It’s a scandal that the Government is still punishing sex abuse victims of this country’s vile grooming gangs

Daily Telegraph, Monday 18 March 2019
Most people would see these women as survivors of horrendous crimes. One of them, Sammy Woodhouse, has become well-known not just for giving evidence against a notorious grooming gang but as a courageous campaigner for other victims. But now these same women have accused government ministers of further punishing survivors of child abuse.
Their pleas for a pardon for girls, mostly underage, who were forced to commit crimes by adult abusers have been ignored, forcing them to reveal decades-old criminal convictions to prospective employers.
It’s a bitter blow for Ms Woodhouse, 33, who launched her campaign for what’s become known as ‘Sammy’s law’ in 2017.  At present, women like her have to reveal juvenile offences when they apply for jobs or voluntary activities involving contact with children or vulnerable adults.
While the requirement is intended to protect vulnerable individuals, it doesn’t distinguish between people convicted as adults and those who committed offences under duress when they were children. Ms Woodhouse was only 14 when she was first targeted by Arshid Hussain, who is now serving 35 years for multiple sex offences against children.
A year later, police found her hiding half-naked under a bed in a house where Hussain was also present. While he wasn’t detained, she was arrested and cautioned for possession of an offensive weapon, a truncheon she had been given by Hussain. A few months later, she was convicted of assault after he encouraged her to get into a fight with another girl.
It couldn’t be clearer that Ms Woodhouse is a victim of what enlightened police officers now call ‘complex victimisation’. The phrase describes a situation where vulnerable children are targeted by criminals, brutalised and forced into committing crimes themselves. A similar phenomenon happens in teenage gangs, where female members are used to hide drugs and weapons. As adults, they will have criminal records even though they were primarily victims of rapes and sexual assaults, for which their attackers were never convicted.
One of the perverse effects of the current law is that it forces survivors of sex attacks to give up their right to lifelong anonymity. Women like Ms Woodhouse feel the only way they can explain their criminal record to prospective employers is to reveal the context, effectively outing themselves as rape victims.
The same thing is happening to women who were forced into prostitution as teenagers by violent pimps. Last year, three women went to court to challenge the legal obligation to disclose decades-old prostitution offences. One of them, Fiona Broadfoot, 50, was trafficked from Bradford to London 35 years ago at the age of 15.
She received her first conviction for soliciting two years later, acquiring a further 98 convictions before she managed to escape the sex trade almost a quarter of a century ago. But she is still forced in certain situations – such as her application to join a parent-teacher group at her son’s school – to reveal a criminal record that describes her in archaic and offensive language as ‘a common prostitute’.
The High Court agreed that the rules are unfair in cases where ‘any link between the past offending and the assessment of present risk…is either non-existent or at best extremely tenuous’. But the government has signalled its intention to appeal, apparently intent on opposing any change in the law to help victims. The unfairness is obvious: ‘The men who bought me never got arrested for raping a vulnerable child,’ Ms Broadfoot points out, ‘but I still have to declare my convictions?’
What it exposes is the government’s longstanding reluctance to recognise glaring inequalities in the criminal justice system. Grooming gangs operated with impunity in English towns and cities – Rochdale, Oxford, Newcastle, Huddersfield and Bolton, as well as Rotherham – while their victims were treated as runaways, delinquents or girls who had ‘chosen’ a dangerous lifestyle.
It took years, decades even, before the perpetrators were convicted of a litany of offences, yet their victims often had criminal records long before they left their teens. Now the criminal justice system that failed to protect them as children is failing them again as adults, refusing to lift the stigma of a criminal record forced on them by their abusers.

