in 2021 leading to a prosecution.
More than 40% of these cases were closed because the victim did not support further police action, the figures suggested.
Ms Hunt, who successfully campaigned to have the law clarified and a man convicted of voyeurism after she woke up naked in a hotel bed next to a stranger she had no recollection of meeting, said an increase in rape suspects being charged meant “there are rapists who are going to face trial who might not have otherwise”.
“But it’s about continuing to keep the fire under it, because the last thing I want is for us to think: ‘OK, we’re done now.’
“Because we’re not going to be ‘done’.”
She cited previous Home Office research – now several years old, but suggesting only around 3% of rape allegations could be false – as underlining the need to challenge the default position that “it is so much easier to imagine that somebody would lie about rape than to imagine that somebody would rape”.
“We actually need to confront that,” she said, adding that it was important that the criminal justice system did not simply “assume” that victims were telling the truth if the evidence did not support it, and suspects must continue to have the right to a fair trial.
But she said society should do more to make victims feel more comfortable with making rape allegations.
“Fundamentally, it’s about making sure that we’re supportive of people when they’ve disclosed, or when somebody talks about rape,” she said.
We haven't seen the Government do enough to challenge those prevailing myths that women commonly lie
“Also that you’re not OK with jokes about rape, that you are not going to be OK with somebody acting as though it’s a completely OK thing to do to drug somebody.”
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition campaign group, said it was “disingenuous” to talk about improvements in rape convictions, and that any small increase in prosecution numbers was “not turning the tide of overwhelming failure of victims”.
She told PA: “We haven’t seen the Government do enough to challenge those prevailing myths that women commonly lie.
“And I think that’s at the heart of why women are constantly failed – it’s the reason why so many victims and survivors will tell you that they didn’t want to come forward, they’re worried they would not be believed, they’re worried that the system was stacked against them. I don’t think the Government has done very much to challenge that.”
The Government announced a raft of measures in the last 12 months aimed at improving its record on rape, including more money for domestic abuse and sexual violence advisers, performance “scorecards”, an awareness campaign, and trialling pre-recorded cross-examination of victims.
Ms Simon said: “When we think about the scale of the challenge, the number of things that were wrong, the way that the criminal justice system approached rape and other crimes of violence against women, we can only really be scratching the surface of proper transformation.
“And even with scratching the surface, that’s gone very slowly. So we’ve only just started to uncover the depth of the problem.”
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