Injustices happen everyday. So why am I posting so much about sexual assault?
Reading about horrific crimes in the news rarely fazes me. Once they’re on the front page, there’s public outrage, and the criminal is probably going to get what he or she deserves.
So I did not expect to be driven to tears 30 minutes into my first Criminal Law lecture on sexual assault.
Why should I be? As I’ve previously said, I’ve never been a victim of sexual assault of any kind. I don’t find myself getting emotional over tragic stories in the papers, even rape cases.
Why this, now?
The reason is that I never realised the extent to which patriarchal ideas of what rape is dictate how the crime and its victims are treated, both among men and women. Our lecturer described what society believes to be “real” rape as such:
“’Real’ rape is very real and very bad. It happens when a girl or woman is attacked violently and physically by someone she has never met before, with visible physical evidence of fighting off her attacker. She cannot have been drinking or taking drugs, and preferably never has before, so that we’ll believe her. She cannot be wearing provocative clothing at the time (but we’re not sure exactly what that means because what is considered ‘provocative’ differs to different men). She must be a ‘nice’ girl – not promiscuous, not a prostitute, not a model (as we’ve seen in the Andrew Lovett trial, being a model means you’re not ‘nice’). She must not irresponsible about her safety. We have to understand why she was attacked, where she was and why she was on her own. If she was at home, she must have locked the door and pulled the curtains.”
- Emma Henderson
The reality is that all rape is real rape, and all rape is serious rape. It doesn’t matter how many sexual partners a woman has had, how she was dressed, how drunk she was, or if she’s a sex worker. If she did not give her consent at the time that you penetrate her mouth, vagina or anus with your penis or any other body part or object, then you are a rapist. If she is not or is no longer capable of giving informed consent and you penetrate her, you are a rapist. If she gives her consent but you know that she thinks you are someone else, you are a rapist. If she gives her consent but is not capable of understanding what sex is, you are a rapist. If she gives her consent but changes her mind halfway through and you do not immediately withdraw, you are a rapist.
What I didn’t know was that the law reflects this, and makes a great effort to ensure that judges and juries understand.
It’s judges and juries that persist in focusing on the actions of the victim rather than the actions of the rapist.
This revolting, patriarchal idea that men simply cannot be expected to have self control when presented with a tempting woman, especially when the man is drunk or drugged, and the onus is on women to prevent this temptation – otherwise, it’s their own fault.
Most people don’t want to hear about this, which is exactly why every one of you should learn more about it.
Any one of you could be a juror.
Any past, present or future law student amongst you could be a judge.
By sharing this information any one of you could make all the difference to how the justice system operates, and to the life of a victim of sexual assault.