Don’t base policy on moral panic

Unherd.com
Thursday 14 March 2019
Governments have a regrettable tendency to make policy in response to headlines. It’s a particular temptation in matters relating to criminal justice, where harsh measures are frequently demanded by the ‘public’ – and ministers duly oblige. With any luck, especially in an administration with as many changes in personnel as the present one, he or she will have moved on by the time disaster strikes.
In this instance, disaster is not too strong a word for what’s happened to rape investigations. Victims who go to the police are already a tiny proportion of the estimated 510,000 women who experience rape or sexual assault each year, according to the government’s own figures. Now, though, the number of defendants being charged with rape has collapsed to a ten-year low. There was a drop of almost a quarter (23.1 per cent) in 2017-18, with only 2,822 of the 41,186 rapes recorded by the police in England and Wales leading to prosecutions.
Women’s groups believe that much of the blame lies with draconian new rules on disclosure in rape cases, which are actively deterring some victims from cooperating with the police – and, it’s claimed, affecting decisions by the Crown Prosecution Service. Most people who saw the initial alarming headlines are completely unaware of what’s happening, even though it amounts to an unprecedented intrusion into just about every aspect of complainants’ lives.
Victims (but not defendants) are being asked to sign ‘Stafford’ statements which give the police blanket permission to get hold of school, college and medical records going back decades. Some forces have even asked for access to notes made in counselling sessions following a rape, raising the prospect of the victim’s most intimate feelings and fears being exposed to the defence and even her alleged attacker. Some victims have apparently been advised to delay seeking counselling, in case it leads to accusations in court that they’ve been ‘coached’.
To be clear, nothing like this happens in other criminal cases. If you were mugged on your way home from work, you would not be asked to release your entire medical records, revealing episodes of depression or an eating disorder when you were a teenager. You wouldn’t have to allow the police access to your school reports, which might show that you once lied to a teacher to get out of a PE lesson. But I’ve heard about a woman who pulled out a case because she didn’t want the entirely irrelevant fact she’d had an abortion exposed in court. Another couldn’t face being questioned by defence lawyers about her history of anorexia, knowing that it would be used as evidence of her ‘instability’. I’ve even heard of a victim whose school records showed that she once forged her mother’s signature on a note, a long-ago indiscretion which was treated as evidence destroying her credibility as a witness in an adult rape case.
These rules were introduced following a review of rape and serious sexual assault cases ordered by the then Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC, in January last year. It followed an outcry over the collapse of several widely-publicised rape cases including that of a student, Liam Allan, whose trial was stopped after late disclosure of material to the defence. The Metropolitan Police later apologised to Allan, saying that the officer in charge had missed key evidence that led to the trial being halted among 57,000 messages on the alleged victim’s mobile phone. In London and elsewhere, the police acknowledge that they are swamped with data from mobile phones and other personal records, increasing the length and complexity of rape investigations.
The Allan case prompted huge headlines, along with lurid claims that dozens of ‘innocent’ men might be languishing in prison because of disclosure failures in rape cases. But the results of the review ordered by Wright, published in June last year, were nothing like as widely publicised. After examining 3,637 rape and sexual assault cases, the Crown Prosecution Service found 47 where the case was stopped amid concerns about disclosure – but concluded that none of them would have proceeded to trial even without the review process. In eighteen of those cases, the police had felt under pressure to bring charges at an early stage because of fears that the defendant would abscond, commit further offences or interfere with witnesses.
No one wants men to be wrongly charged but the number of cases halted due to disclosure problems amounted to just 1.3 per cent of the total under review. By then, Wright was about to move to a new job as Culture Secretary, and women reporting rapes were experiencing extraordinary levels of intrusion. I’ve even heard of a case where a rape victim was asked to take her mobile phone to a meeting at a police station so that her Facebook account could be accessed by the police and the defence.
Some complainants find the process unbearable and have said they don’t want to go ahead with a trial. Others, who very much want to see their alleged attackers prosecuted, have been told that their personal data includes material, such as explicit text messages, which has destroyed their credibility as witnesses. Victims’ advocates point out that a text message between friends, written after a few drinks, doesn’t prove consent in a sexual encounter several months later. But the collapse in the number of cases leading to prosecutions suggests that access to such material, even when taken completely out of context, is having dire effects. In September last year, the Guardian claimed that prosecutors in England and Wales had become markedly more risk-averse, alleging that CPS staff had been urged to take ‘weak cases out of the system’.
Rape cases are hard to prosecute, especially when the complainant and defendant knew each other before the alleged attack. But in an area of the criminal justice system dogged by myths about false accusations, it’s important to point out that the withdrawal of a witness or indeed an acquittal doesn’t mean that a complaint was fabricated or malicious. Juries have to be convinced ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, which is a high bar for convictions, and that happens only in about half of rape trials,. The conviction rate is even lower (under a third) in trials involving younger defendants.
There is no doubt that last year’s moral panic about disclosure has had catastrophic consequences, not least in terms of the credibility of the criminal justice system. The new rules may not even be legal: following a complaint from myself, the Victim’s Commissioner for London and a number of women’s organisations, the Information Commissioner has launched a high-priority investigation into the way victims’ data is being handled. The ICO is also investigating a separate issue into the practice of taking victims’ mobile phones, which are sometimes being kept for months while every last piece of data – some of it belonging to other people, who haven’t given consent for it to be examined – is extracted from them.
Victims don’t always realise, when they agree to hand over a phone, how long they will be without it. Last year, Dorset police were criticised by the Independent Office for Police Conduct for taking the phone of a stalking victim, Katrina O’Hara, leaving her unable to call 999 when she was attacked and fatally stabbed a few days later by an ex-boyfriend. ‘It is clear she was left afraid and vulnerable by not being able to contact police immediately’, the IOPC said.
Earlier this month the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, tacitly acknowledged the existence of a crisis when he announced a major review of rape investigations. At the same time, the conviction rate among rapes reported to the police is said to have reached a historic low of 1.9 per cent. However you look at it, the criminal justice system isn’t working for rape victims, not least because of a bizarre role reversal in which they find themselves treated with as much, if not, more suspicion as their alleged attackers.

