Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Verdict

UPDATE: BBC Programme site here

I have seen stickers all over the Underground today saying ''GUILTY; The BBC's The Verdict trivialises rape''.

In my opinion, this programme did not trivialise rape. Rapists trivialise rape. And because we are so afraid of rape, what it is, how often it happens, maybe we trivialise rape too. Oh yeah, we all agree 'it's terrible. When it happens'. But how often do we agree or admit that it has happened. 'It's just her word against his', we say.

To say ''he raped her, he is a rapist'' is so damning, so unsettling, that perhaps we do not want to say it, because it means letting go of our own preconceptions about rape; who it happens to, how often it happens, and that it can happen to us, or people we love. It is too frightening to accept the facts of the sheer prevalence of rape. It is easier to cling to the myths and decide it wouldn't, it couldn't happen to you, because you aren't like the people in the witness box, you aren't like the people in the stand.

But you are. They are human, and so are you. The chances are, you do know someone who has been raped, and you probably also know someone who has raped. That is, had sex without consent or was reckless or unreasonable in his belief as to whether consent was given.

I found the programme deeply disturbing, in its behind-the-scenes glimpse into the workings of the court process. The fact that the jury were celebrities became utterly irrelevant; all it did was give us a little background on them, they tried it as flawed human beings, not as 'stars'. Some of them were ignorant, and loudmouthed and closed minded, some of them were careful and thoughtful; all of them brought their personal projections and prejudices to the case, as people do. I have reservations about the whole adversarial system in rape cases: it clearly does not work. And yet what else are we to try? Inquisitorial? Three judges? Victim advocates? There have been recent changes such as improved rape reporting centres and police training, specialist prosecutor training, the allowance of the admission of bad character evidence, tightening up on
defence counsel bringing up sexual history, the showing victim's video statements (given to police soon after the rape) to the jury, the admission of expert witnesses explaining traumatic reactions and victim's demeanour...and yet still the conviction rate is terribly low.

I was convinced that the woman in The Verdict was raped, and many of the jury thought she had been raped too, and yet both of the defendants were found not guilty on all counts. In rape cases, it is not only the defendants who are judged. And in this case, the jury and the jury system in rape trials were judged too. And found to be wanting.

Even though it was not a real case, it reduced me to tears of despair.

If I were a rapist, this weekend I would go out as usual, nicely dressed, with my mates. I would look for the laughing girl enjoying herself in a bar, wearing pretty clothes, having some drinks with her friends, throwing back her head and dancing, smiling into the faces of everyone she sees, high on life and her own attractiveness. I would buy her some drinks, lots of them, make sure everyone saw us talking and I would kiss her in full view of people in the room, I would tell her she was beautiful, and leave with my arm round her shoulders, telling her I would love to get her number. I would offer to find her a taxi, or I would invite her to somewhere to join me, maybe a nice bar, maybe a party, and I would take care, when I raped her, not to injure her or to tear her clothes. Or not much, just enough to excuse it as passionate rough sex. I would use a condom, to minimise DNA evidence.

When she complained, when she cried, when she begged me to stop, I would tell her to shut up, that she was asking for it,what did she expect, dressed like that, drunk like that, to stop whinging because it would be over soon, and you've had sex before, haven't you? So what's the big deal? And I'd tell her to keep still, don't scream, don't fight, or you'll be sorry, I'll really hurt you if you do. Just take it girl, you wanted it all along.

And afterwards, I'd tell her she could try to take it to court if she wanted, and see if she felt lucky. The odds of a successful rape prosecution are less than 5%. About 50,000 women are raped every year. Yeah, yeah, the police are nice to you when you report it now, girlie. But wait til the defence gets started on you. You haven't got a prayer.

I could probably do that every couple of weeks if I wanted, and never get caught.

It's Friday night tomorrow. Someone's probably looking forward to the weekend tonight, making plans. And someone else will have a weekend they'll never forget.

UPDATE: The programme is discussed and blogged at Comment is Free
and by viewers on BBC2's website


Blogger brian in the tamar valley said...

Rachel your take on this programme is brilliantly thought provoking. I'm hoping to make an entry on my blog about it as well. It was interesting to see the courtroom process (something I am glad to say I've never been involved with!) and it was noticeable how many members of the jury were so emotionally involved on what of course was a fictitious case. I was pleased to see Michael Portillo as foreman who handled the sometimes fractious jury very well indeed.

Choice of jury members was interesting to say the least. Not sure that in real life Jeffrey Archer with his conviction for perjury would have been selectable! And it was he, changing his mind, that led to the outcome of 'innocent'. Maybe his real day in court might have coloured his eventual decision. This just shows doesn't it the incredibly thin line that is trod, particularly in rape cases, in deciding between guilt and innocence.

