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New survey highlights alarming attitudes to rape

A major new study by the End Violence Against Women Coalition has found evaw that an alarming number of adults across the UK are unclear about what rape is.

The survey, of 4,000 people, found that:

•A third (33%) of people in Britain think it isn’t usually rape if a woman is pressured into having sex but there is no physical violence •A third of men think if a woman has flirted on a date it generally wouldn’t count as rape, even if she hasn’t explicitly consented to sex (compared with 21% of women) •A third of men also believe a woman can’t change her mind after sex has started •Almost a quarter (24%) think that sex without consent in long-term relationships is usually not rape

Rape Crisis Scotland has had concerns for some time about the impact of attitudes that jury members might hold on decision making in rape trials. Study after study has shown that a significant minority of the Scottish population blame women due rape in certain circumstances, if we are flirting, drinking or have engaged in a certain level of consensual sexual activity. It would be naive to think these attitudes have no bearing on how jury members interpret the evidence in rape trials. These attitudes have no place in our justice system.

This new study shows a worrying lack of understanding of what rape actually is. The law is clear - sex without consent is rape. In Scotland, the conviction rate for rape is 39%, which is lower than for any other crime type. Public attitudes need to change if rape survivors are to have access to justice.

It is clear that concerted action is required across the whole of the UK to tackle the impact of rape myths on our justice system. Sir John Gillen in his recent review of justice responses to rape in Northern Ireland stated that rape myths undermine the notion of a fair trial. One recommendation from his review was the development of a video debunking rape myths which should be shown to juries prior to any evidence being led. We are calling on the Scottish Government to consider this for Scotland. The first meeting of the Victims’ Taskforce is taking place next week, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. We would like to see serious consideration given by the Taskforce to strategies to tackle current issues in justice responses to rape, including the impact of societal attitudes.

As well as looking at what we can do to minimise the impact of jury attitudes during court proceedings, we need concerted and sustained efforts to change public attitudes and improve awareness of the reality of rape. Fundamentally, we need a cultural change in our attitudes to both rape and women’s sexuality.