Police and rape myths

I’m not surprised that every dickhead with an internet connection leaves comments on news websites about how a rape victim deserved it because she’d been drinking. I’m disappointed that journalists – who are generally more educated and more small-l liberal than the general public – continue to peddle rape myths, such as if you drink you deserve to be raped. And now I’m just pissed off that even the police think you asked for it: Research tackles police ‘rape myths’:

New research has found police are more likely to press sex assault charges if the alleged victim did not drink alcohol or wear provocative clothing at the time of the offence.

The ABC story doesn’t have a lot of info – just five sentences – but the Charles Sturt media release is more informative:

Professor Goodman-Delahunty said that reporting to police is the first, and potentially, most important step in the legal processing of sexual assault cases, and common reasons given by victims of sexual assault for why they fail to report these crimes include fear of lack of support or disbelief by police.

“Rape myths are commonly held beliefs and attitudes about sexual assault cases that are generally false, such as the belief that rape is most likely to be perpetrated by a stranger. These myths can affect one’s view of a sexual assault victim and a perpetrator, as can contextual factors such as victim attire and victim intoxication, which may increase the perception that the complainant was responsible for the assault, or the perception that the complainant is not credible.”

The study found that officers in general don’t let their perception of the victim’s intoxication influence them, but if individual officers believe rape myths, they “perceived the complainant as less credible, attributed her greater responsibility for the incident and were less likely to believe that she communicated non-consent. They were also less likely to regard the alleged perpetrator as guilty of sexual assault, and were less likely to recommend that the alleged offender be charged.

Research from the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault found that only around 19 per cent of rapes are reported to police. And, as if this figure isn’t already too low, police investigate less than 40 per cent of these reports. And before you tell me that it’s because most women make it up, only 2.1 per cent of the reported cases were designated as false.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but in 2001 I was attacked by a taxi driver. I was coming home after a few too many wines. When I said ‘just here, thanks’, he didn’t stop. I repeated it. He kept driving. Then he turned down a dark residential street and sped up. He grabbed my leg (I was sitting in the back) and tried to pull me into the front of the car. I screamed and swore at him, and wound down the window and started yelling his driver ID number in the hope that someone would hear. He kept calling me a dirty slut and filthy whore and pulling on my leg. When I kicked him in the face, he stopped the car and turned to grab me again. I was halfway out the door before the car had even stopped moving, but he managed to grab my bag. There was no way I was letting him have it – it had my keys and address in it. We both pulled and the bag ripped in two. I scooped as much as I could out onto the road and slammed the door.

He drove off.

I had no idea where I was.

A man came out of his house and asked if I was ok. He told me I’d ended up three suburbs away.

I called my good friend and flatmate, who drove me straight to the police station.

I told the officer everything that happened and he took notes. Then he said that although he didn’t doubt my story – he said it happens all the time, taxi drivers preying on drunk female passengers – he’d have to put in the report that I’d been drinking. I was fine with that. He then talked me out of pressing charges. He said the driver would just claim I tried to do a runner and that he was trying to keep me in the cab until he got to a police station. He said security footage of me drinking at the bar earlier in the night would be shown in court, as evidence that I was of bad character. He said that because I wasn’t sexually assaulted or beaten up, it wasn’t worth pressing charges because I’m the one whose reputation would be damaged. He said to call the taxi company and make a complaint.

The woman on the phone at the taxi company was horrified. But she said all she could do was make a note of the complaint. They couldn’t pull the driver off the road until the police contacted them. Since I wasn’t pressing charges, they wouldn’t hear from the police.

For years afterwards, I only got in those taxis with that booth-thing around the driver. To protect me from him.

I don’t remember what I was wearing (it was in nine years ago), but it wouldn’t have been provocative. The most provocative thing I own is a small badge that says ‘I hate your band’. We’d been out for dinner and too many drinks after class, so I’m guessing it was trousers and a t-shirt. [Update: As Lexy pointed out in the comments below, my outfit has nothing to do with it. However, I wrote about what I was probably wearing to indicate that the police officer couldn’t have made a judgement about my story based on my outfit.]

