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According to figures released by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics, more and more incidents of women being raped in England and Wales are being recorded:

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

Rape of a female

13,902

14,589

14,767

Rape of a male

1,172

1,303

1,274

That is a total of 47,007 incidents of recorded rape over a three year period.

And the number of convictions for rape in that same period (and yes, I know there is no absolute read-across between the offences and convictions)?

1,372.

Yet these figures don’t reveal the horrific extent of rape and serious sexual offences in England and Wales: the report also shows that 57% of women told someone but not the police of a rape or serious sexual assault. 28% told no-one.

And then the questions…

There were “only” 40 non-custodial sentences for rape in 2011. Excuse me? Why were there any?

Apparently “Since 2005, there have been fewer than seven Suspended Sentences Orders (SSOs) given each year for rape of a female and none have been given for rape of a male.” What does the fact that any SSOs have been given  say about differences in perceptions between rape of a female and rape of a male?

Another shocking statistic is that, on average, it is 722 days from the moment someone is raped until the completion of the case. That is almost two years of reliving the hell of what happened in order to secure justice. Why should someone have to wait so long?

There are  so many important questions that arise from this report it is difficult to know where to start.

The figures should hit home like an iron bar hammered in your face.

They should be screamed across the  front page of every newspaper. They are utterly appalling – and reveal a shocking affront to justice that reminds us we are light years from ensuring that rape victims receive the support they need to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

And now, in the wake of Leveson, is the ideal time for the press to demonstrate their worth. After all, we’ve had plenty of self-indulgent hand-wringing in recent months, most notably about the important role played by our newspapers in our public life and democracy. In his evidence to Leveson, The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, extolled his paper’s virtues (Para. 60):

“It distils complex important issues of the day, including politics, finance and law into concise readable copy which educates and entertains.”

So, on a day when official statistics reveal such a shocking failure of our investigative and legal processes, on an issue that clearly straddles law and politics, what was this bastion of our free press’s front page?

The_Sun_newspaper_front_page

Perhaps we would expect such crassness and double-standards from The Sun. But what were the front pages of most the other main UK papers today?

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Only two national newspapers ran the story on their front pages: The Independent and i – the quality tabloid off-shoot of The Independent:

Metro, the newspaper given out free in major cities, also had it on its front page.

Where were all the others?

Where was The Guardian,  never usually bashful in its self-promotion as the left-wing champion of women’s rights and awareness of issues that particularly affect women? Who knows. It certainly doesn’t consider this report front page news. Even after the Savile report was released, The Independent still had this story as a second headline on its website. By contrast, it was the 17th headline on The Guardian Online – appalling.

What does this lack of interest say about a media more concerned with itself than getting to the core of issues that affect hundreds of thousands of people in the most horrendous ways?

It is a corroboration of the silence and inaction that characterises our society’s approach to rape – an approach that continues to allow rapists to escape justice. With Savile, with the horrors of Steubenville and Delhi, perhaps this might just change. Perhaps. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that any of these are, in and of themselves, the answer.

As Deborah McIlveen, policy and services manager at Women’s Aid, told the Independent:

“Despite all that is known about rape and sexual violence, the justice system still fails to hold most rapists to account and so fails to deliver victim safety, public protection and management of perpetrator risk. These men are free to continue to rape and this is unacceptable, harmful and illegal.

“Most rape victims can identify their abuser, and many of these will be their partners or ex-partners.  This ongoing failure to secure convictions will continue to leave women and young people vulnerable and in potentially risky situations.”

And as spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales told the Independent:

“The figures are shocking but sadly not that surprising. There has been lots of publicity and measures put in place to try and increase the conviction rate around rape and sexual abuse. But it looks like it is not having as much effect as we would like.

“It is a chicken and egg situation: women do not report offences because they know they are very unlikely to get a conviction. They know they would have to put themselves through a system which is very traumatic and are likely to come out at the other end with no justice.”

If it matters to you, read the report for yourself. Ask questions.

And don’t be silent.

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The phrase “The law is an ass” was coined in a play entitled “Revenge for Honour” that was probably written by Henry Glapthorne and published by (and frequently mistakenly attributed to)  George Chapman in 1654.

Both the title and the wrangle over identity are bitterly ironic, following the decision of the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal to overturn a three-year sentence for rape on the basis of an arcane legal anomaly dating back to 1872.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Court of Appeal has interpreted the statute thus:

A man who impersonates someone in order to have sexual intercourse may be guilty of rape only if the victim was married and the man was pretending to be her husband.

You can read the full opinion of The People v. Julio Morales here, where a picture is painted of a young woman (identified only as “Jane Doe”) enjoying a night out with friends, going home, deciding not to have sex with her boyfriend as they had no condoms – and then being raped by a man pretending to be her boyfriend. It is quite clear that in any right-thinking understanding of the concept of rape, Julio Morales is guilty without question. Indeed, reading the judgement, the prosecution contend that he admitted his guilt. Yet, because she was unmarried, and he was impersonating a boyfriend, not a husband, he is apparently not guilty of rape.

