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It's heresy, I know. But not all women are victims. And not all rape is rape: Crimewatch creator risks backlash with ...

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2013-05-25 21:41:06

By Nick Ross

PUBLISHED: 15:58 EST, 25 May 2013 | UPDATED: 16:35 EST, 25 May 2013

Despite a century of feminism, and perhaps partly because of it, women are still mostly portrayed as weak when it comes to the issue of crime.

"It's heresy, I..." Developments of events

It is 80 years since cinema audiences first thrilled to King Kong abducting the hapless blonde Ann Darrow – her only defence was her beauty.

Even now, much of the news and comment about women and crime tends to smack of sexism and stereotyping – some of it promoted by radical campaigners who are perversely keen to depict the sisterhood as ready victims.

So how much of women’s portrayal in crime stories is fair, or even true? For example, is domestic violence as one-sided as it seems? Is prostitution mostly victimisation, or emancipation? And why, if equality is a goal, do women get much shorter sentences than men for similar offences? Or, paradoxically, if they cross the Rubicon into sex crime, why are they reviled much more than men?

Sobering statistics: About four per cent of British women are raped at some point during their lives

Why, all things considered, do women suffer far less deliberate injury than men. And what about rape? It is plainly objectionable to reproach a victim for her own misfortune – so why do so many women do it? It is common knowledge spiked drinks are a potent menace, but is it a modern myth?

These are all important questions that any sceptic ought to pose. Yet while challenges to orthodoxy were once scorned because of appalling chauvinism, they now risk the wrath of feminists.

Take domestic violence, for example. It is almost universally portrayed as though the perpetrators are men. Indeed, in 1989 the Canadian Journal Of Behavioural Science published the results of a survey that was celebrated as a classic expos of ‘battered wives’, and was taken up as proof of typical male perfidy.

However, two years later the Journal acknowledged a different side to the story after the data had been re-analysed. While 10.8 per cent of the men surveyed had pushed, grabbed or thrown objects at their spouses, 12.4 per cent of women had done so too. And although 2.5 per cent of men used serious violence, so did 4.7 per cent of women.

Marilyn Kwong, who carried out the new analysis, also examined eight other studies and found the pattern was universal. Inconvenient facts had been cut out.

Feminism did a vital job putting domestic violence on the agenda – most police officers now take it seriously, and in some force areas it represents one in six emergency responses. Yet the success of feminism and its flattery by mainstream authority meant that for decades professional interventions assumed that men were always the aggressors, and if women were violent, they must have been acting in self-defence.

Old fashioned: A movie poster for King Kong which Nick Ross says demonstrates archetypal stereotyping

It is widely claimed that one woman in four is subjected to domestic violence, though depending on the source, that figure might include minor physical assault, feeling afraid or suffering mild psychological abuse – and any of this at some stage in their lives.

If three-quarters of women went through life without ever once fearing some form of mental or physical attack, however inconsequential, that would be more surprising.

Many reports also ignored the thought that women can be violent to men. Erin Pizzey, the feminist who, in 1971, founded one of the world’s first women’s refuges, has been trying ever since to set the record straight.

Care: Erin Pizzey is the founder of the First Womens Refuge in Chiswick which offered abused women a place of refuge

She once wrote: ‘I will never forget one woman, who was staying in my refuge, telling me in chilling tones, “Knives are a great leveller”... The truth is that much of the violence takes place in squalid, tortured relationships, often involving drink and drugs, where both partners are guilty of verbal and physical assault.’

In Britain, a large Home Office survey in 1995 found that 4.2 per cent of men said they had been physically assaulted or injured by their partner within the previous year – precisely the same figure as for women. When 15 years of British findings were put together in 2012, they told an essentially consistent story: between 30 and 40 per cent of those assaulted were men and they suffered a quarter of all the attacks.

Although in many cases neither men nor women reported injury or emotional effects, about one in ten in both genders had suffered bleeding or broken bones, and three per cent of men and two per cent of women had later attempted suicide.

The same thing was found in a health survey in New Zealand.

Not that most men would confess how they were injured. Women are twice as likely as their male partners to confide in a professional, five times more likely to tell a doctor or a nurse, and three times as likely to go to the police.

