A brief history of how we lost our way on rape

Daily Telegraph, Sunday 2 February 2020

 

Many people have been outraged by the recent case of a 19-year-old British women in Cyprus – and it has illuminated our attitudes to rape victims, says Joan Smith

 

It seemed, for a moment, as though things had changed. Back in 2017, when a series of well-known women publicly accused the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, the #MeToo movement was born. Thousands of women across the world talked about their own harrowing experiences, encouraging many more victims to go to the police.

 

Weinstein is currently on trial in New York, where he has denied five charges of rape and sexual assault involving two women. But the expectations raised by #MeToo, in this country and the US, are in danger of being dashed. And while rape remains in the headlines, it is often for entirely the wrong reasons.

 

Many people have been outraged by the treatment of a 19-year-old British women in Cyprus. Last July, she told local police she had been gang-raped, only to find herself tried and convicted of making a ‘false’ allegation. The case is undeniably shocking, but the outlook for victims in this country is nothing to shout about.

Newly-published figures show that rape convictions fell by 21 per cent in the year to September 2019. Prosecutions are down by 26 per cent, while police are sending a third fewer cases to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for charging decisions.

There is no doubt that this situation represents a crisis in the criminal justice system. Almost 60,000 individuals who report a rape each year are being let down on a grand scale, prompting the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, to call for an inquiry into the quality of decision-making at the CPS.

In a world that really cared about the rights or women, MPs and ministers would be losing sleep over the way victims have been let down – and the fact that thousands of rapists are being allowed to get away with their crimes every year.

But while inquiries into institutional failures are necessary, none of them has ever got to the heart of why so many rape cases end badly for the victim.

The harsh truth is that this is what happens when a criminal justice system fails to eradicate centuries of prejudice about rape victims. From the dawn of time, people in power have worried more about how to protect men from rare instances of false allegations – and less about getting justice for bruised, brutalised and traumatised women.

 

How we got here: a quick history lesson

 

This anxiety, not always acknowledged but ever-present, can be traced back centuries. For Sir Matthew Hale, the seventeenth-century judge whose pronouncements had such a malign influence on English rape trials, the danger to men was clear.

‘It must be remembered…that [rape] is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho’ never so innocent’, he wrote. I doubt whether many women, then or now, would think that making an accusation of rape is anything other than fraught with anxiety.

Hale’s ideas about women can be inferred by the fact that in 1662 he sentenced two elderly widows in Bury St Edmonds to death by hanging for witchcraft, which doesn’t perhaps make him an ideal modern authority on sexual violence. Yet his assertion that married men could not be found guilty of raping their wives remained the law in England and Wales until 1991.

In October that year, the law lords upheld the conviction of a husband for attempting to rape his estranged wife, finally acknowledging that Hale’s ruling was an ‘anachronistic and offensive’ fiction.

The ever-popular category of ‘women who can’t be raped’ appeared to have been reduced at a stroke. As late as the 1980s, however, some British police forces were reluctant to bring charges in cases where the woman making the accusation sold sex for a living. It wasn’t formally the case that a man who raped a prostitute couldn’t be prosecuted, but the pernicious idea that some women have forfeited protection through their status or behaviour stretches back to Roman times.

Some categories of women – slaves, prostitutes and women who weren’t Roman citizens – could not legally be victims of rape. In a reversal familiar to anyone who has followed the Cyprus gang-rape case, a victim who made an accusation against a man who was later acquitted could find herself charged with calumnia, the Roman equivalent of making a false allegation.

The English word rape derives from the Latin raptus, which means abducted or seized – rather than referring directly to sexual violence. It reflects its origin in property laws, where kidnapping a young woman for sex or indeed marriage was regarded as an offence against her father or guardian. In 320 CE, under the emperor Constantine, raptus became a capital crime but the victim was punished as well, on the ground that she could have avoided the attack by shouting for help or staying at home until she was married.

It may not be much comfort to 21st century women, but the obligation of rape victims to act in certain ways or fight off their attackers – and have the injuries to prove it – has a very long history.

 

The search for the ‘perfect’ victim

 

We know how rape victims are supposed to behave. They should have an impeccable sexual history, dress modestly, drink in moderation, avoid sending jokey texts to friends about sex – and never, ever go back to a man’s hotel room. A sizeable section of the public, from which juries are drawn, blames women who do any of these things, scrutinising their behaviour with the lofty moral certainty of a Roman philosopher.

Until very recently, such attitudes were encouraged by the law, which allowed the defence to introduce evidence about the complainant’s sexual history to discredit her. Since 1991, there have been restrictions on such evidence in rape trials but the act includes several exceptions, one of which relates to supposedly ‘similar’ behaviour by the complainant with other sexual partners. It was used in the 2016 retrial of the footballer Ched Evans, who was cleared of rape after male witnesses were allowed to tell the jury about their past sexual encounters with the woman who had accused him.

Two years ago, Dame Vera Baird and the Labour MP Harriet Harman, both former solicitors general, criticised the use of such evidence in the Evans trial as ‘prejudicial’ and ‘irrelevant’. Since then, the risks facing complainants have become even greater, with demands to hand over mobile phones and computers being condemned by campaigners as a ‘digital strip-search’.

