The problems around an unbelievable story of rape.

Kate Nicholl writes for us about the issue of rape and how it is reported

Today I read a harrowing article about an “unbelievable story of rape”. In 2008, a young American woman reported having been raped; her foster mother was suspicious that her behaviour wasn’t befitting of someone who had gone through such an ordeal and the discrepancies in her story were noticed by the police. She knew they didn’t believe her so she changed her story. She told them she had made it all up.

The article tells of two stories simultaneously, the desperate case of Marie who claimed to have been raped set alongside the story of two female detectives investigating a series of rape cases seemingly carried out by the same perpetrator. At the end they come together and you discover Marie had been telling the truth. It’s excellently written and highlights how important it is to avoid victim blaming until there is unequivocal evidence. But it also highlights just how hard it is to report a rape – and why so many women don’t. And it’s not just in the US. Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour. Yet only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report it to the police.

What has struck me is since reading the article I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts about abortion legislation in Northern Ireland. This year the Department of Justice sought views in a consultation on liberalising the law in the limited circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA)* as well as in the case of sexual crime. Sarah Ewart’s publicised bravery in sharing her story and fighting to ensure no other women experience having to travel while going through what she went through garnered widespread support for amending the law to include FFA. But, perhaps unsurprising given the Northern Irish context, there has been less inclination from those in the public eye to support abortion in the cases of sexual crime. And in my mind, this is largely down to two reasons – firstly, that the “unborn child” has no choice in the matter, and secondly – and what I’m most interested in – how do you prove the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest?

I work for a political party for which abortion is a matter of conscience. While I am firmly of the belief that the person best placed to make a decision about a woman’s body is the woman herself, I acknowledge that not everyone shares this view – and in fact I respect that, because ultimately I know that the argument stems from where you believe life starts. So my point is not about whether abortion should be legalised or not (not today anyway!), rather it’s about a consequence of this debate that I don’t think we’ve explored enough.

Cases of perverting the course of justice that involve allegedly false rape allegations are extremely serious; they have a devastating effect on the accused and those close to them and if they have been made with the design to cause harm to another person they should be dealt with firmly. But, and this is important, they are also very rare. Over a 17 month period in 2011 and 2012, there were only 35 of these instances – compared to 5,651 rape prosecutions.

So my point is this, in using the (simplified) argument that “it’s too difficult to prove you were actually raped and therefore should not be allowed access to an abortion”, I worry that we are in some way implying that if you can’t prove it, then what’s the point in reporting it. And regardless of where you stand on abortion, sending that message to people who are most likely already reluctant to report a rape should be a concern for all of us.

*Some people are uncomfortable with this term as it isn’t medical, but for all purposes relates to a foetus which cannot survive outside the womb.


  • Korhomme

    Marie’s interrogation by the cops was coercive; even they admitted that.

    I recently read this:

    You might wonder how this connects. Simply, torture doesn’t work. You can’t scramble someone’s brains – by whatever method – and expect them to remain lucid under stress. Coercive interviews are a form of stress production; it’s quite remarkable just how easy it is to produce a false confession, as Marie’s case shows.

    And, as the cop towards the end of the story sort of indicates, if you want to get the truth from someone, you do it by building a relationship. It might sound strange, counter-intuitive; but it seems to work. Oh, and if you think that others are lying, you have a no better than chance of being correct; even if you are a professional interrogator.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Young lady reports rape, is not believed and initially left $500 down; is proved correct by circumstances, ends up $150,000 in profit.

    Seems like the rape industry is functioning all right to me. But if we were panicked into believing the figures supplied by the author (“only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report it to the police”) and acting upon them, you realise that at present rates of compensation the entire country would be bankrupted?

  • Turgon

    There is a non sequitur in the whole of Ms. Nichols’ argument. She states: “it’s too difficult to prove you were actually raped and therefore should not be allowed access to an abortion”

    However, if legislation is brought forward to allow for abortion in the case of rape / incest it is inconceivable that the abortion would only be performed after the woman had proved she had been raped. One might argue that that can only be proved after a trial which is usually a year or more later.

    It would almost certainly require that the doctor believed in good faith that the woman had been raped which will be a vastly lower standard than proving she was raped.

    The default position will be that the woman will be believed as indeed is the default position in the vast majority of crimes – contrary to the account above which is highly atypical and indeed is newsworthy precisely because it is atypical.

    As such the whole article is based on a nonsensical and sensationalised premise.

  • jm

    I was unaware that the rape industry existed until I read your comment. How is it performing in Northern Ireland? Is it a growth industry?

    I used to think that rape was an extreme act of violence that leaves the victim bearing physical and mental scares that can last a lifetime and changing the direction of a person’s life very much for the worse. This is the experience of a friend who was raped a a school girl. The adult rapist was prosecuted for a lesser charge because my friend could’t bear to tell her parents the full extent of what had been done to her when she was grabbed while taking a shortcut over a field to get home from school.

    This is the only case I personally know of where the assault was reported. I do however know of several other rapes that were not reported. The figure quoted by the author does not surprise me in the least and with attitudes like yours this will continue, but I suppose you are happy with this, as it saves the taxpayer money?

  • Gaygael

    This ias a stark and grim info graphic.

  • Korhomme

    So, around 90% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and thus in 10% of cases the assailant is a stranger.

    In Marie’s case it was a stranger.

    What’s missing from the numbers of false accusations of rape is whether the same proportion holds. A false accusation of rape by a stranger sounds, well, odd.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst “when life begins” May be at the root of some people’s attitude to abortion as claimed in the post above by no means is it everyone’s key reason for having moral difficulties with the issue. For example, I am sure many (like myself ) hold with the slippery slope argument because they fear value for life is being disregarded.