None of this diminishes the horror of domestic abuse, especially when it is repeated, severe and one-sided. Women do tend to come off worst, and a small proportion of them suffer relentlessly. However, we should not underestimate the extent of mutual aggression that takes place within the hurly-burly of human discord. Nor should we forget the extent of emotional bullying, where the wounds don’t show. So let us turn to the other crime with which women are almost exclusively identified as victims: rape.

As far as we can tell, about four per cent of British women are raped at some point in their lives, some repeatedly. About 0.6 per cent of women (and 0.1 per cent of men) are victims of rapes and other serious sexual assaults each year.

Rape is one of the most violating crimes. Victims tend to feel dirty, embarrassed, racked with revulsion and self-blame, and, since it almost always involves a male assailant, rape is one of the defining issues for radical feminism. But have the red mists of politics and emotion clouded reality here?

Rape victims were once treated appallingly, as though it was all their fault, but have we now gone too far the other way? Many of the victims seem to think we have. The main argument of my book is this: we can aggravate crime by tempting fate, and we curb it by playing safe.

We have come to acknowledge it is foolish to leave laptops on the back seat of a car. We would laugh at a bank that stored sacks of cash by the front door. We would be aghast if an airport badly skimped on its security measures.

Our forebears might be astonished at how safe women are today given what throughout history would have been regarded as incitement. Not even in the licentious days of Charles II in the 17th Century was it acceptable for women to dress as provocatively as they have done in Western culture since the 1960s.

Equally they would be baffled that girls are mostly unescorted, stay out late, often get profoundly drunk and sometimes openly kiss, grope or go to bed with one-night stands.

No amount of temptation can excuse rape, or any other crime. On that point ‘slutwalk’ demonstrators [those reacting against a Canadian policeman whose advised women to ‘avoid dressing as sluts’ if they did not want to be harassed] are obviously correct. Yet for some it is heresy to suggest that victims should ever be held responsible at all.

Clear message: Protesters making their point in London after a policeman told women not to 'dress as sluts' - implying they were partly to blame for sex crimes

There was an outcry when our Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority cut recompense to rape victims who had ‘contributed’ to their plight through ‘excessive’ drinking. The decision had to be reversed. But for any other crime, compensation can be reduced according to ‘the conduct of the applicant before, during or after the incident’.

There was another outcry in 2011 when Ken Clarke, the then Justice Secretary, was urged to resign by Labour leader Ed Miliband for using the words ‘serious rape’.

The transcript of the interview makes it clear that Clarke meant aggravated rape, but it has become sacrilege to suggest that there can be any gradation: rape is rape.

Error of judgement: A report on Ken Clarke's comments in which he said not all rapes were ‘serious’

The real experts, the victims, know otherwise. Half of all women who have had penetrative sex unwillingly do not think they were raped, and this proportion rises strongly when the assault involves a boyfriend, or if the woman is drunk or high on drugs: they led him on, they went too far, it wasn’t forcible, they didn’t make themselves clear... For them, rape isn’t always rape and, however upsetting, they feel it is a long way removed from being systematically violated or snatched off the street.

Such stranger attacks – the sort most often reported by the newspapers – make up only a small proportion of rapes that women divulge through surveys.

The assumption is that any woman who chooses not to pursue a claim is being let down by the State or is acting irrationally. But could it be that she is right? What if she feels partly responsible for what happened? What if she realises there is no evidence other than her word against his? What if her life is bound up with that of her assailant? What if she feels humiliated as well as violated?

Should she be expected to disclose all this in public and then put her life on hold for the greater good? Do we want a justice system that overrides the victims’ sense of what is in their own best interests, or one that, in order to accommodate them, ceases to be just?

It’s little wonder that, despite the fact that reporting rates have soared, fewer than 20 per cent of rape victims go to the police. When they do, about a sixth of complaints are rejected (rightly or wrongly) by police as implausible; a third are abandoned for lack of evidence; and a third are dropped because the complainant withdraws.

Bear in mind that some of the allegations are made weeks or even years after the event took place, and the average rape case takes nearly two years to come to trial. When cases do go to court, 55 per cent result in a conviction.

Could it be that court proceedings are not always the best way of dealing with what happens in relationships? If that is the case, could it be that women (and men who are raped) are generally acting wisely if they choose not to take that route?

