Monday 12 March 2012

To all rape and sexual assault survivors, WE BELIEVE YOU

A large-scale, pioneering Mumsnet survey has found that one in ten of the respondents have suffered rape and over one-third have been sexually assaulted. The overwhelming majority of these women have not reported these gross acts of violation and sexual violence to the police; many have not even told family and friends. It is in response to this revelation of endemic and cataclysmic sexual violence that Mumsnet have launched a new campaign, which I suppport wholeheartedly and have written for, here. It is called We Believe You.

 The survey was completed by over 1,600 women and showed that, of the respondents,

• One in ten had been raped (10%)
• Over one-third (35%) had been sexually assaulted
• Almost one-quarter (23%) reported being raped or sexually assaulted four or more times
• In two-thirds (66%) of cases the women knew the person responsible

Many women felt unable to report rape or sexual assault:
• Over four-fifths (83%) of respondents who had been raped or sexually assaulted did not make a report to the police
• Over one-quarter (29%) didn’t tell anyone at all, including friends or family, about the assault/rape
• Over two-thirds (68%) said they would hesitate reporting to the police due to low conviction rates
• And over half (53%) would not report due to embarrassment or shame.

The results also reveal that most women feel that rape victims are treated poorly:
• Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape
• Over half (53%) feel the legal system is unsympathetic
• And over half (55%) feel society at large is unsympathetic

In response to these results, Mumsnet is today launching the week-long ‘We Believe You’ campaign. Backed by Rape Crisis, Barnardo’s and the End Violence Against Women coalition, the campaign aims to support women who have suffered rape and sexual assault by raising awareness of how common these crimes are and challenging the myths that stop people reporting them. Below you will find their report Rape: the Truth Behind the Myths, which is published today and sets out to bust eight persistent myths that help to make society less sympathetic to victims than it should be.

I have written an article for Mumsnet tackling one of the issues they outline and you can read an excellent article by Laura Woodhouse on the standards, research methods and challenges of analysing sexual violence statistics here. There is also a great piece on this issue from Who Does She Think She Is?

Launching the campaign, Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Co-Founder and CEO, said:
The results of our survey are really shocking. We simply shouldn’t accept that we live in a country where one in ten women are raped and over one-third sexually assaulted. Things are made worse by the feeling among many women that they can’t talk about these crimes for fear of being treated unsympathetically, denying them access to practical and emotional support when they need it most. The message from the men and women on Mumsnet is clear: we believe you – and we want others in society to start believing you too
Katie Russell on behalf of Rape Crisis (England & Wales) stated:
The findings of the Mumsnet survey reflect the front-line experience of our member Rape Crisis Centres across the country, and we welcome this campaign's determination to dispel the negative myths and misconceptions that prevent women and girls from accessing the support they want, need and deserve.
Holly Dustin, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
The survey findings show clearly that sexual violence is far more widespread in women’s lives than commonly thought, and that prejudicial reporting in the media and negative public attitudes have a harmful impact. We want to see ongoing public campaigns to tackle attitudes to sexual violence, and work with young people in schools to prevent harmful behaviours developing in the first place. It is also critical that all women and girls have access to Rape Crisis centres or other specialist support services in their community.
Further details:
  • For interview or case study requests please contact Katie O’Donovan, reachable at
  • The Twitter hashtag for the campaign is #webelieveyou
  • To contact Rape Crisis:
  • To contact EVAW coalition email
  • Mumsnet is the UK’s busiest social network for parents, generating 38 million page views per month and 5 million visits per month.

 Rape: the truth behind the myths

MYTH: Women are most likely to be raped by a stranger, outside, in dark alleyways.
  •  More than 80% of women who are raped know their attacker.[i]
  •  22% of perpetrators are reported as ‘partner/ex-partner’.[i]
  •  Over two-thirds of rapes take place in the victim’s home, the suspect’s home or the victim/suspect’s shared home.[i]
The effect of this myth is that women who are raped in domestic circumstances don’t identify their experience as rape, or report it. It also blames the victim, and limits women’s freedom of movement, by implying that rape can be prevented if women avoid certain places.

The Mumsnetter view:
It makes people view rapists as monsters (which is true) and therefore the man who lives over the road or the man who works in accounting or your husband’s friend couldn't possibly be rapists (which unfortunately isn't true) because they're normal decent human beings.

MYTH: Women provoke rape by their appearance or behavior.
  • Dressing attractively and/or flirting is never an invitation to rape.
  • Rape is not a ‘crime of passion’; it is an expression of power and control.
No woman ‘asks to be raped’ or ‘deserves what she gets’; the rapist alone is responsible for the rape. Rape happens to women of all ages, from the very young to the very old: the victim’s physical appearance is irrelevant.There is no ‘typical rape victim’.

The Mumsnetter view:
I was very promiscuous (my choice entirely, but not really coming from a happy place) and frankly I couldn't handle that being used against me in court, or my family having to listen to it.

