THOUGH murder is a terrible, savage act at least the victim does not have to endure the terrible memories of the crime.
That painful and probably never-ending burden falls on the family, the loved ones and friends left behind by the victim.
Rape offers the victim no such refuge. Not only is the victim violated in the most intimate and inhumane way, they also have to live with the memory of the attack and the attacker. In many instances the attacker is well-known to the victim. Very often the woman – for it is nearly always a woman – may encounter their attacker as they go about their everyday business.
Who can forget the awful case from some years ago where the victim was regularly taunted in public, after she was raped, by her rapist and his workmates? Which of us would have the forbearance to endure that? Far, far fewer of us than we imagine probably.
The victims also have to summon the courage and resilience to confront their attacker – or attackers – in a court. Even getting to court requires a determination that very few can muster much less sustain. This one crime, this single brutal attack, can be the starting point in a long, intrusive and challenging experience for victims brave enough to seek society’s protection. It is not overstating the case to say that finding yourself in that awful position is life defining.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland yesterday published a very comprehensive report that suggests our response to rape is still institutionally and culturally dysfunctional. It suggests that we have a long way to go before we comfort rather than challenge a victim.
The report found that an alarmingly high number of women withdrew complaints after what they perceived as poor treatment by gardaí. Just as the gardaí would find this unacceptable so do the rest of society.
Another strand of the report once again, yet again, outlines the destruction wreaked by alcohol. It found that 76% of suspects had been drinking when the rape was committed. This one statistic represents cultural failure on so many levels; our seditious relationship with drink; some men’s attitude towards women when freed from the constraints of sobriety and the subliminal but catastrophic belief that drink excuses all things.
Drinking also has consequences for the victims. The report was clear on this: “Not only are they [women who have been drinking] more vulnerable to being targeted for sexual assault, they are less likely to be considered useful and reliable witnesses if they report to the gardaí and their case is more likely to fall out of the system.”
Alcohol can never be an excuse but it is too often at that root of the disaster, a lifelong disaster for the victim and the perpetrator. A double whammy of the most crush ing and unsought kind.
The report also identified how we can be misled by stereotypes. The perception that most rapes involve a stranger attacking a woman at random is wrong. Most rapes are committed in a private place by a person known to the victim. This type of case is less likely to be prosecuted than the uncommon situation where the complainant is attacked by a stranger in a public place and she reports it immediately.
Being raped by an acquaintance leads to a round of second guessing where neither the victim or justice is served and the rapist is left unhindered.
“Victims, gardaí, the DPP and, in turn, possibly juries, are measuring the credibility of a rape against a narrow stereotype. If the rape does not conform to the stereotype... victims second guess that the gardaí and people generally will not believe them and so decide not to report. The gardaí ask a victim if they are really prepared to go through with the trauma of it all because the gardaí second guess the decision of the DPP and the courts,” says the report. And so the unsatisfactory, compromised merry-go-round continues.
Victims are left to deal with their tragedies alone and Government can publish rape statistics that do not reflect our reality. Worst of all, the rapist, or those who might rape, are not deterred in any way.
Rape is an appalling crime, as is making a false accusation of rape, but this report makes it clear that we have a lot more to do to overcome the cultural ambiguities that allow this unacceptable situation continue.
In recent days we have seen the Catholic hierarchy pilloried because they did not confront clerics who abused children; men who put their sexual desires before anything else.
Sadly, this report reminds us that they are not the only ones with such questions to answer.
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