My own view? I would like to have seen a retrial on the evidence I saw.

I think it is great that the BBC are prepared to have a go at such a difficult subject. It certainly opened my eyes.

February 16, 2007 12:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the program, the part I found rather disturbing was when the Judge, who appeared to want to go home soon, changed the requirement from everybody agreeing to a majority (can't remember the term).
I agree, I was left wanting, I was pretty sure that there was enough evidence that she was raped.
I also agree, that the adversarial system isn't the best for this kind of trial.

February 16, 2007 12:45 pm  
Blogger Ally said...

Rachel, this is very uncomfortable to read. But so true and I am pleased that you have written it. I read the article about The Verdict on Comment Is Free yesterday and I couldn't bring myself to comment.

February 16, 2007 1:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last few paragraphs of this post ring true. It is Friday morning in West Chicago--

Easy as pie. Weep again. Night falls too soon.

February 16, 2007 3:48 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Do you not think the real agenda here was to present a group of individuals as the Jury that would attract a sort of Big Brother audience? Archer and the footballer had interesting backgrounds. Mrs Payne would always attract those with a morbid interest. The ex-sex object from the Avengers could have been part of a "Where are they Now" programme. Archer's prurient interest in sexual matters when talking with the attractive blonde was toe-curling.
Given this view of the agenda, I feel it is dangerous to use the programme too deeply in illustrating the sad way in which rape complaints are made. It was scripted to exploit such matters.

February 16, 2007 8:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


In my mind, I am thinking that the only time a jury will be utterly convinced that a rape has occurred will be when:

1. victim was a virgin or sexually inexperienced.

2. victim was sober.

3. victim was minding his/her own business and not 'looking' to get raped i.e. on way home from work as volunteer Samaritan/dragged down a back alley/kidnapped/attacked in own home whilst making bread and/or cookies.

4. victim had in no way whatsoever placed themselves in a 'vulnerable' set of circumstances.

hmmm! begs a lot of questions?

Who or what is a rapist? Yes, yes, we know what a rapist is? Don't we??

No. WE don't. Yes. WE do. Don't we?

I have been drunk/impulsive/impetuous/stupid/silly/vulnerable/idiotic/a complete freakin arsehole and have had many a one-night stand ... does this then mean that I have 'asked' to be raped, if I have been?? Simply because I can and have and will be silly/stupid/impetuous/impulsive/drunk?

I have been involved in a sexual liason where 'part-way' through I have sobered up and/or realised that the man who is having sex with me is doing just that, having sex with ME, and I am no longer a willing participant, more a compliant/resolved/partially sober bystander(lie downer, just think of England it will all be over.

I don't call this rape. I call this 'a stupid and regrettable drunken fait-accomplait' ... if at any point during the 'regrettable sex' I had requested, asked, demanded that the 'man' stop and he didn't, and he carried on because he was also 'too far gone' to care, because he just wanted 'to get his end away' ... do I/we/you call this 'rape'.

Yes. I/We/You could. Call it rape. Because I changed my mind, asked him to stop and he didn't.

It is so hard to define what is rape/rapist/raping.

This is why it is such a difficult crime to secure a conviction on. The victim, in 99.99 percent of cases, knows that their actions will be judged more harshly than the 'rapists' desire for an orgasm.

Especially if the victim isn't:

1. a virgin
2. sober
3. responsible
4. not been baking cookies

I know many women, and men who have been raped, and it is more traumatic for them to report the rape then it is for them to 'try and forget it happened' because they have already judged themselves and found themselves 'asking for it'.

Being dragged down a back alley, raped in your own home by a stranger, are more rare than a drunken sexual indecision or being raped by someone you know.

I do believe that the 'rapist, knows what they have done. Knows that the victim won't report it, knows that what they have done isn't rape! Whoah! It isn't?

Yes it is.

But then. Are they really going to acknowledge that they are rapists? When their whole idea of a rapist is someone who rapes a sober victim in their own home whilst baking cookies!

More information and awareness of how or who or what rape is, can only, I believe, I hope, stop blurring the lines of what rape is, and what it is not.


February 17, 2007 7:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit I did not see the programme. However, just a small plea from a guy who is not a rapist, perhaps like many many other men. Not all men are potential rapists in the same way that not all women are potential armed robbers!

Rape is a crime of violence. Guys that rape women are weird and they give other guys a bad image. We abhor them as much as you do!

February 21, 2007 11:33 am  

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