In the years since, I’ve got some great lawyer friends who think I’m mad not to have pressed charges. But I was a broke student who believed him because he was a police officer and I have that weird middle-class respect for police officers. My point is that many people would believe an officer who said it wasn’t worth pressing charges. And if they’re making a judgement call about you based on unsubstantiated myths, then we have a serious problem.

44 responses to “Police and rape myths

  1. I understand why you listened to the police officer. And sadly, I think some of what he is saying is true. I don’t know if I’d report a rape if it didn’t involve the more ‘believable’ signs of battery and forced penetration. I’ve been raped before (I even hesitate to use that word! I wanted to say ‘been in a bad situation’) and I haven’t reported. Because no-one would believe me – I was drunk, dressed provocatively, and whilst I didn’t fight him…I just said no and when I realised that wouldn’t work, I put up with it. when I was sexually harassed in the work place, I didn’t report it, because I didn’t want to be pigeon holed as an uppity ungrateful slut. I’d suffered enough blows to my dignity. I hope I’d do different now I’m older.

    PS If I hear the term ‘sex scandal’ used interchangeably with ‘rape allegation’ one more time (which I will) I am going to fucking scream.

    PPS you should read this from Enn Zed, btw –> http://hubris.co.nz/2010/12/dont-have-sex-dont-get-drunk/

    • Oh Pants, that’s awful. And it links back to one of the rape myths – that unless you fight the rapist TO THE DEATH, then you didn’t really say no.

      I agree – a rape allegation is NOT a sex scandal. A sex scandal is having sex with your best mate’s partner, or your partner’s grandfather.

  2. Fucking hell. I’m sorry.

  3. so we need to get t-shirts made “sex with drunk chicks will result in vomiting”

  4. I remember a friend saying ‘As far as I recall, even total stupidity doesn’t carry a mandatory sentence of rape, and I believe that footballers have not actually been granted some legal power of sentencing and carrying out such a sentence”.

    Another friend used to work in pubs a lot, and she said the amount of men she used to see (particularly rugby players, unfortunately) buying a ‘beer’ for the girl they were with, and also buying a vodka and replacing part of the beer with the vodka, was terrible!
    It’s all very well being critical of women who get drunk and act silly – but what if the women didn’t even get drunk on purpose, let alone consent to a sex act? (Although of course even if they did go out with the pure and simple intention of getting hammered, see above quote.)
    I had almost this exact discussion yesterday and one person said that there should be a ‘point of no return’…I said that really (and legally I think) that even if you are halfway through and one partner says, ‘All right, that’s enough, get the hell out of there’, then any further action is rape or sexual assault.
    He said, ‘So someone [implying a woman] can come and then tell the other one to stop and go away?’
    I said – ‘well yes. It might show you up as manipulative and as someone who is not likely to get a repeat performance, but anything else sets too dangerous a precedent.”…a precedent which seems to be all too socially acceptable even now.

    Anyway, enough ranting. I hope nothing I have said has upset anyone.

    • That’s a really good point. The thing that bothers me so much in all the discussion about consent is this idea of entitlement. That some men seem to think they are entitled to sex whenever they want it. So if you go home with them for a pash and a grope, or if you change your mind half way through – or sober up a little – and say, ‘whoa, stop, I don’t want to do this anymore’, they are entitled to your body.

  5. And you know what i find fascinating about this post, my dear NWN, you go to some lengths to describe what you think you were wearing and overtly state it was not provocative.  It’s interesting that you do that.  Even if you were wearing a barbed wire bikini you didn’t deserve that awful experience, NO woman does.  Yet we women, even our most enlightened, emboldened and emancipated selves STILL think we have to justify that we didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not a criticism of you, I’d probably do it myself and I’ve worn some pretty racy outfits in my time. But I think it adds even more credence to the point you are making about rape myths. 

    • Oh, I described what I was probably wearing simply to highlight that it wasn’t provocative, so therefore the officer couldn’t have made a judgement about me based on my outfit. Even if I was nude I wouldn’t deserve to be attacked.