At the same time, as many of us predicted, defendants have even less reason to fear being prosecuted and convicted. In the year ending March 2019, a total of 58,657 rapes were reported to the police. They resulted in just 1,925 successful prosecutions.

Do we really believe that just over 96 per cent of these complainants were lying? It seems much more likely that they were they deemed not-good-enough witnesses for one reason or another. After all, the search for the ‘perfect’ rape victim has never been called off.

Even when a victim has a seemingly ‘perfect’ case, things don’t get any easier. You only have to read about Chanel Miller to know that; she was the woman raped by Stanford University student Brock Turner in 2015 but she still had to fight tooth and nail to get justice, despite the existence of eyewitnesses, physical evidence – and the fact that Turner fled the scene. (If you can call three months in prison justice, that is.)

What hope is there, then, for the rest of us? Last year, thousands of victims failed the cut. Their cases were discontinued, never sent to the CPS or returned with a decision not to prosecute. For each of those women, it must have felt like slap in the face.

Two thousand years ago, some women didn’t have any legal right not to be raped. These days, we’re all entitled to the same protection from the law – and the #MeToo movement seemed to be a symbol of how much attitudes had changed.

But the figures tell a different story. We no longer have a formal category in this country of women who ‘can’t’ be raped – but there appears to be no limit on the number of victims who can’t expect protection from the law.

The Government must not be allowed to ‘forget’ about the Cyprus gang rape teenager

Daily Telegraph, Monday 27 January 2020
Earlier this month, it was the top story on news bulletins. A British teenager found herself in the eye of a storm, as reporters and protesters converged on a court in Cyprus. Photographs in which she tried to conceal her face were on just about every front page, sending shivers down the spine of any woman who could imagine herself in a similar situation.
Five months earlier, the 19-year-old had gone to the police in Ayia Napa in a distressed state, alleging that she had been gang-raped by a group of 12 Israeli tourists. Ten days later, she retracted the claim – something she has since said was done under pressure.
The young men always protested their innocence and were allowed to return home, cleared of any wrongdoing. The British woman, meanwhile, found herself in court, where she was convicted of wilfully indulging in ‘public mischief’ (strange language for making a false allegation).
Three weeks ago, she was spared jail and given a suspended sentence – meaning she could fly home to the UK – amid widespread anger over the fairness of her trial and the message her conviction sent to would-be predators in Cyprus. Were female tourists even safe to travel there?
Suddenly, everything went strangely quiet. The woman was home and life moved on. For us, at least.
Now, in a development that is likely to bring the case back into the headlines – and pose awkward questions for the British government – she has given a searing interview to a British tabloid. It is her first public account of what she says happened that night in July, and it makes for distressing reading.
The young men in question were released by the police after a brief investigation, lasting less than two weeks, and allowed to return to Israel. For her part, the young woman insists that the ‘retraction’ she signed after being interrogated by two male police officers, late at night and without a lawyer present, was obtained under duress.
Many people in Cyprus, the UK and Israel – where some of the boys chanted “the Brit is a whore!” on their arrival at Ben Gurion airport – were shocked by these events. In a highly unusual development, the UK Foreign Office went on the record, with the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, declaring he had “very serious concerns” about the woman’s treatment and had discussed them with his Cypriot counterpart. “We have registered our concerns in crystal clear terms,” he said in a TV interview at the beginning of January.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman got involved as well, saying the Prime Minister was “pleased” by the news that the young woman would be able to return home. But he added that the British government had highlighted its “concerns about the judicial process in this case and the woman’s right to a fair trial”.
These are heavyweight interventions by any standards. So what has happened since then? The answer, it would seem, is nothing. Despite the outcry in this country, the British government has been tight-lipped. If it has made further representations to the government of Cyprus, we certainly haven’t heard about them.
What message does this send to other British women who might be considering a holiday in Ayia Napa? The young woman, whose identity is protected for legal reasons, has urged other women to boycott Cyprus.
The British government has close connections with the island, not least because it has military bases there. But it is far from being the only holiday destination that attracts young women on a summer break before going to college or university. They assume the local police will treat them respectfully if they get into trouble – and they also expect support from the British government.
That might include calling on the proper authorities for a thorough and impartial investigation of any rape allegation involving a British citizen. Given the degree of concern about the handling of the Ayia Napa case, it is hard to understand why the British government hasn’t called for a new investigation at the very least – and offered assistance from experts who understand the need to treat complainants as extremely vulnerable witnesses.
Instead, the young woman and her lawyers have been left to launch an appeal against her conviction, attempting to overturn a criminal record which could place severe restrictions on her future – she had wanted to train as a police officer. One of the issues they have raised is the Cypriot judge’s refusal to hear any evidence about the alleged rape, which should worry anyone who believes in the right to a fair trial.
The ramifications of this case go beyond the fate of a single young woman, traumatic though her experience has undoubtedly been. At a moment when the criminal justice system in the UK has been criticised for a worryingly low level of convictions in rape cases, ministers now face questions on a different front.
Even if they avoid Ayia Napa, British women will go on booking holidays in party resorts where alcohol is cheap and men are on the look-out for sex. Does the British government care what happens to them? In the wake of this highly disturbing case, the women of this country are entitled to know whether we can expect more from the Foreign Office than words.

