This post was originally published in the Huffington Post. It was shortlisted for the Best Blog category and first runner-up at the Write to End Violence against Women Awards hosted by Zero Tolerance, White Ribbon Campaign, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid held at the Scottish Parliament.
Last week, New York defence attorney Joseph DiBenedetto made headlines when he used the phrase “I’m not saying she deserved to get raped but” live on Fox News. The comment was a response to a question about the rape of teenager Daisy Coleman in Maryville, Missouri. The case hit the national press because of how the criminal justice system in Missouri handled the aftermath of the rape rather than the rape itself; rape being such a common crime that it very rarely makes headline news.
Comparisons have already been made between the Maryville case and that of the rape of a young girl in Steubenville as both cases involve high school athletes, charges were originally dropped and the online harassment of both young women has been horrific. As with Steubenville, it has been public campaigns, which have resulted in the case being investigated by a Special Prosecutor.
The reaction to DiBenedetto’s comment has been one of outrage, which is interesting because DiBenedetto has not said anything different than many other people.
Victim-blaming is endemic in our rape culture. It is the cause of West Mercia Police’s “advice” for women that blames women for drinking alcohol rather than men for committing rape :
“Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”, says the headline on West Mercia Police’s web page dedicated to tackling rape. “Did you know”, they ask “if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?”
Oxford Police ran a similar campaign. The University of Kent and the University of Oxford’s Student Union have both come under criticism for anti-rape campaigns that focus on the victim rather than perpetrator.
Slate recently published an article by Emily Yoffe with the title “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” which blames women who have been drinking for their rapes rather than the rapists. Yoffe’s article is hardly new though. The advice within it is the same advice women get everyday despite the fact that the only factor that makes people vulnerable to rape is being in the presence of a rapist. The article itself has been publicly criticised by a number of feminist organisations and publications like Jezebel, Feministing and Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. It has also been criticised in more mainstream media outlets.
DiBenedetto’s comments aren’t new either; neither is his suggestion that Coleman has made a false allegation. The public’s reactions to these comments are new. The widespread condemnation of DiBenedetto’s comments is new.
We are at a turning point: we have the power to end rape culture and victim blaming.
The campaigns fighting rape culture and victim-blaming are incredibly inspiring, Rape Crisis Scotland’s anti-rape campaigns: “This is not an invitation to rape me” and “Ten Top Tips to End Rape” went viral because they inverted normal anti-rape campaigns. Parenting website Mumsnet’s We Believe You campaign was instigated by members angry at the prevalence of rape myths. End Online Misogyny was created in response to the rape threats directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy. Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming] started in May in response to the press surrounding the Oxford Gang case. Reclaim the Night marches are being held all over the UK now, as are Slutwalks.
Only last week, the CPS published new guidelines for the prosecution of child sexual abuse in England/ Wales that actively challenges the existence of rape myths in trials. These new guidelines were in response to feminist activism and, whilst they aren’t as strong as they could be, they are an important start.
However, we need to do more and we need to start with more anti-rape campaigns which put the focus on the perpetrator rather than that victim, like Vancouver’s Don’t be that Guy campaign. We also need a fundamental overhaul of our justice system :
1. Anonymity for rape victims must remain a fundamental tenet.
2. Rape victims should never be required to testify in open court.
3. Rape victims should never be required to testify in front of the accused.
4. Rape victims should be entitled to their own legal advisor to protect them.
5. Rape myths must be legally prohibited from being used as a defence tactic.
6. The CPS and judiciary must undergo constant (re)training on rape myths.
7. Juries must be giving training on rape myths before the trial starts which includes the real definition of what a “false accusation” actually entails [since we consider rape victims who withdraw their complaints as “false accusations” this is absolutely necessary].
8. The “sexual history” of a rape victim must be banned. The defence should have no legal right to undermine the credibility of the victim by discussing their “sexual history”.
9. The press should be prohibited from publishing the specific details of the rape. It is enough to say: X has been charged with child rape.
10. Anyone who attempts to identify the victim should be prosecuted.
Rape has a purpose in our culture, as does victim blaming. We will not end rape culture, victim blaming or the oppression of women by continuing to focus campaigns on rape prevention that hold victims responsible for being in the presence of a rapist.
Most importantly, this change needs to start with a message to men: rape must stop. Men must take personal responsibility for their own perpetuation of rape culture and men need to call out other men who are engaging in sexually predatory behaviour.
We all have the power to change rape culture, but we need men to take a public stand now.
* The legal definition of rape in England and Wales requires the insertion of a penis without consent . Men and women can be, and are, convicted of sexual assault that carries the same tariff as rape. See Rape Crisis Glasgow for the definitions of rape and sexual assault in Scotland.