MYTH: If a woman didn’t struggle, wasn’t injured, or didn’t report immediately, she wasn’t raped.
  • Victims may co-operate with the rapist to save their lives, or they may be paralysed with fear.
  • Following rape, many victims experience shock; this can make them seem ‘unnaturally calm’.
  • Victims may experience shame, shock or denial, which might mean they do not report the rape for some time.
Victims are often legitimately afraid of being killed or seriously injured; the rapist may have threatened further harm – or harm to family members – if they resist. The victim's perception of danger will influence their behaviour. In 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled that, because of feelings of shame and shock, victims of rape might not complain for some time; a late complaint does not mean it’s a false complaint. (R v D (JA) October 24 2008.)ii

The Mumsnetter view:
It's a defence mechanism. Somewhere our brain is telling us ‘if you fight, scream, make a fuss, he might kill you. Do what he tells you and it'll be over soon.’ It's very common for women being raped/assaulted to ‘just lie there’ and do nothing, to not try to scream or run away, because that's actually more dangerous. Our subconscious takes over in these sorts of situations, so just because a woman didn't try to fight does NOT mean that she wanted it.

MYTH: Women who get drunk or take drugs shouldn’t be surprised if they are raped or sexually assaulted.
  • Being vulnerable is not the same thing as giving consent.
  • if a woman is unable to give consent because she is drunk, drugged or unconscious, it is rape.[ii]
  • Women have the same right to consume alcohol as men.
If a woman has consumed alcohol (which is true in fewer than 4 in 10 cases of rape and sexual assault), it is the man’s responsibility to ensure that the victim has given/is capable of giving consent. If he does not do so, he is committing rape.

The Mumsnetter view:
I genuinely thought for years that, because I was drunk and because I'd taken him up on his offer of the sofa bed downstairs from him, that I must have been at fault when he came down in the middle of the night.

MYTH: Women often lie about rape; police officers and jurors should bear this in mind.
  • There is no evidence that false allegations of rape are more common than false allegations of many other crimes.
  • Home Office research indicates that between 3 per cent and 8 per cent of initial allegations are false, but that the lower figure is likely to be most accurate.[iii]
Far from being widespread, malicious accusations are rare. A much greater problem in the criminal justice system is the under-reporting of rape: the government estimates that 89% of rapes are never reported to the police at all.[iv] In addition, only 5.3 per cent of rapes reported to the police end in a conviction for rape:[v] the lowest rate of any country in Europe, except for Ireland.[vi]

The Mumsnetter view:
Most people genuinely believe that rape is rare and that most rape allegations are false. That is why most rape victims never bother to report rape; they know they won't be believed. What is the point of putting yourself through the humiliation of the police process and then a court process (if it ever gets to court) when the rapist has a chance of walking free with a smirk on his face?

MYTH: It’s not rape if a woman has consented to some sexual intimacy, or has previously had sex with many partners.
  • A woman can withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity.
  • Having many previous sexual partners does not imply generalised consent to sex.
A woman has a legal right to change her mind about having sex at any point of sexual contact. If a sexual partner does not stop at this point, it is sexual assault. All men are capable of stopping sexual activity at any point. Likewise, having previously consented to sex with other partners does not imply consent to all partners. Women involved in prostitution are as capable of being raped as other women.

The Mumsnetter view:
It was a friend’s husband. We’d been seen laughing and drinking together so I was sure no one would believe me.

MYTH: Rape can’t take place in an ongoing relationship.
  • Previous consent to sex does not imply ongoing consent.
  • Sex without consent is rape. It makes no difference whether the aggressor is a woman’s husband or partner, or a complete stranger.
  • 22% of rapes are committed by partners or ex-partners.i
It’s irrelevant whether or not a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them previously. Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, told a court to approach rape within a relationship, including marriage, as being “no less serious than rape by a stranger”.ii  Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact. Sex without consent is rape.

The Mumsnetter view:
I didn’t [report it] when I was a teenager as I knew they would laugh in my face: ex-boyfriend, was happy to kiss him, rang him a week or so later as I wanted to talk about what had happened to try and understand it. So even though I knew that what he had done was wrong, and I called it ‘a sort of sexual assault’ (it was rape but I was minimising), and I did blame him, I knew it would go nowhere.

MYTH: Some rapes aren’t “serious rapes”.
  • All rape is a violation, whether or not the rapist is a stranger, or uses violence.
  • All rapes are serious; some rapes and sexual assaults are compounded by other crimes, such as further violence, kidnapping or abuse, which will add to the woman’s trauma.
Acquaintance-rape survivors may feel particularly vulnerable, since they have found that even people they trusted may hurt them. They may often have to face their assailants after the rapes, causing additional distress, fear and humiliation. They also tend to view themselves more negatively, and suffer more serious psychological problems than other victims.[vii]

The Mumsnetter view:
A few months ago I went for a drink with a friend of a friend whom I then allowed to sleep on my couch as he'd had a couple too many to drive home (wasn't drunk though). He tried to kiss me and I said no, let's just stay friends, and went to bed. I woke up to find him having sex with me.