The fact Reynhard Sinaga got away with his crimes for so long shows the need for more awareness of male rape

Daily Telegraph, 6 January 2020

One of the most horrifying things about rape is how many times some sexual predators get away with it. Take the black cab rapist, John Worboys, who was given two more life sentences last month for attacks on four more women, and has confessed to targeting 90 victims. Now another man has been exposed as probably the most prolific rapist in British legal history, following a trial which saw him convicted of a staggering 159 sex offences against 48 men.

In a case that offers insights into the rarely-reported phenomenon of male rape, it has been revealed that Reynhard Sinaga preyed on men in Manchester for as long as ten years, inviting them into his flat where he drugged and assaulted them. The 36-year-old postgraduate student was finally named today, at a sentencing hearing where he was given life with a minimum term of 30 years. He was already serving life sentences imposed at two earlier trials, which took place in 2018 and 2019.

Rape is often portrayed as a one-off offence, carried out by an opportunistic offender who then supposedly reverts to his ‘normal’ existence. The cases of Worboys and Sinaga offer a very different picture, showing how calculating sexual predators are sometimes able to commit identical crimes for years without being apprehended. It is a measure of how far rape is from the minds of most men that so few of his victims considered the possibility of assault when they woke up in a total stranger’s flat – or perhaps they couldn’t bear to think about it

Sinaga, who has several degrees and is originally from Indonesia, was convicted of 136 counts of rape, eight of attempted rape, 14 of sexual assault and one of assault by penetration. Because he drugged his victims, most of them woke up with no memory of being attacked. Judge Suzanne Goddard QC described him as ‘a highly dangerous, cunning and deceitful individual who will never be safe to be released’.

Even now, many of his victims have not been identified. Only two men went to the police, the first in April 2017 after he woke up disorientated in an unfamiliar room with an Asian male. He didn’t remember what had happened but later had flashbacks of being sexually assaulted, which led him to report the attack a couple of days later. Unfortunately, he was unable to identify the address where the assault took place. Sinaga remained free until June that year when a teenager regained consciousness to find himself being attacked.

He managed to fight off his assailant before escaping and calling the police, who initially treated Sinaga as the victim. It was only when they examined his mobile phone that they discovered a recording of Sinaga assaulting the boy. Their inquiries subsequently revealed a second phone, and around 800 videos of Sinaga raping or sexually assaulting unconscious men.

The police were able to identity some of them from videos and personal possessions – mobile phones, ID cards and watches – that Sinaga stole from his victims and kept as ‘trophies’. But they believe he may have targeted as many as190 victims and are appealing for men who think they may have been abused by Sinaga to come forward.

It is well-known that most female victims of rape don’t go to the police, fearing they will not be believed. It took years for allegations to emerge against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, whose trial on charges of rape and sexual assault begins in New York today. A nightmare scenario in which the victim finds herself accused is currently playing out in Cyprus, where a British teenager who reported an alleged gang rape has been convicted of ‘public mischief’. In the Worboys case, two of his victims eventually won a Supreme Court case against the police for bungling their investigation into the serial rapist.

The Sinaga case is unusual in that most of his victims didn’t know they had been raped until they were approached by the police. Some elected to give evidence against him, using victim impact statements to describe the drastic effect on their lives. But in a telling indication of the shame that attaches to male rape, dozens of victims didn’t want to go to court, leaving them to struggle with the long-term consequences of learning they had been assaulted.

Prosecutors believe that Sinaga took ‘a particular pleasure in preying on heterosexual men’. It is likely that the silence about male rape worked in his favour, leaving most of his victims in the dark about what had happened. Some even thought Sinaga was a good Samaritan, believing his story that he’d invited them inside to charge their phones or after finding them unwell in the street.

The fact that such a prolific offender got away with it for so many years shows the need for greater awareness of male rape. One American study describes men as the ‘silent victims’, and suggests that they express particular concern about ‘reconciling their masculine identity with their experience of being raped’.

Whether they target men or women, emerging evidence about the apparent impunity of serial rapists is extremely disturbing. And while counselling services are already over-stretched, it shows the urgent need for better resources for victims, police and prosecutors.

Conspiracies of Silence

Sunday Times, 5 January 2020

With Silver, the Scrublands author Chris Hammer adds lustre to his reputation

It’s just over a year since Chris Hammer’s first novel, Scrublands, burst onto the crime scene, bagging the CWA New Blood Dagger for 2019. Now Australia’s crime renaissance continues with his second, Silver (Wildfire £16.99), in which former foreign correspondent Martin Scarsden goes back to his small coastal hometown.
It was clear in Scrublands that Scarsden had emotional baggage, blundering into a community traumatised by a massacre without considering the consequences. The case left him chastened and with an urge to return to his roots in Port Silver, where he grew up with an alcoholic father. Scarsden wants to make peace with his troubled past, but his good intentions are thwarted when he arrives to find that one of his oldest friends has been murdered. The town itself is split over plans to turn a part of the coast beloved of surfers and backpackers into an upmarket marina. Hammer combines Scarsden’s backstory with a vivid portrait of a divided community to mesmerising effect.