Female Unfriendly

Literary Review, March 2019

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By Caroline Criado Perez

(Chatto & Windus 411pp £16.99)

If I want to walk along the river near where I live, I have to cross one of the busiest roads in west London. The only access is via an underpass, an enclosed tunnel where a female friend of mine was once sexually assaulted. Every time I use it, gritting my teeth and checking whether anyone is approaching from the other side, I think about how much of the urban environment is designed without a thought for the safety of women.

 

Caroline Criado Perez gives many examples of this in her book Invisible Women, showing how women approach everyday experiences – using a multistorey car park or waiting at a lonely bus stop – with a very different attitude from men. If you are a woman, checking for danger becomes second nature: walking home at night, I’m always aware of who is using the same street and, if it is a man, whether I need to pause under a street lamp until he passes.

 

Some men are sensitive to women’s apprehensions, making sure not to walk too close or making a point of crossing to the other side to signal they are not a threat. But our use of public space still feels conditional, a point brought home every time the police warn women not to go out after dark following a particularly egregious murder. I’ve never heard a senior police officer ask men to stay at home at night. Criado Perez’s book is a reminder of how much the status quo stealthily favours the male half of the population.

 

For that reason, I suspect what she has to say here will seem, to some readers at least, more controversial than it really is. Most people think that the world they grow up in is both normal and fair, unless they happen to be blatantly disadvantaged by it. Women still don’t have equal pay in this country, we don’t make up half the legislature or senior judiciary, and the government’s austerity policy has been much tougher on women than men. Yet I still hear people, usually on the right of the political spectrum, complaining that the drive for equality has gone too far, leaving men as the disadvantaged sex.

 

This book, which demonstrates the bias men enjoy in both familiar (to me at least) and less predictable scenarios, sets the record straight. I knew, for instance, that women fare worse after heart attacks because they present with different symptoms from men; Criado Perez cites research showing that women are 50 per cent more likely to be misdiagnosed because they tend not to have the classic ‘Hollywood heart attack’, which begins with chest and left-arm pains. But I didn’t realise that women are also more likely to suffer serious injuries in a car crash because crash test dummies have traditionally been designed to reflect the ‘average’ male body. So have cars, as it happens, which means that women have to sit further forward – and are at greater risk in a frontal collision – when they are driving.

