Rape victims are sometimes to blame, say women

A new survey yields depressing results, as most female respondents say that victims are partly to bl

The results of a survey published today suggest that more than half (54 per cent) of women think that rape victims are sometimes to blame for the crime.

Of these women, 71 per cent thought that the victim should accept responsibility if she got into the same bed as her attacker, compared to 57 per cent of men. Nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of women said the victim should accept partial responsibility if she went back to the attacker's house.

Twenty-three per cent thought that a victim who danced suggestively on a night out was to blame if she was subsequently raped, and 31 per cent thought the same of those wearing provocative clothes.

These statistics -- gathered in an online survey for the Haven sexual assault referral centres -- are sadly indicative of the culture of blame and disbelief that still surrounds rape. It is particularly worrying that the youngest group -- those aged between 18 and 24 -- were the least forgiving. The survey results show that these common attitudes are not undergoing any positive generational shift.

Indeed, if this survey is cross-referenced to a similar poll five years ago, it appears that attitudes may have hardened. Then, a minority of British people blamed women for rape, although there was no notable difference between the genders.

On specifics, the results were similar: 30 per cent thought that a woman was at least partly responsible for getting raped if she was drunk, and 22 per cent if she had had many sexual partners.

These findings are depressing, but perhaps not wholly surprising. Why are people -- and women specifically -- so keen to blame the victim? Such entrenched social attitudes may well be linked to the culture of disbelief in the justice system, and in the media.

 

"False accusations"

I have blogged before about the UK having Europe's lowest conviction rates for rape -- just 6.5 per cent of reported cases, compared with 34 per cent for other crimes.

It is also notable that cases of false accusation receive a disproportionate amount of newspaper coverage. A quick internet search yields innumerable results, though Rape Crisis estimates that false reporting rates for rape are roughly 6-8 per cent, exactly the same as for other crimes.

This excessive coverage was reflected in the survey: 18 per cent of respondents said they thought most accusations of rape are probably false.

But the fact is, if so many people are ready to believe that a woman is culpable in her own violation, jury trials will inevitably be affected: it is a self-perpetuating, vicious circle. The majority of people in the Haven poll were keen to assign partial blame to the victim; at the same time, one in five women said she would not report it to the police if she was raped, because she would be ashamed, or would not be believed.

The feeling is justified. Just last year a Freedom of Information request showed that some police forces were failing to record more than 40 per cent of reported rape cases. Yet we have no hope of changing police attitudes if such views continue to proliferate across society.

We urgently need education -- a high-profile campaign, starting with schools, to bring the facts to the public and eradicate the idea that rape is sometimes deserved.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear