Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What happens after

Idiot/Savant sent me a link from the Sydney Morning Herald:

SOME Aboriginal victims of assault are locked up for outstanding minor charges after reporting domestic and sexual assault to police, discouraging women from reporting offences.

In one case last year, a woman went to a Sydney police station after being raped, only to be held in a cell overnight on an outstanding warrant, the Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre, in Marrickville, reported.
This sort of stuff shouldn't surprise me. Intellectually I know that it happens, I know that women get treated like shit, I know that black poor women get treated most shittily. But whenver I hear a story like this it really does shock me. I think it's because the individual stories make things real to me. I imagine her life, I imagine what that night in jail would have been like.

But Australia isn't the only country fucking over rape survivors. They've released new sentancing guidelines for convicted rapists in Britain.
The council advises judges that “date rape” or “acquaintance rape” is as serious as “stranger rape”. An offender who ignores a victim’s wishes is guilty of rape, it says. But judges are then told that where consensual sexual activity takes place before the rape, it “must have some relevance for sentencing purposes” — although this is not defined.
Are we supposed to be grateful? A committee (headed by a man) has told judges (mostly men) has decided that rape (a crime mostly committed by men to women) doesn't become less serious because the woman in question already knew the man. Isn't that a great step forward that the judges have acknowledged that knowing a man isn't, in and of itself, a form of consent?

As for the rest, the idea that prior relationships between the rapists and the woman he raped have any bearing at all, shows how fucking far we have to go to be treated like human beings.

The awfulness doesn't end there:
Yesterday Professor Martin Wasik, chairman of the Sentencing Advisory Panel, said the guidelines were “simply stating accepted case law.” The breach of trust involved in a rape by someone known to the victim could make it as serious an offence as a “stranger” rape. But the more difficult area involved rapes where the couple had sexual familiarity.

The panel took the view that there was a difference between someone who set out to rape a person he knew; and “a situation where rape occurs after sexual familiarity, up to and perhaps very close to, actual intercourse — and then the victim said ‘no’.”
I hope that my readers know that there isn't actually a difference - rape is sex without consent - no matter what had happened. Even if you'd been playing kinky games from the rafters

Again it shouldn't surprise me that judges think differently and it doesn't (I don't put myself in their shoes either), it just makes me angry.

When addressing the behaviour of the police, the attitudes of the courts, we're not even fighting rape itself. We're just fighting about what happens after; we're fighting to make it a little less worse for women who have been raped.

I can understand the desire to blame the police and court system for this failure. They're agents of the state, I'm not particularly fond of them.

But I've seen enough to know that making things worse for rape survivors isn't limited to those with state-power. I know that there are many people out there who can treat rape-survivors like shit. I know that groups that talk about changing the world don't necessarily care if the men in them are rapists.

I know that in left-wing circles if a woman says she was abused or raped, by people within the circle, then she'll be put on trial, just as surely as women who go to the justice system are. And if she doesn't say anything then no-one will call unecessary attention to bruises, or black-eyes.

For most rapists, there are no consequences, formal or informal. There are consequences for all too many women out there who try and pursue justice and safety.

So any men out there, know you can rape women with impunity, know that there is no need to treat women as human beings. I don't know if you can imagine what it's like to live as a woman knowing that, maybe you could try.

I've talked with some of the women who were involved in the New Zealand women's liberation movement about that time, and there's one idea in particular that's stuck with me. A really great woman was telling me about the discussions they'd had and she said - "but then we reached a brick wall, because we realised that we couldn't change men."

My great grandmother was involved in the temperance movement; she was a Welsh Presbytarian Minister's wife - that's what they did. I find the temperance movement fascinating from a feminist perspective, particularly in New Zealand (and Australia, and some of the Western states in America) where it was successfully linked with winning women the vote. Obviously I don't think their goals would have achieved their aims. We actually have hard evidence of that, to say that prohibition in America didn't end violence against women is a ridiculous under-statement. As a feminist any analysis that holds alcohol responsible for male violence offends me. Although there's enough alcoholism in my family that I understand hating the stuff, I do know that ultimately it's not alcohol that's the problem

And yet I think that in some ways my great-grandmother had a better analysis than I did, at least she had an idea.

I believe in collective action. History, particularly the way I read it, shows the power that people can have when they work together. I've got some experience of that, experience on a very small scale, but I have an idea of how to organise. Sometimes I get arrogant about it - I tell people how I'd organise campaigns if I cared about the issue (and I think it more often than I say it).

But when it comes to rape I just don't have any idea where to start. Even if we're not talking about how to end rape, even if we're just talking about how to deliver women who have been raped some safety and justice, even on that smaller project I just draw a blank. I don't know where I'd begin. I'm not even sure our society could even manage any steps towards what I want.

We're so far away from a world where women's bodies are our own that I don't even know which direction to face.


  1. The only thing that should be "shocking" about people being held on existing warrants is if people *are not*. If I have an existing warrant for my arrest and then I walk into a police station then generally I would expect to get arrested - regardless of why I've walked in there.

    Even if I'm handing over the head of the Mafia, chances are I'll still be arrested until my bargain comes into play.

  2. Those British guidelines make me puke. I mean, right now we have a rape epidemic, a crisis even, in just about every country in the world, and their response to this is to make it easier for rapists? What the fuck?!!

    What kind of message does this send out? Men can pretty much be assured that if they decide to rape a woman, they'll probably get away with it. Thank god there are some men around there who are as
    repulsed by rape as I am.

    Do people just not realize how incredibly common rape is? I mean, I've been raped, and about a quarter of my women friends have been - and those are just the ones who are talking about it. And the scary thing is that almost none of them reported their rapes (and of those who did, there were no convictions) -- because women know what women go through when they report rapes. Who would want to go through that? Especially knowing that if they knew the guy and consented to make out with him, there's practically zero chance that he'll be punished?

  3. iiq374: Then it's a ridiculous policy across the board (albeit worse in the case of worse crimes like rape). You're closing the case on some crimes at the expense of never even knowing about others.

    ... oops, silly me. For a second I thought that the goal of the police should be to actually prevent crime.

  4. stentor - I never indicated that I agreed with the policy, I was pointing out that trying to write this up as an indication of a male dominated society hiding rape cases isn't true.

    Personally I'm somewhat ambivalent towards it, I don't have the time or inclination to arguemy way through the facts on both sides of the argument. Should we absolve someone of a past crime because of a new one - No. Should someone be unduly punished and afraid to report crimes against themselves - No.
    Reconciling those two is the issue there. (Don't forget that there may be another victim awaiting justice of the original crime...)