 

Even as mundane an activity as snow-clearing in Sweden turns out to have carried an inherent male bias. It came to light in 2011 when council officials in the town of Karlskoga were required to assess how far their practices promoted gender equality, prompting one of them to joke that snow-clearingwas at least one activity that the ‘gender people’ would keep their noses out of. He was wrong, as it happens. What the equality audit revealed was that the council’s policy of clearing roads first favoured men, who used cars in greater numbers, over women, who tended to walk or use public transportmore than men. When councillors in Karlskoga switched priorities, they actually saved public money because the number of women admitted to hospital after falling on snowy surfaces decreased dramatically.

 

If women in prosperous modern democracies are affected by unrecognised sex discrimination, it is much worse for women in conflict zones. In a chapter entitled ‘It’s Not the Disaster That Kills You’, Criado Perez describes how going to the toilet has become a high-risk activity in refugee camps, where some women have resorted to wearing adult nappies for fear of being raped. For years, NGOs have been calling for contraception and obstetric care to be provided for female refugees, yet such essentials remain low on the list of priorities.

 

The cumulative effect of all these statistics is devastating, even if they confirm what most women already know. Invisible Women arrives at a moment when our rights are under attack, not least in the USA, where the arrival of the Trump administration has given fresh wind to attempts to restrict abortion. Anyone who doubts that we live in a world designed by and for men needs to read this book, with its implicit message that even what we’ve won so far can never be taken for granted.

 

 

 

 

New book coming soon

 

I’m delighted that my new book Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists will be published by riverrun on 16 May:

‘The first victim of a terrorist is the woman in his own home.’ So many recent terrorist attacks have been carried out by men with a history of domestic abuse. My new book #HomeGrown from @riverrunbooks explores this shocking link. https://amzn.to/2UnPSS7

 

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 10 March 2019

A haunting tale of abductions in the remote north of Sweden opens our round-up

Northern Sweden is a wilderness. No one knows that better than Lelle Gustafsson, a middle-aged teacher who spends each night searching for his missing teenage daughter in Stina Jackson’s haunting debut The Silver Road, translated by Susan Beard (Corvus £12.99). Named best Swedish crime novel in 2018, it is an unforgettable portrait of a father’s grief. Lina vanished from a bus stop three years ago on her way to school, and everyone who knows Lelle thinks his quest is hopeless.

Then the arrival of a teenager, who comes to live in the town with her alcoholic mother, triggers events that suggest some of their neighbours might pose a danger to women. Lelle’s trips in the harsh glare of the midnight sun proceed slowly at first, but the pace picks up when a second girl is abducted, turning the novel into an unflinching examination of the kind of men who prey on vulnerable young women.

The Boy in the Headlights, translated by Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday £14.99), is the third novel in Samuel Bjork’s bestselling series set in a dysfunctional Norwegian murder squad. Bjork is the pen name of the playwright and singer/songwriter Frode Sander Oien, and the new novel is as clever and twisty as his hugely successful debut, I’m Travelling Alone. His detectives, temporarily dispersed to other units in the Oslo police force, are brought back together by a series of staged murders, beginning with a ballet dancer’s body found in a lake. The next victim is a jazz musician with no obvious connection to the dancer, suggesting that the killer picks victims at random.

Bjork’s novels are full of such theatrical touches, creating a world that bears little affinity to the mundane activities of a real-life murder investigation. His detectives, Holger Munch and his protégée Mia Kruger, are intuitive and infuriating, struggling with demons that threaten to derail the inquiry. But Bjork’s novels are saved by his generous view of human nature, which roots the horrors he describes in the traumas suffered by his characters when they were children.

She Lies In Wait (M Joseph £12.99) is the first adult novel by the children’s author Gytha Lodge. In 1983, seven friends spent a night camping in woods and woke to find that the youngest member of the party had disappeared without trace. When skeletal remains turn up 30 years later, suspicion naturally falls on the remaining six. Lodge tells the story in parallel narratives, placing the events of 1983 alongside the modern investigation in an engaging (if slightly predictable) tale of lust, rivalry and murder.

