A Stern Reiteration
I won't reiterate what I say here on Channel 4's website, but unfortunately I don't think the Stern report has much to do with the problems surrounding this particular crime, even though a lot of what she says is right. And the cynical attitudes I talk about often on this blog are only a symptom of far wider cynicism within society: as a group the police are probably more educated on the subject than the wider public.
What I find strange is that when it comes to serious assault, kidnapping, child abuse or armed robbery/burglary, everyone is happy to accept that the victim may be traumatised and therefore present a confusing account, that they may delay reporting the crime, and may exhibit inappropriate emotions/behaviour. When a victim of rape does the same, she is making it up.
It is doubtless down to the fact that rape is the only crime I can think of that hinges on consent (the word 'consent' actually appearing in the statute). The existence of consent or otherwise is actually what criminalises the act, rather than the act itself. But I am not convinced this is such a grey area as people think. Baroness Stern points out that 60% of rapes charged are convicted. In specialist rape courts this is somewhere between 70-80%. Which suggests that in fact the matter of consent can be proven simply by listening to both sides of the argument, backed up by circumstancial evidence of distress, background, etc. In the cold light of a court-room, rape does not come down to a fumbled drunken mistake, but juries feel able to make a clear distinction in a majority of cases.
Should we therefore be charging more rapes, or is it because we are selective in the ones we charge that the conviction rate is reasonably high? My opinion is that where there is a basic case against the defendant swinging only around the issue of consent, and the victim desires a prosecution, then if there is no obvious evidence to indicate the allegation is a lie, the case should go before a jury in a specialist court. It is not for a prosecutor in a dusty office to bury him/herself with his own moral fibres and condemn a victim to the archive without due process in a court of law.
The conviction rate might go down, but it would take away the element of one man/woman's personal prejudice. And if police officers saw more cases going to court, they might not approach them with the resigned attitude that they "aren't going anywhere" before they have even tried.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.