So what the hell sort of legal system allows this sort of specious contention to come between a young woman, whose life has been wrecked, and justice?

As a non-lawyer, who could scarcely believe what he was hearing on the radio this morning, I can only think that it is a legal system in which the moral compass of those who interpret the law is subordinated to the irrelevant technicalities of archaic legislation, almost certainly written by men, to benefit men, at a time when General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby was chasing Indians back across Lost River in the Modoc War. Had you heard of General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby? I hadn’t until I started looking at this case and what else was going on in California in 1872. I doubt that “Jane Doe” had either.

Take time to read the opinion.

And forget the technicalities for a moment. Think about those involved as merely people. The victim. The lawyers. The perpetrator. Think about them as merely people in a civilised society. Think about the purpose of the law in that civilised society. Think about its purpose in a modern, socially-aware Western democracy that contends it is working to make its communities secure places in which everyone, regardless of gender, can live, love, play and work safely. Contrast that purpose with what we can only imagine its nascent role to be in the early 1870s, four years before the last stand of George Armstrong Custer and the Sioux Nation at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

Which of those lawyers behind the appeal could possibly look that woman in the eye and say that the in 21st Century Los Angeles of today they were acting in all good conscience, believing that their client did not actually rape her?

So there we have it. A young woman in 2012 is brutalised and subsequently denied justice because legislators and lawyers derive their basis for legal decision from a past that is completely irrelevant to her life experience today.

Yes, the Court of Appeal urged legislators to act. Yes, legislators have agreed to act.

And yes. The law is an ass.

I hope the retrial of Julio Morales proves otherwise – and provides a measure of justice for “Jane Doe”.

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Someone I am close to recently sent me the link to One Billion Rising. The statistics are absolutely shocking.

One in three women on our planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Just think about that for a moment. Think of the number of people that means. It is a staggering and numbing statistic which should be a call to arms for right-minded people everywhere.

One Billion Rising is an Internet movement harnessing the power of global social networking to take a peaceful stand across the world against violence against women, using the power of dance.

Surely it must be the responsibility of those of us who think we are right-minded to consider the consequences of cultural norms and narratives that perpetuate the circumstances in which such violence is perpetrated? Rape culture is not a figment of the feminist imagination. Yes, it is a shocking term  that makes many of us feel uncomfortable. Yes, it switches many people off. But it is very real and silence is safety’s worst enemy.

And rape culture is not always overt. It is the rolled eyes of good people who embarrassedly dismiss the lecherous remarks and whistling of “mates” as offensive but harmless, effectively validating the objectification of women through inaction. It is the zealous liberalism that subordinates the fear felt by women on the street to the ‘right’ to say what we want, to whom we want, all in the name of ‘free speech’. It is the badly-lit subway or council estate built and not maintained without thought given to the safety of those who use them, providing instead havens for harassers and predators. It is the everyday language that excludes and belittles and generates a sense of inferiority.

John Stuart Mill’s ‘Harm principle‘ has been fundamental to my liberalism since I first stumbled across it: the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against  their will, is to prevent harm to others. It is not an academic exercise. It is a practical guide to organising our communities and society and we urgently need to develop an understanding of how damaging our failure to act on behaviour that can lead to such statistics as those highlighted by One Billion Rising.

Why do I care? Why do I “bang on about it” (as one friend put it)?

Because it matters. Simple as.

Everyone is entitled to live their lives peaceably and as they choose – and without fear, particularly of this most vile and humiliating crime.

So.

Join One Billion Rising. In their words:

RISE!

  • It is February 14, 2013. Leave your work, leave your school, interrupt the day, dance, and demand an end to the violence!

  • Make February 14, 2013 a “day of action” by organizing your friends or colleagues to volunteer at local women’s shelters or service centers – promote your plan on the OBR Facebook page and across your own social networks.

  • Consider the impact of your rising. What mark can you and those who rise with you leave behind in your community?  Organize to change a law, get more funding for women’s programs, or model new non-violent ways of being in your city, office, or college.

This is the message  I received on signing up:

Thank you for joining ONE BILLION RISING, V-Day’s most ambitious campaign yet.

When we started V-Day 14 years ago, we had the outrageous idea that we could end violence against women. Since then, hundreds of thousands of V-Day activists in audiences and on stages in over 140 countries have come together to demand an end to violence against women and girls. The funds we’ve raised together have kept organizations’ doors open, and the issue front and center in local media.

But still today, the United Nations states that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime that’s more than one billion women and girls alive today.

V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, showing them exactly what one billion looks like.

ONE BILLION RISING is a promise that on February 14th, 2013, we will ensure that millions of women and men rise up around the world to say, “ENOUGH. The violence ends NOW.”

Ben, there is so much more to come. But for right now, you can help us launch ONE BILLION RISING with a few simple actions:

ONE BILLION RISING will make the earth move by uniting us through dance across every country.

Ben, I look forward to dancing, striking and rising to end violence against women and girls together with you.

In solidarity,

Eve Ensler
Playwright, Founder of V-Day
One Billion Rising

Find your local Rising here.

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