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.
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.