The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Asking for it

In yesterday's Central Leader, Pat Booth had his usual column and this time I actually agreed with something in it.

Booth gives a very clear example of exactly how rape survivors are treated differently from other victims of crime. Here are his words:

The scene is a robbery trial with the victim, a man, being cross-examined by the defence:
Counsel: So you have told the court that you were held up at gunpoint. Is that correct?
Witness: Yes.
Did you struggle with the robber?
- No.
Why not?
- He had a gun.
Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than resist?
- Yes.
I see. Have you ever been held up before?
- No.
Have you ever given money away?
- Yes, of course.
And you did so willingly?
- What are you getting at?
Well, let's put it this way. You've given money away in the past. In fact, you've got a reputation for philanthropy. How can we be sure you weren't for some reason contribing to have your money taken by force?
- Listen, if I wanted...
Nevermind. What time did this 'holdup' you talk about take place?
- About 11pm.
So, you were out on the street at 11pm. Doing what?
- Just walking.
Just walking. You must know it's dangerous being out on the street late at night. Weren't you aware that you could have been held up?
- I haven't thought about it.
Hadn't thought about it. What were you wearing?
- Let's see, a suit. Yes, as suit.
An expensive suit?
- Well, I'm a successful doctor you know.
In other words, you were walking around the streets late at night for no obvious reason, in an expensive suit that practically advertised that you might be a good target for some easy money. Isn't that so? I mean if we didn't know better we might even think you were asking for this to happen, mightn't we.

I'd add to Booth's argument that sometimes these questions, this attitude, confront rape survivors long before they are on the witness stand. They are the questions the police might ask, although I understand that this is less common now and that most police now act more appropriately than in the past in these matters.

But they are also the questions we see on telly when a fictional rape survivor approaches a friend for support, tells their story to a family member, or seeks justice from the legal system. On our screens rape survivors often face a trial themselves, as as can see from the recent police rape cases against Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum, in this television is not so far away from real life.

As a result of these constructions of rape, fed to us by our media sometimes with good intentions, I believe that many of these questions are the ones rape survivors ask themselves. It's natural to seek explanation and to want to apportion blame. Particularly when the rapist is someone you know, which is usually the case, I think many rape survivors would naturally turn to their own actions and reactions to explain what happened - who wants to believe the man they love, or one of their friends, could do such a heinous thing?

When the media reinforces this internal conversation time after time, it would be no surprise if many rape survivors blame themselves, and thus never come forward. Imho, this is a major barrier to ending rape - we will struggle to overcome it as long as the judgemental gaze is turned upon the one raped and away from the rapist.

(Pic Via)


Legal Eagle said...

Great post, Span. The ludicrous nature of the notion that women are "asking for it" is really highlighted well.

Span said...

Thanks for the feedback LE. I was really struck by how Booth put it and I thought that it would hopefully get the point across. Plus I'm aware that as aa journalist of considerable standing in NZ he's got way more cred than me!

Sofiya said...

Heh. That comparison is brilliant.

Sofiya said...

PS. Is that available online at all? There's some people I'd like to send it to...

Span said...

Hey Sofiya - Stuff has up Booth's columns but they appear to only have up his latest (which is a new one now). You can read that here:

I had a bit of a fiddle around on Stuff to see if I could find the column this extract is from but no dice, but you might have more luck? Sorry I don't know what is was called either and I've recylced the paper I typed it out from already. It was published probably Thurs 3rd May I think.