  6. Ps if you do fight to the death or do some reasonably damage to your attacker you then run the gauntlet of proving yourself innocent (or self defense) of GBH/manslaughter on them. This was a constant side discussion in my Kung Fu training. . . How to self defend and escape by immobilising your attacker but not inflicting too much harm. I am always concerned that should I be attacked (actually I have been and I did Kung Fu him a little then leg it, go home and shake a little) that if i went to court I would have to defend myself against accusations of being a trained fighter despite being a 5t 1 girl and the reality being I’m not that much of a ninja. when we did rape positions (quite emotionally challenging) I could never overcome my strong male attacker when I asked them to hold me down like they meant it.  It scares me a little. But there is always the element of surprise and adrenalin a real situation.

    • That’s a little scary that even a trained ninja like you couldn’t overcome an attacker. Although, they were trained ninjas too, so I guess in a “normal” situation you would have an advantage. How do you get out of a rape positions?

      • I’m hoping it’s a little more easier than overcoming some peoples’ feelings sexual entitlement and “she asked for it, the slag” mentality. Because whilst that is one hell of a way to fight yourself out of a rape position, it’s proving to be quite tricky 😦

      • The reality being that a man is physically stronger so you cant pitt strength gainst strength and hope to win, its about relaxing your body and muscles rather than fighting them so that they relax their grip and pressure and then you use surprise element to quickly roll them off, do a quick disabling move – kick or punch or stamp somewhere and then run like mad! problem is disabling moves like hitting them in the throat/adams apple which will stop them quite effectively can also kill them if done wrong or too hard so its a difficult situation.

        Interesting enough the first lesson taught – is try and avoid being in the dark alley alone in the first place – but as we all know this is not actually where the majority of rapes takes place so prevention will only take you so far.

  7. What you say really resonated with me, I was abducted and assulted 6years ago, when I was in the hospital, I asked to press charges, two officers arrived one female one male, the female officer was lovely but the male he actually tried to get my cousin who was there to talk me out of pressing charges! Luckly I chose to give my statement to the female officer and she had the guy arrested that same night. (he was convicted and is still in prison). I wish you had an officer as understanding as I did.

  8. That’s a horrifying story. It’s depressing that it feels like there is no authority to turn to for justice in those types of situations and when you do turn to someone you can be either implicitly or explicitly blamed. The disparity between rape myths and reality is absolutely shocking.

    I just wanted to say also, to Rhiannon, that requesting that someone stop after you have come isn’t manipulative. If I’m having PIV sex with someone and I come, I usually can’t tolerate either friction on my clitoris, or thrusting in my vagina – that isn’t the same for all women, or me, all the time but generally if I have come, thrusting has to stop. It’s not out of being manipulative; it’s an intolerance for continuing through discomfort.

    • Hi Billie, welcome to the News with Nipples. I think Rhiannon was talking about a situation where a woman, once she’s had her orgasm, says ‘yep, I’m done, get out’, rather than the situation you’re describing, which is something many women have experienced. I think Rhiannon’s point was more about having no interest whatsoever in your partner’s pleasure. But it comes back to entitlement – a man who does this is not called anything, yet a woman who does this is called manipulative, because she denied him his orgasm inside her body.

  9. Yes, that is basically what I meant – sorry if I came across as intolerant or unthinking.

    It was in the context of a discussion where I was essentially being as mealy-mouthed as possible to avoid a bigger ‘fight’ on a friend’s public FB post.

    And certainly I do NOT think that asking someone to stop doing something that is uncomfortable or painful (physically OR emotionally) is manipulative OR worth being ‘punished’ for by ostracism or anything else.

    I do believe that people have the right to ‘sovereignty’ over their own bodies and if you don’t like something, you have the right not to endure it for a second longer!

    I am a big believer is discussing what you like (and how) as things are progressing, and expecting understanding and respect.

  10. (I should add that I have personally never heard about a real situation which was described hypothetically by my ‘devil’s advocate’ friend – who is not het either which may or may not alter his opinion about women’s sexuality too.)