All the Rage (Penguin £7.99) is the fourth novel in Cara Hunter’s hugely popular series about a team of detectives in Oxford. It opens with a minicab driver spotting a teenage girl on the outskirts of the city, visibly distressed, her clothing torn. It’s clear that the girl has been abducted, dragged off the street and assaulted, but she’s too scared to talk to the police. Their fears that they are dealing with a serial predator seem to be confirmed when a second girl disappears, creating a storm on social media, but the missing girl’s friends are surprisingly uncooperative. Bullying and the terrifying vulnerability of teenage girls are at the heart of this tough and occasionally disturbing novel.

Nalini Singh is a bestselling author of paranormal fiction, but A Madness of Sunshine (Gollancz £14.99) is her first crime novel. Singh was born in Fiji and grew up in New Zealand, where the book is set in the idyllic seaside town of Golden Cove. On the surface it’s a warm, inclusive community and no one wants to talk about dark secrets such as domestic violence. Singh’s main character, Anahera, has Maori heritage like many of the residents, but she fled Golden Cove after her father was implicated in her mother’s violent death. Returning to the town years later, Anahera finds a conspiracy of silence about the disappearance of three young women tourists, who supposedly got lost in the bush. That silence starts to fall apart when a local girl goes missing, prompting an increasingly desperate search. Singh puts her previous writing experience to great effect in this accomplished novel, showing how manipulative men cover their tracks.

The Cyprus case shows how easily rape victims are let down and distrusted

The Guardian, 31 December 2019

What happened to the teenager is a stain on the Cypriot justice system. Not believing women, however, is almost universal

The message to foreign women thinking of booking a holiday in Cyprus could hardly be more stark: if you are attacked don’t expect the authorities to help you. On the contrary, reporting a rape carries a significant risk that it won’t be properly investigated, as appears to have happened to the 19-year-old British woman who went to the police in Ayia Napa in July saying she had been gang-raped. Moreover, you might end up deprived of your own liberty.

The teenager found herself convicted on Monday of inventing the whole thing, and faces a potential prison sentence when she appears at the Famagusta district court next week. Predatory young men, on the other hand, might easily come to the conclusion that they have nothing to fear.

The case now has all the ingredients of an international incident, following a highly unusual intervention from the Foreign Office. A spokesman has described events in Cyprus as “deeply distressing” and says that the UK is “seriously concerned” about the young woman’s right to a fair trial. While limiting damage to the tourist industry may have been the primary concern of the Cypriot authorities, it has backfired spectacularly. The UK is also an important ally and has military bases on the island. Whatever is being said publicly, it’s likely that frantic discussions are taking place behind the scenes, seeking a way out of what is fast becoming a public relations disaster.

While some elements in this shocking case are particular to Cyprus, it highlights a culture of disbelief towards victims that is almost universal. That distrust expresses itself in different ways, depending on the jurisdiction, and it appears that the investigation in Ayia Napa was flawed from the outset. In the UK, victims often complain about the length of time a rape inquiry takes, but the Cypriot investigation was over in just 12 days. How can a thorough investigation into an alleged rape with multiple perpetrators be carried out in such a short space of time? Yet all the accused boys were released and allowed to return home to Israel.

The young woman’s legal team claim that local police failed to collect evidence from the hotel room where the incident took place, didn’t secure the crime scene and showed no understanding of the impact of traumatic events on the complainant’s memory.

Instead of treating her as a young and vulnerable witness, they interviewed her on her own late at night, with neither a lawyer nor a family member present. The Cypriot police do not record interviews, so there is no independent record of what happened during the seven hours before the teenager signed a “retraction”, which she says she did under duress.

This sequence of events is a stain on the Cypriot justice system, but what lies behind it is a hugely disproportionate anxiety about false accusations. Indeed it is one of the principal myths that undermine rape investigations, even though the idea that there are high levels of false allegations is unsupported by evidence. In the UK, a handful of widely publicised cases that ended in acquittals or a decision not to proceed to trial has tainted the entire system for investigating rape. Many people do not understand that a decision not to prosecute reflects an assessment of the available evidence, and does not mean the victim was lying.

The Crown Prosecution Service denies the accusation that it has become “risk averse”, but there has been a 52% drop in the number of rape cases prosecuted since 2016, despite an increase of 43% in complaints to the police. According to the latest figures for the year ending in March 2019, there were 58,657 allegations of rape in England and Wales but only 1,925 successful prosecutions. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, it simply defies belief that more than 55,000 women are lying about being raped every year.

The truth is actually much worse: a habit of treating women as untrustworthy witnesses has imbued our own criminal justice system with a corrosive degree of suspicion. It’s far from unusual for victims to face intrusive demands for personal information, including school and medical records. They are made to feel as though they, rather than their alleged attackers, have shameful secrets in their past.

These developments have not gone unchallenged. The Centre for Women’s Justice is seeking a judicial review of the way the CPS makes decisions in rape cases, while the information commissioner is investigating a complaint from myself, the London victims’ commissioner and women’s groups about excessive demands for complainants’ private data.

In the meantime there can be no doubt that thousands of sexual predators are going free. Some of them, no doubt, will attack again. And while we rightly shudder at the treatment a British teenager has received in Cyprus, we should not forget that our own criminal justice system is in crisis – or that it lets down rape victims every day.

• Joan Smith is chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board

Rape victims can’t get justice because the system is collapsing – and here is the ‘damning’ proof

Daily Telegraph, 17 December 2019

The first duty of government is to protect its citizens – and it is failing women. Every year, thousands of women and girls are raped and subjected to horrendous assaults, with no realistic hope of seeing their attacker held to account. A shocking new report has finally acknowledged this stark truth, admitting that ‘the number of rape allegations lost in the investigative process is damning’.