Unto Us A Son Is Given (Heinemann £20) is the 28th book featuring Donna Leon’s Venetian policeman Commissario Brunetti, who could not be further removed from the troubled detectives of Nordic noir. When his aristocratic father-in-law asks his advice about an elderly friend, a gay art dealer intent on adopting a much younger man, Brunetti’s instinct is not to get involved. A few weeks later, the dealer dies of natural causes and his friends start arriving in Venice for a memorial service. Within hours, one of them is strangled in her hotel, and Brunetti faces an investigation that forces him to re-evaluate the art dealer and his circle. Leon’s novels are unshowy and imbued with the humanist outlook that makes Brunetti such an appealing character

Virgin Atlantic’s sexism goes deeper than telling women what to wear

The Guardian, Tuesday 5 March 2019

The airline has finally relaxed its makeup rules for female staff. But in paying women far less than men, it shows its true colours

Obviously I didn’t think they were all virgins, just because they worked for a company with the V-word in the title. That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? But then I never imagined it was compulsory for female cabin crew at Virgin Atlantic to wear makeup and tight skirts when they were serving meals, dealing with sick children or – in the worst possible scenario – guiding terrified passengers through emergency exits on to inflatable slides.

On Monday, in a sudden lurch into the 21st century, the company relaxed its strict dress rules, announcing that female cabin crew would no longer be obliged to work wearing full slap. It also decreed that trousers would be available as a standard item in the Virgin Atlantic uniform, instead of female flight attendants having to make a special request. I mean, how modern is that?

Women who choose to wear makeup while they are working on board will still be expected to abide by the “palette” set out in company guidelines, however. Red and white, like the logo? Whatever progressive message the company was intending to send out was immediately contradicted by a boastful tweet showing Virgin Atlantic’s newest cabin crew apprentices: 18 women, identically dressed in tight, above-the-knee skirts and red lipstick – and just three men.

Until now, I had no idea that such discriminatory dress codes still existed, let alone that they complied with the law. I had a vague memory of a woman being sent home from a new job two or three years ago for refusing to wear high heels, but assumed that such sexist requirements had long since been outlawed. How wrong can you be?

There was indeed an outcry after Nicola Thorp was sent home in 2016 from her job as a temporary receptionist at PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico because she was wearing flat shoes. There was even a petition with more than 150,000 signatures, calling for a ban on the practice, which I’m pretty sure I signed. But Theresa May’s government, with its instinctive dislike of regulating just about anything, argued that existing legislation was “adequate” to prevent gender-based discrimination.

Hence the perfectly legal nonsense of women who work for airlines being told they have to wear eyeshadow and lipstick in shades approved by the company as a condition of the job, unless and until management graciously consents to emerge – with lingering backward glances, no doubt – from the 1950s.

Three years ago, cabin staff at British Airways successfully challenged a requirement that new female recruits had to wear skirts unless they were exempt on – wait for it – medical or religious grounds. Budget airlines such as easyJet are more relaxed about female employees wearing trousers, but Ryanair only stopped publishing a calendar featuring female cabin crew in bikinis in 2015.

All of this is risible, especially in an industry that relies on some of the world’s most advanced engineering technology. But women who work on board complain that having to wear a stereotypically feminine uniform sends subliminal messages to passengers, encouraging them to treat female cabin staff as little more than handmaidens.

It also appears to send a negative message to their employers when it comes to setting salary levels. Virgin Atlantic has a significant gender pay gap, according to figures published last year. Its median hourly rate for women is 30% below that of men, something that means – as the government’s gender pay gap report painfully spells out – that women earn 70p for every £1 that men earn. (The gender pay gap at British Airways, by contrast, was 10% in 2017.)

Clearly, this habit of sex discrimination is very hard to break. It starts with dress codes and ends with salaries (or doesn’t – let’s see what this year’s report on the Virgin Atlantic pay gap has to say). One minute you’re telling women what colour lipstick to wear, the next you’re paying them less as well. How on earth does that happen?