This brings us to another vexatious issue: drug-rape. Fears about women swooning from spiked drinks became so widespread that several TV soaps, the BBC and newspapers warned about the growing menace. The publicity turned Rohypnol – a previously obscure pre-anaesthetic sedative – into a household name.

There was always an implausibility about widespread drug-facilitated rape. For one thing, every assailant would need to control the dosage of a dangerous medication to allow extraction of the victim from her social setting without complaint or alarm from her friends.

Date rape: Rohypnol - a sedative that, if ingested, slows down the central nervous system

In any case, the evidence is vanishingly thin. The UK’s Forensic Science Service tested samples from more than 1,000 women who complained of being sexually assaulted after being given drugs surreptitiously – and found most of the women were drunk.

In 98 per cent of cases, there was no evidence of drugs other than self-administered alcohol, sometimes with cannabis and cocaine. This is in line with other studies both in the UK and the United States.

Critics suggest evidence was missed because samples were not taken early enough, and that the media reinforces the impression that such drugs are almost undetectable. Not so: some of the studies were on samples taken within hours, and anyway, some of the metabolites of hypnotics can be detected for days or even weeks.

Perhaps the drug-rape story has such a grip on our collective imagination because it fits so well with the time-honoured horror story: that of the insensible woman at the mercy of the wicked male.

Prostitution is another issue where women tend to be portrayed as victims. Those who work in the sex trade tend to be scandalised by this patronising view. Females are as capable as men of making decisions on whether to work in an office, a factory or a knocking shop. But the view persists that they are fragile creatures who have been trafficked and set to work under duress.

There have been claims over recent years about a white slave trade – thousands of naive girls from abroad being smuggled into Britain and forced to work as prostitutes. Small brothels that had more or less endured for many years suddenly faced crackdowns from local authorities and police.

Government spokesmen were widely quoted saying that of 80,000 working girls in Britain, ‘the majority are under control from traffickers, pimps or brothel owners’.

The Home Secretary leapt into action and an extraordinary law was introduced. Instead of targeting the supposed pimps, Section 14 of the Policing And Crime Act 2009 targeted the clients. It placed the onus on them to prove their innocence, even though the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, warned that the measure was unenforceable.

So where had the statistics for prostitutes come from, and how could anyone know that most of them were sex slaves?

Due to the furtive nature of the industry, the only number available – 80,000 – had been extrapolated from a small survey compiled 20 years previously by Hilary Kinnell, a health outreach worker in Birmingham. She later described the constant quotation of the figure as ‘bizarre’.

As for the alarming idea that ‘the majority’ of the women were trapped by violent pimps – a figure of 80 per cent was cited by a former Minister – that really does seem to have been invented.

Nonetheless, Scotland Yard set up a dedicated Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Unit (SCD9) to tackle it. Officers estimated that 30,000 women were working as escorts or from flats and brothels, of whom 2,600 were definitely trafficked. How did they know? They asked about 250 of the women and generalised from the results. Of 210 who came from abroad, fewer than 20 indicated they were not working entirely of their own volition.

Leaving aside the statistical stretching required, how meaningful are the results? If you were an illegal immigrant, if you may have to go to court and if your mother might find out, what would you say when asked if you were duped or under duress? It would hardly be surprising to say yes.

Perhaps the proof of the pudding is what happened next. One series of 822 raids found only 11 victims who asked for police help. Two intelligence-led sweeps involving 55 forces found 250 people who might have been trafficked.

Opinions: Nick Ross, creator of Crimewatch and author of 'Crime: How To Solve It - and Why So Much of What We're Told Is Wrong'

Meanwhile, the predicted surge in victims at the time of the Olympics failed to materialise.

In fact, the most reliable figure we have for people brought to Britain on false pretences and exploited for sexual purposes is not ‘80 per cent’ of 80,000 but a tiny fraction.

It’s no wonder that Hilary Kinnell, the woman who first tried to quantify prostitution in modern Britain, has become utterly cheesed off. She protests her original figure was no more than a guess, and that the trafficking scare that followed was based on wild exaggeration.

In crime, as in everything else, women are stronger and more capable of making their own decisions or running their own lives than we allow. In sex, as in so much else, almost everything we’re told about crime is wrong.

  • Crime, by Nick Ross, is published on June 4 by Biteback priced 17.99. To order your copy for just 13.99 with free p&p, call 0844 472 4157 or visit mailbookshop.co.uk.

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