‘Damning’ is a strong word. It is contained in a report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), which is about as an official body as you can get. ‘If 58,657 allegations of rape were made in the year ending March 2019 but only 1,925 successful prosecutions for the offence followed, something must be wrong,’ it observes with a degree of under-statement.

The report is the first product of an end-to-end review by a number of government ministries and agencies, announced after a dramatic increase in the number of rape reports and a fall in the number being prosecuted. The report bears out a great deal of what critics of the criminal justice system have been saying for years, highlighting the effect of chronic under-funding; almost 40 per cent of CPS lawyers who were interviewed for the report said that their caseload was ‘heavy and unmanageable’.

It also criticises some CPS lawyers for demanding sensitive personal data, including medical reports and downloads of mobile devices, that weren’t necessary to the investigation. Victims’ lawyers have been saying as much for months, and a complaint about demands for school reports and other historical material is currently being investigated by the Information Commissioner.

But women’s groups have been quick to point out shortcomings in the HMCPSI report, which asked experienced prosecutors to examine decisions in a sample of rape cases. What it didn’t do was talk to victims, their lawyers or women’s organisations, who all insist they have seen a change in the way prosecuting decisions are made. If they had, the report’s authors would have heard a very different story: ‘We are inundated with examples of compelling cases of rape prosecutions being dropped by the CPS or by the police who say there is no point in referring cases to the CPS any more,’ said Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice.

The new report admits that the CPS is charging fewer cases. The number referred by the police has dropped by 22.6 per cent over three years but the fall in cases that proceed to prosecution is even more dramatic – a drop of 52.1 per cent in the same period. The report defends the CPS, claiming this trend ‘is not as straightforward as it may appear’, and it clears the organisation of being ‘risk-averse’ – a claim first made last year, after the Guardian reported that CPS lawyers were being advised to take weaker cases out of the system.

The report asserts that the allegation of weeding out weaker cases ‘is not supported by the findings from this inspection’ – but that isn’t the end of the matter. The issue is due to be aired in court after the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) launched a legal challenge against the CPS in September.

There’s no doubt that the police, who carry out rape investigations and turn over their findings to the CPS for charging decisions, will be unhappy with the way they’ve been put in the firing line. But the report nevertheless contains the profoundly shocking admission that the police are now so under-resourced that their part of the criminal justice system ‘may have gone beyond’ breaking point.

How can women possibly get justice if the system is collapsing? And why have things been allowed to get this pass, which means that the vast majority of rape victims will never see their attacker in court, let alone convicted? We should never forget that behind each statistic is a human being who has suffered a horrific assault, which may take a lifetime to get over.

And it’s not as though this crisis, which isn’t too strong a word for this unforgiveable situation, has happened out of the blue. Report after report has shown the same trend: many more women listening to the message about reporting rape, only to find themselves enmeshed in a nightmare of delays, intrusive demands for personal information, and shattering disappointment when the case is marked ‘no further action’.

Let’s be frank: if someone had set out to design a criminal justice system whose central concern was the rights of defendants, rather than the victims it is supposed to protect, this is what it would look like. Women are being let down on a massive scale, but the other consequence is that predators are being sent a hugely damaging message. With so few cases ending up in court, thousands of rapists are being left to seek out new victims, with no fear of arrest or prosecution.

  

Dismissing domestic abuse as a ‘toxic relationship’ is only making things worse

Daily Telegraph, 11 December 2019

Something has changed, rather dramatically, in the way we think about domestic abuse. In case after case, lawyers for women convicted of murder are revealing previously unexamined histories of physical harm and psychological control. They argue that the long-term effects of domestic abuse were not considered at the women’s trials.

After decades of treating such women as killers, with no mitigating circumstances, the criminal justice system has finally begun to understand the impact of prolonged abuse. It’s a huge step forward from the days when police called to domestic incidents used to distribute blame equally, talking about ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’. We now know that women who kill a partner have often had every aspect of their lives controlled for years, inflicting profound psychological damage.

This development has been widely welcomed. The campaigning organisation Justice for Women has a list of women they believe were wrongly convicted because their experience of domestic abuse was not produced in evidence at their trials. They hope to see more murder convictions overturned and replace by manslaughter verdicts, using evidence about the women’s psychological state that wasn’t available to juries.

This shift towards more humane attitudes has not been universally welcomed, however. The old vocabulary about domestic abuse was crude and victim-blaming, evident in cartoon strips where wimpish husbands cowered away from ‘nagging’ wives. Now it’s more subtle, framed in terms such as ‘toxic’ or ‘volatile’ relationships which once again appears to distribute blame between both partners.

Let’s be clear – in most cases of domestic abuse, it’s the perpetrator’s actions that are at the heart of the problem. Abusers know what they are doing, deliberately creating confusion and fear as a means of control. Depersonalising such behaviour obscures reality, placing an additional burden on the victim – if the relationship was ‘volatile’, why didn’t she just leave? The answer is often that every aspect of her life was controlled by her abuser, who undermined her until she didn’t think she could survive without him.

