As a so­ci­ety, we need to talk less about the vic­tims of rape and what they should have done dif­fer­ently, and more about the crime and its per­pe­tra­tors.

As a so­ci­ety, we need to talk less about the vic­tims of rape and what they should have done dif­fer­ently, and more about the crime and its per­pe­tra­tors, writes Joyce Fe­gan

Irish Examiner - - News -

LET’S talk about rape. One in five women that walk among us has been raped. One in 10 men has ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual as­sault. One in five girls and one in six boys have been sex­u­ally abused.

In cases of child sex­ual abuse, 89% of per­pe­tra­tors are male, and acted alone.

Ap­prox­i­mately 76% of all of these vic­tims knew their as­sailant. So when we tell our kids to be care­ful on a night out, bear in mind that so-called ‘stranger dan­ger’ is the sit­u­a­tional odd one out.

When it comes to dis­clos­ing acts of sex­ual vi­o­lence, 42% of us have never said a word to any­one and only 8% have ever re­ported it to gar­daí.

What about con­vic­tion rates? Ire­land has one of the low­est in the EU, at 8% for sex­ual crimes.

And when we do con­vict, what kind of sen­tences are handed out?

In 2011, a Ker­ry­man, 24, de­scribed as an “up­stand­ing” mem­ber of his com­mu­nity, was given three years for rap­ing a woman while she slept.

In 2012, our courts gave a man aged 26 18 months for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing an eight-year-old girl while he babysat her.

In 2015, Jus­tice Pa­trick McCarthy gave Mag­nus Meyer Hustveit, also 26, a wholly sus­pended sen­tence when he was found guilty of rap­ing his girl­friend, Ni­amh Ní Dhomh­naill, while she slept. This was later up­graded to 15 months in prison.

Rape is the sec­ond-most se­ri­ous crime on our statute books. It car­ries the pos­si­bil­ity of a life sen­tence. The most se­ri­ous crime? Mur­der. But mur­der vic­tims take the con­se­quences of that crime im­me­di­ately to the grave. With rape, you live with its con­se­quences.

These in­clude post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, self-harm, sui­ci­dal ideation, if not sui­cide, eating dis­or­ders, and de­pres­sion, to name a few.

We talk a lot about men­tal health these days; to share our feel­ings, dis­cuss things with friends. But do we tell peo­ple to talk about and dis­close rape, a most preva­lent is­sue in our so­ci­ety and a ma­jor source of men­tal health is­sues?

As a so­ci­ety, we re­ally, re­ally need to talk about rape, the crime, and its per­pe­tra­tors. But we don’t. We talk about its vic­tims, what they should and could have done dif­fer­ently.

So let’s talk about rape and re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause, if this last week has shown us any­thing, it has ex­posed the deep fault lines be­tween those who un­der­stand who owns the re­spon­si­bil­ity for this ab­hor­rent crime and those who are con­flicted and con­fused.

To shout down those who are con­fused about a “woman’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect her­self” only serves to fur­ther en­trench their views. Peo­ple con­tinue to get raped and peo­ple con­tinue to live with the con­se­quences of it in si­lence. Mean­while, the per­pe­tra­tor goes with­out pun­ish­ment and moves on to his next vic­tim.

Don Hen­nessy, who has spent decades work­ing in the area of sex­ual and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, says that the mo­ment we move our fo­cus to the vic­tim, we lose sight of the so­lu­tion.

“There are a cou­ple of things about it,” he says. “If any­one is as­saulted or at­tacked, you can’t say it’s the vic­tim’s fault be­cause once you do that you’re look­ing for so­lu­tions in the wrong place. If you fol­low that logic to the end, you’re telling your sons and daugh­ters not to go out.

“Ev­ery­one looks at the vic­tim to put some of the re­spon­si­bil­ity on them and that re­lieves peo­ple of hav­ing to do any­thing about it. All that is nec­es­sary for the tri­umph of evil is that good peo­ple do many things with­out ad­dress­ing the real is­sue.

