We invite you to read guest post from Sarah Learmonth. Ms. Learmonth works for the Rape Crisis Centre in Coventry, England, which supports around 3,000 victims of rape and abuse annually. Around a quarter of their clients are children and nearly half of the adult clients were sexually abused first as children.
Did you also know that the British Medical Association has stated that a lack of adequately trained doctors is a contributing factor in the low UK rape conviction rate, which currently stands at around 6.5%?
No? Well it’s not surprising. Rape is reported nationally only as individual cases—mostly those that are going to trial or have achieved conviction—not as an issue for society to acknowledge and understand. But there must be more understanding. More women and girls are raped in the UK than suffer diabetes or coronary heart disease, but the level of support for victims is nowhere near the same.
An Amnesty International survey found that one-third of people in the UK believe that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner. Survey respondents included doctors, police officers, A & E nurses, and jury members. This tendency to blame the victim may explain the latest Crown Prosecution Service figures, which show that rape cases taken to trial are twice as likely to end with a verdict of “not guilty” than with a conviction.
In this climate of victim blaming, it is little wonder that Prime Minister David Cameron supports the proposal of rape anonymity for defendants based on “the significant number of false allegations.” The evidence for that? Well there isn’t any. The Stern Review of the criminal justice response to rape victims states that false reporting is “extremely rare”, but in our society, the belief that women lie about rape is an undisputed myth— a stereotype not only unchallenged by the government but initially adopted within a proposal for legislation.
I was on a train recently with a woman who was interested in doing some pro bono work for us. As I explained our services for victims, the man next to me told me to “Shut up”. Looking around the carriage I wondered how many other people agreed with his sentiments and how many realised that “shutting up” is exactly what our victims are told to do.
There are other ways we are told to keep quiet about rape. When we ask the Practise Managers at our local GP surgeries to put our leaflets out, some explain they can’t because they might offend people. In March of this year, a review of the health response to rape victims (Taskforce Alberti) stated that in the UK an estimated 16% of children between 0 and 16 years old have experienced sexual abuse. There was no media attention given to this report, no interviews, nothing.
Rape and sexual abuse are reaching epidemic proportions: last year all reported crime in the UK went down except sexual offences, which rose by 8%, and the British Crime Survey puts the numbers of rapes at 2,000 per week. As a society, our reaction is to distance ourselves with disbelief, blame the victim and focus on helping the abusers. We would rather that organisations like Rape Crisis pick up the pieces invisibly and silently, even when faced with stories like this:
“My uncle used to ask for me to bring him tea in the morning that was the signal. I knew what would happen. He showed me pictures of my aunt after he’d beaten her up and told me if I didn’t do what he said then he would beat her again. I was 9 years old.”
So maybe after what I’ve told you we can decide that it’s no longer going to be a secret—that together we will effect the monumental change in our society’s attitudes that is needed towards rape and its victims. If we have to do it one person at a time, then we will.
To learn more about the Coventry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre, visit their website at http://www.crasac.org.uk/home or follow them on Facebook (CRASAC) and Twitter (@CRASAC). Their helpline number is 024 76277777. They are open Monday to Friday 10am-2pm and Monday and Thursday 6pm-8pm.