This form of abuse was central to Sally Challen’s successful appeal earlier this year against her conviction for the murder of her husband, Richard, almost a decade earlier. In February, the court of appeal ordered a retrial after her lawyers argued that she had been a victim of coercive control, which was recognised as a criminal offence only in 2015. Four months later, the prosecution accepted her plea of guilty to manslaughter and she was released due to time already served.

This month, two other women supported by Justice for Women have been in court to challenge their murder convictions. Farieissia Martin was only 22 in 2015 when she was convicted of the murder of her boyfriend, Kyle Farrell, but his history of violence towards her was not explored at her trial and no assessment of her mental state was carried out. Last week, a panel of three judges granted leave to appeal and a hearing is due in the new year.

On Tuesday, lawyers for 26-year-old Emma-Jayne Magson, who was found guilty of murdering her boyfriend in 2016, produced new psychiatric evidence that wasn’t heard by the original jury. They said that Ms Magson, who had been exposed to domestic violence and ‘parental neglect’ as a child, was suffering from a personality disorder when she stabbed James Knight. The court was told he had tried to kick down her front door after being ‘violent to her earlier in the evening’.

But if the criminal justice system has moved on, the headlines that followed Ms Magson’s hearing tell a very different story. ‘Mum who stabbed abusive lover to death backed by fellow-killer Sally Challen’, reads one. Another describes Ms Magson as a ‘brutal’ killer who ‘sacrificed’ her boyfriend with a steak knife. The judges reserved their decision to a later date, unlike some elements of the popular press.

Victim-blaming has always been common in court cases but now it’s taken a new and shocking form. Last month, many people were appalled by a murder trial in New Zealand which hinged on the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence. The unnamed defendant, who alleged that his British victim had asked him to choke her during sex, was found guilty òf murder – but only after his unsubstantiated claims made headlines around the world. This defence, which the victim can’t challenge for obvious readons, is being used increasingly often in murder cases, leading to calls for it to be banned.

Attitudes towards violence against women are evolving – but sometimes it feels as though we are going backwards. It’s taken years to persuade the criminal justice system to recognise the impact on women of prolonged abuse. But claims about ‘volatile’ relationships and ‘rough sex’ are diversions from the real problem. Why is it still so hard to name male violence?

 

 

 

Julian Assange’s accuser has become collateral damage – and shows why women don’t speak up

Daily Telegraph, 20 November 2019

Very few rape allegations are ever reported to the police. Women who decide to go to the authorities find themselves facing lengthy delays and the possibility – some would say probability, judging by the statistics – that the case will never come to trial. Investigations lasting a year or more are not unusual, but few complainants have had to wait as long for a decision as the woman who accused the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, of rape in 2010.

This saga now appears to have come to a messy and unsatisfactory conclusion, with Swedish prosecutors announcing that the investigation has been dropped after a review of the evidence. They said the decision had been taken because the evidence had ‘weakened’ due to the long period which had elapsed since the original allegation.

The country’s deputy chief prosecutor, Eve-Marie Persson, made a separate statement, describing the complainant’s version of events as ‘credible and reliable’. But she acknowledged that witnesses’ memories had faded over time, saying she had concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to bring charges.

Ms Persson left open the possibility of an appeal against the decision to Sweden’s attorney general, a move that would require almost superhuman courage on the part of the complainant. Assange’s supporters immediately hailed the decision as a vindication, wrongly claiming it proved that the allegation was baseless and reviving conspiracy theories about the woman’s motivation.

They have always maintained that the rape accusation was a pretext to get Assange to return to Sweden so he could be extradited to the US on unrelated charges of computer hacking. There has always been a major flaw in this argument, given that it’s actually easier to extradite someone from the UK than from Sweden. Indeed Assange is currently the subject of extradition proceedings in the British courts, having never set foot in Sweden since he reneged on a promise in 2010 to return and submit to questioning in relation to allegations of sexual offences involving two women. Inquiries into the second woman’s accusations were dropped in 2015 due to the statute of limitations on lesser offences.

Not for the first time, it needs to be pointed out that a decision not to prosecute is not the same as an acquittal – and it certainly doesn’t justify casting aspersions on the accuser’s motives. On the contrary, this outcome is as almost as unsatisfactory for Assange as it is for the complainant, leaving him open to the accusation – quickly made on Twitter by the legal commentator David Allen Green – that he ‘has successfully waited out the investigation’.

There is only one reason why this matter has dragged on for almost a decade, and that is Assange’s refusal to cooperate with a perfectly legitimate investigation by the Swedish authorities. No one is above the law, no matter how much they have been lionised by a slew of celebrities. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Assange challenged the European arrest warrant issued by Sweden in the British courts – and lost at every level.

He then became a fugitive from justice, taking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012. The Swedish authorities did their best to investigate the allegations against Assange in very difficult circumstances, finally calling a halt to the rape inquiry in 2017. They reopened it in May this year when the Ecuadorean government withdrew Assange’s asylum status, leading to his immediate arrest. He is currently in Belmarsh prison, serving a 50-week sentence for breaching his bail conditions, and fighting extradition to the US.

This near-farcical series of events is often discussed as though it concerns only one person, characterised as a heroic and persecuted seeker after truth. The woman in the case has become collateral damage, the ordeal she has endured almost entirely dismissed and her right to anonymity breached by some of Assange’s supporters.

