For some reason otherwise intelligent and sensible people turn into ranting lunatics as soon as the word Rape is mentioned. Politicians start blithering, feminists start burning things, and police officers make fools of themselves.
Here are some phrases I have never heard on walking into CID:
- "You know, most burglaries are a load of rubbish. They just never happened at all."
- "Real street robbery is so rare - most of the time the victims just regretted walking down that dark alley."
- "What a waste of time investigating any stabbing, they always withdraw their complaints in the morning."
I live in the real world, and blog about it. 90% of the people who use up 90% of the police's time are benefit-claiming, unemployed, binge-drinking, drug-using or simply criminal. Tax-paying, law-abiding, hard-working folk have very little contact with us, and when they do they often apologise for bothering us with their problems.
Every day, false reports of burglary, robbery and assault are made, and withdrawn. Motives range from insurance claims to domestic revenge, to drunken confusion or mental vulnerability. Even taking all this into account, the best estimates are that 3-4% of reported crime is attributable to false allegation. There will be another few percent that are suspected false but cannot be proven either way. The police spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with this tiny percentage of false claims because the type of people who make them are the type of people we spend most of our time dealing with anyway.
We all know this. And yet, for some reason, seasoned detectives and brand new probationers alike seem to think that rape is somehow different. That "real" rape is so rare, and hidden, that you cannot expect to come across a proper example throughout your career.
There's also a lot of hysteria on the feminist side of the debate. Phrases such as "rape is rape", "any woman can be raped", etc, are particularly unhelpful. The refusal to acknowledge that most rape victims fall into certain categories (mentally ill, alcoholic, repeat victim) means that those categories are not educated and protected the way they should be. It also means that the police take the flak when prosecutions fail, when the fact is that no case could possibly succeed when relying on the evidence of someone who is inarticulate, incoherent, incredible, or just plain unlikeable. It doesn't mean they have lied, and indeed if you're going to rape someone they're a good choice, for all of the above reasons. But to expect convictions in those cases is unreasonable.
Likewise the oft-quoted 5-6% conviction rate for rape is utterly misleading and unhelpful. It includes every rape reported, which definition covers third party reports where the victim never wanted to involve the police at all. It includes women who wake up drunk in a state of undress and call the police because they fear they may have been raped but aren't sure. It includes the mentally ill, who report rape but aren't entirely sure what rape actually is. There is no malice in these reports*, but only the occasional one reflects an actual rape and they will never result in convictions - nor should they - and they should not be held against the police or anyone else. *(Yes, it also includes false allegations that cannot be disproved.)
Where can this debate go next? Is it, as Inspector Gadget suggests, simply the fact that the media is not ready or able to have an intelligent conversation about it? Can anything constructive come of it, when as soon as you dissent with the majority view, you are written off as hysterical? Can the debate even take place, when the majority view is itself taboo?
All I know is, rape is real. More common than murder, rarer than assault. And controversial at its core: from the debate surrounding it, right down to the act itself.
On the plus side, here are some myths that are, categorically, untrue:
- The police treat underage sex as rape. In fact, reports of underage sex where both parties are under 18 will normally not even be crimed. If they are, it will be "sexual activity with a child" (or words to that effect) and a prosecution will depend on the age difference, the vulnerability of the parties, and the views of the victim.
- The police will not prosecute false accusations of rape for fear of putting off genuine victims.Where evidence exists that proves the allegation to be false, the police do prosecute. They will not, however, prosecute women who report rape just because they withdraw the complaint, are inconsistent, or because the investigating officer has a personal opinion that it's a load of bollocks.
- If you report rape, you'll be called a liar. Despite all of the above, police forces are professional in dealing with rape and will investigate every report. Yes, some officers may have their doubts, and may discuss it with their colleagues. But all the enquiries that need to be done will be done, and attitudes are improving all the time. If your rape can be proved by realistic means, it probably will be.
Next time: proof that there are indeed rapes and RAPES - the incomparable case of Bristol rapist Ross Parsons.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.