    • I have been halfway through having sex with someone and stopped.
      The sex was rubbish and I would have felt like shit continuing to partake in something that was not getting me off at all. I just got up and said ‘this isn’t really working’ and got him to order me a taxi.
      I remembertelling friends about this (lexy, I think it might even have been you), and they were suprised I just didn’t ‘finish what I/we had started’.
      Looking back I guess it could have gone an entirely different way. This was a one night stand after all, with a guy I had only met once before.
      Good thing he was one of the nice ones, shame he was such a dud root.

      • Good for you. It takes a lot of self-confidence (and sexual confidence) to do that.

        • Nwn, you know me. Don’t you think it is just a little that I feel no need to be polite to people I don’t know/need to be?
          🙂

          • K, as if you have polite sex.

            • A few times I’ve asked Mr B to stop when we’re having sex if I’ve felt overwhelmed or something. He’s always stopped straight away and it’s never been an issue. If you respect your partner and they respect you it shouldn’t be a big deal (I know that this is an ‘in theory’ type of thing). Mr B has always encouraged me to tell him if I’m not feeling right whether we’re having sex or before we have sex etc. He doesn’t want to be doing sex TO ME (for lack of a better way of putting it) he wants us to be having sex with each other. Hmmm does that make sense? I don’t get people who say women should just ‘continue’ regardless of how they feel. It’s ridiculous. What kind of guy wants to have sex with a woman who isn’t into it? Obviously if she says no and he continues he’s a rapist – but this reminds me of the Bettina Ardnt thing – that we should just ‘continue’ with our partners regardless of how we feel otherwise they’ll die of blue balls.

              Ok that’s got to be the least coherent thing I’ve ever said on your blog Nips!

              • Actually, it makes a lot of sense. Having sex WITH someone and not TO someone is a great way of explaining it. And you’re right – what kind of guy wants to have sex with someone who’s not into it?

                • Haha! I am now imagining polite sex.
                  ‘how do you do? Come into the parlour. Would you like a cup if tea?’
                  it all seems very Jane Austen. She could have done with a good screw, bet she was crying out for it 🙂

                  • Would you like a cucumber sandwich with your vagina, my dear? Cucumber sandwich! I will never look at them the same way again.

                    • YetAnotherMatt

                      Gosh no! Cucumber sandwhiches without crusts? Vaginas without labia, or clitorii? Surely no gentleman would dream of being so crass as to ignore the rest of the vulva merely to go leaping into a vagina. Why, it would be as bad as not being introduced to the young ladies parents before hand!

              • It’s weird. I think there are a lot of men out there who feel the pressure to perform (dance monkey, dance!) and will continue with sex when the other person isn’t enjoying it because they don’t pick up on the signals. Sometimes during sex people are scared of looking silly and therefore don’t speak up.
                I know I have been with guys who aren’t experienced enough to pick up on queues, or are just too paranoid to speak up, as are women sometimes.
                Not sure where I’m going with this… Just that sex can be mine field.

  11. It is distressing that so many women commenting here have been assaulted, it breaks my heart. I have had scary ‘near scenarios’ with strangers and one with a supposed male friend but they never eventuated through a variety of reasons and I count myself very very lucky.

    NWN your point about orgasm is really interesting…….imagine how many times a man has come and then just passed out or left and the woman is left unsatisfied……. yet where are the cries of manipulation here. We have such a culture of the male orgasm being the primary raison d’etre of sex and that once that has occured sex is over, anything more is ‘generous’. I am guilty of allowing that soooo many times in my life with men I have loved in a relationship and with casual flings and I cant even give a good explanation, other than it was just easier that way!