No one makes an allegation of rape lightly. Women rightly fear that their reputations will be shredded, although few have ever had to put up with smears to the effect that they are pawns in a US-inspired conspiracy. Today’s news was greeted on the website of RT, the TV station funded by the Russian government, as evidence that Swedish prosecutors had thrown in the towel, ‘having successfully fulfilled their role in the years-long scheme to put Assange behind bars’.

Such jibes are demeaning to women, who are never allowed to be independent actors in their own story. It’s even harder to stomach in the era of #MeToo, which is supposed to have ensured that women who make allegations of sexual misconduct at least get a fair hearing. But if there’s one thing that feminists have learned to our cost, it’s that there are no limits to the willingness of left-leaning men to throw women under a bus.

There is an old saying, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Whatever happens to the WikiLeaks founder in the entirely separate extradition proceedings brought by the American government, one thing is clear. He does not emerge with credit from a case that could have been disposed of years ago if he had only kept his promise to return to Sweden and cooperate with the investigation.

 

The ‘rough sex’ defence is indefensible

The Guardian, Friday 22 November 2019

Grace Millane’s murder trial shows how it’s being used in courtrooms to justify unconscionable violence against women

We all know that it is not unusual to hear a pack of lies told in court. Defendants will say anything to avoid a prison sentence, especially when they’re facing serious charges. But the lies told by the man convicted in Auckland of the brutal murder of a British backpacker, Grace Millane, have exposed something profoundly disturbing about the way women are treated in modern criminal justice systems.

Many people in the UK and in New Zealand have followed the trial with visceral horror, disturbed by the intense focus on the victim. The 27-year-old defendant, who was found guilty after a trial lasting three weeks, didn’t deny killing the young woman he had met on a Tinder date. But he claimed that she died accidentally after she asked him to choke her during consensual sex.

There was nothing to support the defendant’s claims about what happened on the night in question. Indeed they were contradicted by forensic evidence, which suggested he must have deliberately compressed Millane’s neck for between five and 10 minutes. It was bad enough that her parents, David and Gillian, had to hear this dreadful account of their daughter’s final moments, along with the revelation that her killer took photos that displayed a “morbid interest in dead women’s genitalia”. But they also had to listen to a defence that effectively shifted the blame from the defendant, suggesting that Millane died from a toxic combination of alcohol and inexperience of BDSM practices.

Let’s be clear about what we are witnessing here: misogyny has become so mainstream that men are seriously asking juries to believe “she asked for it”, even when what she supposedly “asked” for has ended in death. It is victim-blaming on the most brazen scale and the sole “evidence”, in virtually all of these cases, is the word of the defendant. What’s euphemistically known as the “rough sex” defence is being used more and more often in the UK, up by 90% over the past decade, according to one estimate. The website We Can’t Consent to This has found 59 women killed in so-called “consensual” violence in the UK, and the defence was successful in almost half of the 18 cases that came to trial in the past five years, leading to a lesser verdict of manslaughter or an acquittal.

Grace Millane’s killer will not be sentenced until February. His identity continues to be protected, while the reputation of his victim – a young woman who had the misfortune to meet a killer on the eve of her 22nd birthday – has been trashed around the world. No one who has followed the case could be unaware of the way in which her supposed sexual history has been laid bare in the courtroom, including claims about her interest in BDSM that she was not there to challenge.

It is painfully reminiscent of the way rape victims used to be treated in British courtrooms. For decades, defence lawyers would use the complainant’s sexual history, what she was wearing and how much she had had to drink in an attempt to discredit her testimony.

That isn’t supposed to happen these days, but it certainly hasn’t improved the conviction rate in rape cases, which has fallen to its lowest level in a decade. The context – punitive public attitudes towards victims, combined with a willingness to believe the most outlandish claims made by perpetrators – hasn’t changed. If anything, it has got worse, leading to fewer prosecutions. And it’s now affecting not just rape cases but incidents in which women have lost their lives at the hands of men they trusted to have sex with.

How on earth did we end up here, with defendants asking us to believe that they accidentally killed women who wanted to be strangled or beaten? It’s the inevitable product of a culture that habitually treats women as untrustworthy, giving a sympathetic hearing to any number of violent perpetrators who portray themselves as victims.

Thankfully, the jury in Auckland didn’t fall for it. But it shouldn’t be happening in the UK either: as long ago as 1993, the House of Lords ruled that a defendant can successfully argue that his victim consented to serious injuries.

The increasing use of the “rough sex” defence shames this country. This isn’t about “she asked for it”. It’s about a handful of violent men telling outrageous lies – and some of them are getting away with murder.

• Joan Smith is a columnist and the author of Misogynies

 

Prince Andrew failed to show any empathy for Epstein’s victims – but that’s what abused girls are used to

Daily Telegraph, 17 November 2019

At the very end of her interview with Prince Andrew, Emily Maitlis offered him an opportunity to express sympathy for Jeffrey Epstein’s victims. He didn’t take it, even though the teenage girls at the heart of the case had been absent from his frequently risible account of his friendship with the convicted sex offender.