Perhaps, and I’m just making a wild guess here, viewing male and female staff through a different lens isn’t a minor matter after all. Female cabin crew have proper jobs, which might one day include having to perform CPR on a desperately ill passenger, and they don’t need to do it in tight skirts and perfectly applied lippy.

But then maybe I’m expecting too much from a business empire whose origins can be traced back to the 1970s, when it was still considered daring to name a mail-order record business after a stock figure from male fantasy.

No woman ‘allows’ herself to be raped – men like Steven Berkoff are part of the problem

Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 13 February 2019
It was just a deal. The women knew what was going on and ‘allowed themselves to be abused’. They did it to get parts in films, even if it was a ‘kind of blackmail’. Such behaviour is very rare and the #MeToo movement has turned into a ‘witch-hunt’.
These are the ‘thoughts’, if they can be dignified with the word, of the actor Steven Berkoff on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. For most outside observers, the once-powerful Hollywood producer is toxic, best left to the courts in New York where he faces trial on charges of rape and sexual assault.
Weinstein denies both the charges and the wider allegations against him, which have been made by dozens of women. But now Berkoff, who is playing the disgraced producer in a London theatre, has chosen to weigh in with a diatribe that reveals antediluvian ideas about sexual violence.
In an interview about his role, Berkoff says he regards Weinstein’s alleged behaviour as ‘totally abhorrent’. But that hasn’t stopped him defending the disgraced producer in terms that amount to a classic piece of victim-blaming, as well as revealing a profound ignorance about the meaning of consent.
Berkoff doesn’t believe that Weinstein’s relationships with his accusers were consensual, at least in the sense of a man and a woman finding themselves attracted to each other. But then he promptly changes his mind, arguing that Weinstein ‘knew himself to be unattractive and assumed his power would attract women’. So these women, many of them young and taking the first steps in their career, were attracted to the producer after all? Berkoff doesn’t really believe that either, characterising Weinstein’s sexual activity with his accusers as part of ‘a deal’.
It cannot be said often enough that consent, unless freely given and in the absence of any form of coercion, is not consent. Yet Berkoff goes on to recycle one of the most pernicious myths about sexual assault, concluding that the women were not only ‘aware of what was going on’ but ‘allowed themselves to be abused, because they felt there might be a cheque or a part’.
That isn’t what the alleged victims have claimed, in their sometimes graphic allegations about being groped by the producer or forced into unwanted sex. They were certainly aware of Weinstein’s status in the industry and frightened, with good reason, that they wouldn’t be believed if they made such explosive allegations against him.
But Berkoff has decades of tradition behind him when he chooses not to listen to the women – and in his view of these sordid events, we’ve got things back to front. ‘Using power for sex is the worst kind of blackmail,’ he concedes, ‘but in a way [Weinstein] is a victim of his time’. A time, in other words, when women have been able to use the #MeToo hashtag on social media to speak for themselves – and some people have found their accounts compelling.
Not Berkoff, however. Like many privileged men before him, Berkoff thinks the fact that hedidn’t witness sexual harassment in the film industry means it almost never happened. ‘I never saw it in any film I did. The directors behaved with impeccable dignity,’ he insists with unshakeable confidence in his ability to see what went on behind closed doors. ‘Which makes me think it’s been blown out of proportion. It’s like a witch-hunt; they’re diving on everybody, looking for victims.’
Who ‘they’ are isn’t clear – shady figures urging biddable women to make spurious allegations, perhaps? There are so many misogynist assumptions here that it’s hard to know where to start, but one thing is very clear: if this language sounds familiar, it’s because exactly the same defence is trotted out whenever it emerges that a well-known man has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Back in the 1990s, a long list of celebrities rushed to the defence of Bill Clinton when he was accused not just of an affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, but of sexually harassing a number of other women. They talked about Lewinsky in the most pejorative terms, and some of them (notably the playwright Arthur Miller) denounced the whole thing as a witch-hunt.
This time round, the scandal is moving into the courts. In the coming months, Weinstein’s alleged behaviour will be examined in a forensic setting, which is right and proper. Berkoff’s remarks, confused as they are, are unlikely to affect the outcome of that case. But they are a reminder of the ignorance that still surrounds the issue of consent, even to the point of imagining that women can agree to their own abuse.
If ever there was an argument for mandatory sex education in schools, this is it – and for retiring the language that frames every accusation against a famous man as a ‘witch-hunt’.