  12. I find it hard to tell friends to report rape. I obviously tell them to. But it is difficult. I was raped and the police didn’t believe me. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital and police interviewed me from my hospital bed. It was like an interrogation. It was awful. The next day they picked me up from the hospital and spent the entire day telling me they didn’t believe my ‘story’. When my dad said “she’s 16” they said that I was old enough to consent. When my dad pointed out my injuries they asked me in front of him if I had ever had group sex. And said to him “maybe she likes it rough”. They talked about the knee-high boots I was wearing and said they didn’t look like something a virgin would wear. And they asked my father what I was doing out at that time of night. They talked about my blood alcohol reading and asked my dad if he ‘really knew me’. Despite my father fighting so hard for me, they didn’t press charges. But when the lead rapist was arrested after other rapes six months later they brought me back in. It was only then that they apologised for not believing me. Because I got the apology in writing I was able to get more intensive counselling paid funded by the Govt. But them not believing me almost made me go crazy. They also put in the newspaper that they weren’t going to charge me for making a false complaint. They didn’t use my name but I was in a small town and people knew what had happened because I was in hospital. They even asked me to say thank-you for them not charging me. There were times when I thought I was going crazy and that I had made it all up somehow – despite the fact that I had flashbacks and serious on-going injuries. My father filed complaints with the police about the way I was treated but I don’t know what came of it. He had a nervous breakdown. I feel responsible for how sick he got. He had to go on a heart monitor and he started having panic attacks. I also still feel responsible for the other rapes. Like if I’d been more believable (I don’t know how I could have – I was telling the truth) then that wouldn’t have happened. I’ve never even told this story online. And it was over 10 years ago that it happened. And I still feel like I can’t put my name to it. Because I’m scared still, after all this time that I’ll be called a liar again. So yeah, this post struck a chord with me. Thanks Nips.

    • OH. MY. FUCKING. GOD. That is APPALLING. I’m speechless.

      I’m sending you big internet bearhug. I hope you’re ok now.

      • I feel so humbled by all the stories that are being shared. I consider myself lucky to have only experienced a dickhead cabbie tugging on my leg. And isn’t that pathetic? That I’m LUCKY I haven’t been sexually assaulted.

        • I’m OK now. I had thousands of dollars of therapy and I have a strong family & friends support network. I have people close to me who know and who look after me and help me feel strong when I feel afraid or hurt. Any assault is traumatic. An attack of any kind is a violation. So don’t minimise what you went through. Surviving is the main thing – there’s something to be said for just keeping on if that makes sense. That gives me strength – that I got through it and it doesn’t rule my life anymore. It still makes me hate cops though. I won’t forgive them for how they treated me. And that’s why this study really grabbed me.

          Thanks for the hug.

  13. B – your story brought me to tears.

  14. B,

    I’m glad that you’re OK now.

  15. Pingback: 7pm Projectile vomit: You know what girls can be like. | Lost Coastlines

  16. B, that is heart wrenching. I’m disgusted at the cops in your case.

  17. “And now I’m just pissed off that even the police think you asked for it”

    Even the police? Police are the last people who should be involved with reporting facilities. Policing and law enforcement work is essentially about upholding the social order, as is sexual violence. You figure it out.

  18. Awesome post Nips. B, I am so sorry that this happened to you and commend your bravery for speaking out.

    The responses confirm a meandering I have been having lately… that sexual assault is such a widespread experience amongst women. I was at a girly party a few years ago, and it turned out that every woman there had been sexually assaulted at one point in their life. None of them had been reported. I find it sad and scary that this sharing is something that doesn’t suprise me anymore.
    Outrage, anger, and empathy, yes – but suprise…. no.

    • N, I’ve had similar conversations with my girlfriends, and all of us have experienced something along the scale from sexual assault to being groped on public transport to being sexually harassed at work and none have reported it because we don’t believe our complaints will be taken seriously by the police or HR. And why would we believe they’d take us seriously? Look at any story on a news website about a woman being assaulted and the comments are full of rape apologists saying she deserved it in some way. Look at the Julian Assange stuff, with people – usually men – lining up to say the charges are made up. And so we hear the message loud and clear: when someone else breaks the law, it’s our fault.

  19. Pingback: If you’re drunk and get raped, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself, says NSW Police Commissioner | the news with nipples

  20. I had the exact same thing happen to me in a taxi. and the exact same response to my story. It is a sad world where we are have blame turned on us for crimes committed against us. For the record I was wearing shortish shorts with tights and a loose top. The police warned me that this was something that would be brought up against me.

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