For almost an hour, the prince had talked mainly about himself, batting away references to Epstein’s crimes as though the financier had merely been caught with his hand in the till at a golf club. What on earth did Andrew think the conversation was about? I don’t suppose sex trafficking is often discussed in the drawing-rooms of Buckingham Palace, but that’s no reason to sanitise it. This was an interview prompted by multiple accusations of rape and procuring girls to be sexually assaulted, not a chat about having a slightly dodgy mate.

Epstein’s milieu, into which he was more than happy to welcome the Queen’s second son, was more rarefied than the kebab shops and taxi businesses run by the men convicted of grooming under-age girls in the north of England. But his modus operandi – identifying girls from a poor background and snaring them with promises and little luxuries – was essentially the same.

It said as much in the indictment he faced on his arrest on July this year, which alleged that Epstein ‘sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations’. Facing the prospect of many years in prison, Epstein killed himself a month later.

Some of his homes were visited by the Duke of York, on his own admission, apparently without his ever noticing that anything was wrong. Other sources have claimed it was impossible to miss the number of young girls in these establishments, suggesting that the prince – a one-time patron of an NSPCC campaign to protect vulnerable children – is remarkably unobservant.

The fact remains that by the time Andrew visited Epstein in 2010, staying with him for four days to ease the pain of having to impart the news that their friendship was over, the financier was on the sex offenders’ register. In 2008, he had pleaded guilty to a charge of solicitation of prostitution of a minor and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, although he served only 13 months.

Other charges could have been brought against him, involving girls who weren’t consulted before prosecutors in Florida decided to limit the extent of the prosecution, but they were reportedly treated more like prostitutes than victims. Prosecutors even trawled the girls’ Myspace pages, arguing that their choice of clothes undermined their credibility as witnesses.

For victims, being written out of the story is a horribly familiar experience. In Rochdale, when a 15-year-old girl disclosed that she had been repeatedly raped by a group of British-Asian men, she was deemed by social workers to have made a ‘lifestyle choice’. Women and girls who accused Jimmy Savile of sexual assault got nowhere until he was exposed, after his death, as one of this country’s most prolific sex offenders.

Epstein was more affluent, better-dressed and had more impressive connections than most paedophiles. That doesn’t alter the fact that he was accused of some of the most serious offences imaginable, including rape and sex trafficking.

Prince Andrew – himself a father of two daughters – was offered the most public of platforms to express concern for the young women his friend preyed upon. Instead, he lined up with a long cast of prosecutors, police and social workers who have completely failed to show any empathy for victims.

If the Duke’s lack of remorse has done nothing else, it’s a vivid illustration of how little self-regarding men care about abused women and girls. Tragically, it’s one of the principal reasons why sexual predators get away with it for so long,

 

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 17 November 2019

For many years, Charleston farmhouse has been synonymous with the Bloomsbury group. But its earlier history includes a period when it was run by two women as a boarding house, a little-known fact that has inspired Nicola Upson’s haunting new novel, Sorry for the Dead (Faber £12.99). It’s 1938 and her heroine, crime writer Josephine Tey, is one of the country’s most celebrated authors. But a sensational newspaper story catapults her back to the First World War, when Tey was a young teacher at an agricultural college based at the farmhouse. Rumours had already begun to circulate about the two women running the college, and gossip went into overdrive when one of their pupils died in horrific circumstances. The author of the article is determined to rake up this scandalous story, implying that Tey had a hand in the murder. Her attempt to clear her name forces her to revisit painful events and to confront deep-seated homophobia. It’s a touching insight into the fictional Tey’s insecurities, and one of the most memorable books in this superlative series.

Abir Mukherjee’s Death in the East (Harvill Secker £14.99) marks a new direction for this award-winning series set in India after the First World War. Mukherjee’s detective Sam Wyndham has been struggling to keep his job in the Calcutta police while relying ever more heavily on opium. The new book returns to his days as a young PC in the East End of London. One of his first investigations involved the brutal murder of a young woman, a killing his superiors were more than happy to pin on a penniless Polish Jew. Now, in remote Assam, Wyndham is stunned to recognise the real murderer, going under a different name, and with an attractive new wife. The novel switches between London boarding houses and rural India, filling in Wyndham’s back story and presenting several hugely ingenious murders. It’s a brilliant change of pace, displaying Mukherjee’s growing confidence as a writer.

Martin Cruz Smith’s detective Arkady Renko has lived through the collapse of the USSR since the bestselling Gorky Park. The Siberian Dilemma (Simon & Schuster £16.99) is set in a very different Russia, ruled by a modern-day autocrat and torn apart by squabbling oligarchs. Renko himself seems diminished, appearing to have little control over his professional or private life. His journalist girlfriend, Tatiana, has been out of touch in Siberia for weeks, and Renko jumps at the chance when his boss offers a pretext to follow her there, leading to a series of surreal turns involving bear hunts, shamans and assassinations. It’s all a bit lacklustre and says little we don’t already know about Putin’s Russia.

Karen Perry’s new novel, Come a Little Closer (Penguin £7.99), is an intense drama set in an affluent street in Dublin. Leah and her boyfriend move into a cheap basement flat, unaware that their neighbour has just been released from prison. Twenty years ago, Anton was convicted of killing his wife, a crime he has always denied, but he is certainly creepy. Add an older female neighbour, obsessively in love with the supposed wife killer, and the conditions are in place for a violent confrontation. Perry has come up with a clever novel in which everyone is hiding something, and keeps the reader guessing.