  • Paddy Reilly

    How rape is treated depends very much on how it conveniences the police. The poor woman in the article would have annoyed the local police by claiming rape without any DNA to back it up: presenting them with an unsolvable crime would have spoilt their clear-up rate, so they charged her with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, which thanks to their action, enabled their clear-up rate to remain 100%.

    However in England, special task forces to investigate historical rape and child abuse provide invaluable employment for female detectives who don’t wish to be exposed to real, violent crime, and for some very stupid women who behaved very stupidly several decades ago. You see the thing is that women who have been raped are eligible for criminal injuries compensation. Last time I heard it was £11,000 for rape. This is the fact that skews the whole system, and is the foundation stone of the whole rape industry. If you are in a dead end job or unemployed, you cannot afford not to have been raped. So the testimony of rape victims is devalued.

  • jm

    I wonder if I am understanding you correctly, Paddy?

    I take “invaluable employment for female detectives who don’t wish to be exposed to real, violent crime” to mean you think women police officers do an inferior job to their male counterparts and that you think rape is not a real violent crime.

    I take “for some very stupid women who behaved very stupidly” to mean you think that the rape victim is usually asking for it.

    I take “If you are in a dead end job or unemployed, you cannot afford not to have been raped” to mean you think women who receive benefits are devoid of any moral compass and will ruin a poor man’s life to get their chavy hands on more free money.

    I’m sure I must be wrong.

  • Zig70

    Fantastic to see an honest blog on this issue without an agenda. The fact is false accusations do occur, I find that incredulous and sad. More prevalent is that alcohol or drugs are sometimes involved along with the emotional aspect and the result is that evidence is bare. You just need evidence to convict someone, there is no getting away from that. The same applies to abortion after rape. I would support it but it would need evidence. The other thing that is often missing from the abortion argument is responsibility. There is no need to get pregnant in this day and age and if the emotions get the better of you then there is the morning after pill. Now I know the circumstances are often complex and buried in humanity so I’m uncomfortable making judgements but as a society we need to draw a line. I believe the case for abortion where the baby can’t survive is sound but it is being cynically used by the pro abortion movement to put a chink in the argument.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Though rape is violent and a crime, fighting off rapists does not feature very largely in the dangerous work performed by on-the-beat or emergency-call-out policemen. Investigating rape is mostly a desk job, involving interviewing, handing out hankies, searching on computers.

    The phrase ‘very stupid women who behaved very stupidly’ was a reference to some of the complainants in the case of Ray Teret, ex-Radio Caroline DJ.

    They were mostly girls in their early teens who flocked round his office, writing their phone numbers on his wall in a desperate attempt to gain his attention. The argument was that as they were under 16 at the time, they were unable to formulate consent and had thus been raped. This is illogical as children of that age are held to be criminally responsible if they commit shop-lifting, violent crime or murder, so why are they innocent of their own sexual acts? It’s like arguing “I was only 12, so the shopkeeper is guilty of my robbing, not me.” The lady in the photograph, after having been ‘raped’ by Ray Teret on one occasion, came back on 11 separate occasions for more. So if you want an example of ‘asking for it’, this is it. I am not sure whether her subsequent bitterness 40 years later (which took up 2 hours of the Court’s time) was feigned for the benefit of profit, or revenge for being dumped, but obviously she was already in the age of sexual activity and if it hadn’t been Teret some other poor fool would have been called on to do the job.

    As for your suggestion “you think women who receive benefits are devoid of any moral compass and will ruin a poor man’s life to get their chavvy hands on more free money” well yes, I did not state that all women on benefits are such, and I am not sure if you think no women on benefits are of this ilk, but I think it a distinct possibility that some women, and not just those on benefits, are.

    So while I accept that rape victims deserve compensation, I think it would be better if they did not receive it, as this would give greater force to their complaints.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Obviously, Paddy, you have not encountered any of those young men and women whose ability to form relationships or even trust others has been utterly destroyed by an instance of underage sexual exploitation or of rape. I use to work in the media, and encountered some of these what you describe as “silly girls” who were genuinely too young to absorb sexual abuse and are still living life sentences of distrust, chronic depression and bouts of uncontrollable rage in the aftermath, some forty years after the event. Some of these have spoken to me of a refusal to accept compensation as this would have turned their experience into something that could be considered as being “paid off” while for others the compensation served to cover some tiny portion of the shocking expenses of trying to live their ruined lives.

    But then I’ve also actually heard (at parties) several media figures boast to friends of easily getting away with rape on the “burden of proof” issue, although most are becoming far more careful now about what they publicly say in the wake of the exposures of Saville and Cyril Smith, so I’m far, far less inclined to believe that process of law even begins to “prove” credible innocence in such cases. What it certainly shows is that current law is very imperfect in the instance of rape and the abuse of minors, and that law and actual justice are glaringly quite different things in most of these cases.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Gaygael, that’s my understanding of the situation. During my media career I’ve even heard both notable media figures and politicians boast about just how easy it is to suppress rape charges at parties in London to sophisticated friends who think such things just a bit of a joke. With the stringent burden of proof demanded by current law it is almost impossible for any survivor to effectively “prove” their experiences, unless the perpetrator actually murders them and leaves DNA evidence. The very survival of someone is frequently used as a proof that no rape took place in law, and some measure of consent must have been present. Certainly Law and actual justice are usually shown to be very, very different things for most survivors of rape or abuse.