“The is­sue is that re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with the at­tacker. Un­til we ac­cept this, we are col­lud­ing in some way with them.”

This at­tempt to fo­cus on the vic­tim is known as the ‘just-world hy­poth­e­sis’.

Peo­ple need to be­lieve that one will get what one de­serves and, in do­ing so, they ra­tio­nalise an in­ex­pli­ca­ble in­jus­tice by nam­ing things the vic­tim might have done to de­serve it.

We say: “I won’t do what they did and so it won’t hap­pen to me.”

Stacey Scriver, from NUI Gal­way’s school of po­lit­i­cal science and so­ci­ol­ogy and co-au­thor of the book Rape and Jus­tice in Ire­land, says no mat­ter what safety mea­sures a per­son takes, a crim­i­nal will seek to over­come these.

“What we should do to take care of per­sonal safety is noth­ing to do with the fact that a crime is com­mit­ted,” she says.

“In the ma­jor­ity of rape cases, the vic­tim is raped by some­one they know and trust. They did the right thing. They went home with some­one they knew. Then that trust is be­trayed and vi­o­lated.”

“Per­sonal safety is largely ir­rel­e­vant. The crime is done in such a way that it of­ten times negates what­ever steps were taken to en­sure per­sonal safety.”

Mr Hen­nessy, af­ter many years of work­ing with per­pe­tra­tors of sex­ual vi­o­lence, con­curs.

“If a man is in­tent on rap­ing you, you could be wear­ing a sack, it doesn’t mat­ter what you are wear­ing,” he says. “I’ve had per­pe­tra­tors tell me that, that they al­ready un­dress women with their eyes.”

Ms Scriver says it is a danger­ous logic to look at the be­hav­iour of the vic­tim in re­la­tion to the crime.

“We look for all sorts of rea­sons to blame the vic­tim. In one cul­ture it might be their red lip­stick, in another it’s the length of their skirt, in another it’s that they didn’t go out with a male chap­er­one, or they were work­ing late at night. It’s sub­jec­tive. The goal posts al­ways move.

“It’s a danger­ous logic to fol­low be­cause you end up at a place where women don’t go out, don’t work at night. You don’t blame peo­ple for their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. It doesn’t make a crime any lesser when you take ad­van­tage of some­one be­cause they’re vul­ner­a­ble, be that al­co­hol or a dis­abil­ity. The vul­ner­a­bil­ity does not mit­i­gate the crime.”

Mr Hen­nessy says he firmly be­lieves that fo­cus­ing on the vic­tim is a cop-out for all of us.

“So­ci­ety says it’s up to women to pro­tect them­selves,” he says. “That’s a cop-out be­cause it al­lows us to ig­nore the prob­lem. It’s a man’s prob­lem and it’s a man so­lu­tion. We need to teach men to be­have much bet­ter than they are.”

But what about men read­ing this who take is­sue with that state­ment, who are of­fended by its in­fer­ences?

“Rape lets men down,” says Mr Hen­nessy. “A lot of de­cent men find it dif­fi­cult to ac­cept that men, ap­par­ently like me, will act like that to­wards half of the hu­man race.”

In cases of rape, the most se­ri­ous crime in the statute book that the vic­tim must live out, it is not about their ac­tions or our opin­ions. In­stead, it is about con­struc­tive dis­course, fos­ter­ing safe spa­ces where well-mean­ing peo­ple can tease out their own bi­ases and con­fu­sions and where we all end up with bet­ter at­ti­tudes that cre­ate a far safer so­ci­ety for us all to live in.

“Re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with the at­tacker. Un­til we ac­cept this, we are col­lud­ing in some way with them

Rape is the most se­ri­ous crime on our statue books in which the vic­tim has to live with the con­se­quences yet, for all our talk about men­tal health, we do not en­cour­age peo­ple to talk about or dis­close rape.

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