Liam Neeson’s story isn’t just about race – it’s how men talk about rape too

Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 6 February 2019

Liam Neeson’s revelation that he wanted to kill a black man after a ‘dear friend’ was raped has caused a storm, although the attack happened around forty years ago.
It was even considered worthy of a discussion on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme where three men (of course) discussed racism, revenge and how men deal with their feelings.

Someone is very obviously missing from all this. It is indeed curious how quickly this story has gone from a story about rape to a story about race. Neeson has said that the woman has since died but that won’t stop speculation about her identity. The pool of potential victims is probably quite small and she may have friends who are now having to cope with Neeson’s headline-grabbing revelation, which was made during an interview to publicise his new film.

Equally, many may be wondering if it really was a friend who was involved in the attack – or someone else entirely. As you may have noticed, I have used the word ‘attack’ without an ‘alleged’ anywhere to be seen. For this is that vanishingly rare event, a rape which has barely been questioned, solely because it has been vouched for by a well- known man.

Let me tell you just how unusual that is. Most rapes aren’t even reported to the police because the victims are traumatised – and fear they won’t be believed. We don’t know whether Neeson’s friend reported the attack, whether anyone was charged or what the outcome was.

What we do know is that the number of contemporary rapes that result in charges are at a ten-year low, even though more incidents are being reported to the police. There was a drop of 23.1 per cent in cases that led to charges last year, suggesting it’s getting harder to get cases to court. When men aged between 18 and 24 are charged, fewer than a third are found guilty, according to figures published last year.

Women who have suffered brutal sexual attacks, and not been believed, must be ruing the fact that they didn’t have a famous male friend on hand to validate their accounts. And that’s another reason why Neeson’s admission and the response to it are so infuriating.

Unsurprisingly, he has faced a barrage of criticism, both for the way he appears to have held all black men responsible for the rape and for his admission that he acquired and carried a cosh afterwards – classic vigilante behaviour, for which he has rightly expressed regret. What hasn’t attracted anything like as much opprobrium is the way Neeson has put himself at the heart of the story, making a woman’s horrible experience all about him. Playing up to the old fashioned view that when a woman is attacked, it is the man in her life who is hurt more and therefore must avenge the act.

If Neeson wanted to do something constructive about sexual violence, instead of making himself sound like the protagonist of one of his action-man films, he could have talked more about how devastating rape is for the victim. He could have used his influence to say that women shouldn’t have to go through a second ordeal of not being believed – and called on other men to share his anger towards rapists.

Because we need men to condemn sexual predators – men like the comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused of drugging and sexually assaulting women for years. And men like Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of using his powerful position in the film industry to assault dozens of women. Weinstein is currently facing trial in New York, while police in Los Angeles and London have also opened investigations. (Weinstein denies all the allegations.)

All of these men will be remembered long after their alleged victims – his actual victim, in the case of Cosby, who was convicted of three counts of indecent assault last year. Many victims rightly value the lifelong anonymity granted to them in UK courts but where sexual predators are concerned, there’s a fine line between fame and notoriety. Women are already denied a voice in public discussions of rape, cast as helpless victims or, far more often, liars and fantasists.

Neeson’s friend has been slotted into the first category, thanks to his celebrity and she has been all but written out of the ensuing furore. Instead we have had two days of men talking about rape in the most self-absorbed way it’s possible to imagine. It hasn’t challenged any of the nonsense that’s talked about sexual violence or helped women one jot. Because when famous men think they’re talking about rape, the conversation is actually all about themselves.