Drink. Feck. Drink. Rape.
This week, a new 'Know Your Limits' campaign highlights the risks from binge drinking - from accidents and falls and beatings to rapes. This isn't victim-blaming - it is quite true that being very drunk makes you very vulnerable, and that predators target the vulnerable, whether that is to rib them or rob them or rape them.
What the papers and the Government calls 'binge-drinking' and what the drinks industry calls ''hi-energy vertical session drinking'' ( meaning ''drink products targeted at an audience standing up, consuming drinks at some speed , buying rounds, in social groups, with music pumping in the background'',) is the most common marketing strategy adopted to shift products and make profits. Despite alcohol-manufacturers' straight-faced initiatives such as '' Drink Aware'' and
''Responsible Drinking '' messages on alcohol products, you only have to walk into a busy bar on a Friday night to see the offers, the flyers, the promotions and the general strategy of getting the punters shit-faced and buying as many drinks as possible, being very successfully executed as the tills ring. We haven't yet had a campaign which baldly states
'RAPISTS TARGET DRUNK WOMEN.
GETTING VERY DRUNK MEANS YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO
- be raped by someone who is actively targeting vulnerable people
- not get justice ( police have often advised victims that evidence of alcohol or drug consumption means the case will not win if it gets to court)
- suffer feelings of guilt, self-blame and trauma/depression afterwards
possibly because the big brewers would fight it as being bad for sales? Or because people don't want to hear about it? But it would be an honest campaign, if it ever ran. Like the ''Don't Advertise Your Phone to Thieves'' campaign.
There have been some attempts to curb the 'binge-drinking' culture, and to call alcohol manufacturers and pub chains to heel with some of their more ''irresponsible'' ruses such as buckets of bottles of beer for a tenner, buy one get one free/''buy 2 glasses and get the bottle of wine for free'' offers, and the promotion of products that are clearly designed to get you as smashed as possible as quickly as possible. These promotions are now being more strongly regulated. The drinks industry also self-regulates via the Portman group and there are strict controls on the marketing and advertising of alcholic drinks: when I worked (in advertising) on lager briefs, we had to jump through all sorts of hoops. Not link the product with social or sexual success, not show models who were under 25 years of age and so on. Nonetheless, we Brits love a good old drink-up. And women now have the spending power of men, and probably twice the pulling power, and unfortunately, not at all the same drink-holding power, and every weekend, hundreds of thousands of women lash out on getting lashed up, just as men do. And some of them get raped.
And that's when the equality stops. Because if you get raped when you are drunk, or high, even now, in the twenty-first century, you are going to have one hell of a battle on your hands if you want to get justice. And you'll need a lot of luck as well. Where you live will make a difference: some police forces have excellent facilities such as The Haven rape/sex assault suite to deal with victims; they have specially-trained units such as the Met's excellent Operation Sapphire units. The investigating officers will be patient and kind and avoid saying things like ''Changed your mind, did you?' and '' What sort of knickers were you wearing? Were you wearing any?''. But once you get to court, if you ever get to court, you can expect to hear those sorts of questions, and worse. Your sexual history is supposed to be left out of the cross-examination, but still many defence counsel will apply to bring it up citing it as ''relevant'', especially in ''date-rape'' cases. ( And most rapes aren't stranger-rapes).
Then there's the latest defence lawyer tactic - if your sexual history isn't brought up, your medical history can be wheeled out in court instead - including any instances of, say, being prescribed tranquilisers for air travel, or exam nerves, or having a history of depression or anorexia - and can be used to discredit you as ''unstable'' and ''hysterical''. (See the Dispatches prograamme on rape which caused an outcry in 1993, and its follow up 'Still Getting Away with Rape in 2000) . Manage to keep it together in court? Numb with rape trauma syndrome and wierdly calm? Then you run the risk of the judge and jury assuming you have suffered no great trauma.
Not looking good is it? You should be worried, if you are a potential victim of rape - whether male or female. Fewer than 6% of rape allegations result in successful convictions.
Police recorded 14,449 allegations of rape last year, one of the highest figures so far. Between 1991 and 2004 the number of rapes recorded rose by 247%. However, only 12% of cases actually reached court, and only one in 19 men was convicted.
In many cases, police filter out cases involving alcohol and drugs at an early stage, ''advising women who admit that they were drunk at the time of the alleged incident to drop the complaint because they stand little chance of being believed in court'' ( Sunday Times)
The 1 in 19 statistic, remember, is based on cases that actually make it to court. So Mr. Blair, personally, the ladies' friend - if the spin is to be believed - is pushing for further changes. Ministers are considering letting juries see the initial interview a victim has given to the police describing the attack, often soon after it has happened, and allowing women to be helped through the ordeal of a trial by having a 'victims' advocate' to support her, (as recommended by the excellent Dame Helena Kennedy in her book Eve Was Framed ages ago).
This isn't about reversing the burden of proof, but curently, women are judged as being able to consent to sex if they have been drinking, as long as they have not actually lost consciousness through excessive consumption. The Swansea Crown court case last year where a student complainant of rape, (who couldn't remember giving consent or not) was told '' Drunken consent is still consent'' caused widespread disquiet, and the rape conviction figures are shameful: 6% of cases resulting in convictions shows that the system is failing victims. Even more so, if the victim had been drinking or using drugs before her rape.
Vulnerability is not culpability. Yet too often victims are viewed as culpable in their own rapes. The thing is, you can try and help victims every step of the way from giving their statements and being filmed doing so, you can have victim advocates in court ,and screens, and 'special measures' to protect witnesses. But whilst we have an adversarial rather than inquisitorial system that is based on winning against the other side's arguments, rather than getting to the truth, and relies on painting an emotive and extreme picture of the victim's lifestyle/behaviour; and whilst this panders to the prejudices of people who think drunk women should be ashamed of themselves and are asking for it, we are going to struggle to get justice in rape cases where it is one person's word against another. Rape cases depend on the ''credibility'' of the witness, and the credibility of the witness is dictated by ancient prejudices about what women should and shouldn't do, say, wear, think, feel, act. And even though most women are raped by people who know them, rather than strangers, there is still this perception that malicious and false complaints are common, and that women change their mind or regret drunken sex and stitch men up for it.
I hope these latest mooted changes make a difference, along with the extra training of barristers, judges, police, and the extra information given to juries. But when you next walk into a big chain pub on a Saturday night, and see the drink and leisure industry's latest successful execution of a ''high-energy vertical session drinking'' strategy in action, the flyers, the promos, the wall-to-wall advertising, you might wonder if this latest ad campaign stands much of a chance. You aren't just talking about awareness, after all, you are talking about actually changing people's social behaviour. Education is as important, not just educating women about the risks of being off your head, but educating men that tacit consent is not to be assumed just because she is wild-eyed, giggling, dancing on a table, flirting, wearing a revealing top and halfway through her second bottle of Pinot Grigio. Actual given consent - in fact, full-blown enthusiastic partipation is what a real man should be after, not assumed access based on opportunism and assumption, prejudices and peer pressure. I'm not sure that this campaign stands much of a chance of what advertisers call ''cut-through'' or ''mind-share'' when the perma-message is 'Get out. Get Get of It' 365 days a year, and twice as loudly on Fridays and weekends. Still, I wish it every success.