Justice for acquaintance and partner rape victims sign now

Summary of proposals:
- Currently the UK law only recognises physical violence which is common in stranger rape cases. However in acquaintance and particularly partner rape cases other types of force are commonly used as part of a complex series of ongoing domestic abuses. The term 'consent' should be replaced by 'free agreement' wherein both parties have to show they were in a position to freely agree without any type of violence, threat, fear, intimidation, coercion or abuse of unequal power between the victim and alleged perpetrator.This needs to be taken into the same consideration as physical violence when considering ‘force’.

-The commonness and seriousness of partner rape needs to be focused upon through education to rid the rape myth that a ‘real’ rape is stranger rape involving physical violence. High standards of education about the serious effects of domestic abuse within partner rape needs to be given to the police, CPS and members of the jury. The actions and behaviour of a partner rape victim after being abused should not be used by the police, CPS or jury to judge her credibility - as the effects of domestic abuse can strongly affect the victims actions and behaviour during and after the rape.

-Past consensual sex should be held irrelevant and victims should not be questioned about it. The relationship between victim and perpetrator should not be held relevant for the perpetrator to argue they believed consent on the basis of being in a relationship. The idea that the perpetrator can argue “reasonable belief” in consent even if it has been shown there was no consent, should be abolished as there is no definition of ‘reasonable belief’ and therefore the meaning is left open to individual interpretation which is influenced by myths and wrong beliefs/stereotypes.

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1 in 20 women in the UK are raped and the most common perpetrators are male partners. Only 20% female victims report this crime to police (Allen and Myhill). 94% of males charged with rape will be acquitted which means only 6% of them are convicted. Female victims of male partner/acquaintance rape are often doubted or dismissed as 'liars' by the general public and those holding positions of economic/social power as exemplified by Kenneth Clarke's recent dismissive claims. Victims continue to be asked irrelevant questions about their sexual history and subjected to widespread disbelief, which leaves them feeling that they are responsible for the male(s) raping them. Male perpetrators continue not to be questioned about their sexual experiences and behaviour which ensures the female victim is always on trial rather than male defendant.

Victim's consensual sexual experiences are irrelevant and should not be raised by police when they question victims. Any sexual relationship between perpetrator and victim must be presumed irrelevant. The character/actions/behaviour of the perpetrator should be assessed in order to ascertain whether or not there is a case to answer. The actions/behaviour of partner rape victim should not be assessed to ascertain whether or not she was partially responsible for causing alleged perpetrator to rape her. The CPS and police's role are to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence to charge and prosecute alleged perpetrator by investigating his behaviour/actions prior to and during alleged rape/sexual assault of victim. CPS and police should be given mandatory training on the how abuse of male power operates and why not all victims of male sexual violence are subjected to physical violence.

Expert witnesses should be mandatory in order to educate the courts and juries about dominant rape myths and supposedly 'natural' diametrically opposite sex roles for men and women, which reinforces men's presumed natural right of sexual access to women and girls.

UK law defines rape as:

"(1) A person (A) commits an offence if-

(a) he intentionally causes another person (B) to engage in an activity,

(b) the activity is sexual,

(c) B does not consent to engaging in the activity, and

(d) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

(2)Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents."

So, even if a victim meets points (a) (b) and (c), under current law they still have to prove (d) that the perpetrator was aware they did not consent. Even when 'B' the victim has expressed a verbal lack of consent, 'A' the perpetrator commonly claims they (he) 'persuaded' them or 'misunderstood.' (However research has consistently proven males do not commonly misunderstand a woman's refusal to engage in sexual activity, but instead makes the choice to ignore her sexual rights, because he believes his right of sexual access to her body supersedes her right of sexual autonomy. Cameron 2007 and Funk 1993)

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 contains the statement (2) “whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined …..whether ‘B’ consents.” This sentence does not define “ reasonable belief” but leaves it open to individual interpretation which can be influenced by cultural stereotypes and myths. This term makes the claim rape is not always 'rape' if a male defendant can show he acted ‘reasonably’ according to dominant male-centric standards. Male sex roles promote the myth that men are entitled to use 'reasonable' coercion in order to gain sexual access to a woman's body. (Funk 1993 and Lees 2002). 'Having due regard to all circumstances' is generic and is widely interpreted to reinforce the claim once a woman has become sexually active and consistently with one partner, then she must always 'consent' to any male initiated sexual activity. (Lees, 2002)

PROPOSAL ONE: The law needs to be changed to define consent as one wherein it is free and mutual agreement between two equal parties; wherein one party does not hold socio-economic power and control over another party. 'Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined…’ must be removed from the Sexual Offences Act. It ensures that even if lack of consent and therefore rape is demonstrated or even proven, that the case could not even reach court judgement. It automatically negates all women's right of sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies. This clause presumes all women and girls are in a constant 'state of consent’ unless evidence can be produced proving the male belief’s of this to be 'unreasonable.' 'Reasonable belief' is not defined in law so is therefore dependent on dominant notions and false stereotypes and myths of female and male sexual behaviour whereby males are still presumed not to be responsible for their sexual actions and that men have some amount of ‘reasonable’ entitlement or right to women’s bodies, even if they express lack of consent or are forced in some way.

All other crimes do not have the proviso 'reasonable belief' with regards as to whether or not a crime has been committed, but male sexual violence against women and girls continues to be condoned and justified because women are supposedly responsible for gate-keeping men's sexual aggression and the myth that male partners are entitled to their female partners bodies is still prominent. This justifies and excuses male accountability because men are presumed not to be responsible for their sexual choices' including instigating threats of violence/coercion/intense pressure in order to gain sexual access to the female body. Women have yet to be accorded their right of sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies. Men have awarded themselves this right for centuries and the pseudo right of male sexual ownership and control over women. This partially explains why acquaintance rape and partner rape continues to be viewed not as a 'crime' but supposedly a 'misunderstanding of communication' and rarely convicted or taken as seriously as stranger rape.

The sexual relationship between victim and perpetrator should be held irrelevant; because free agreement must always be mutually sought and any sexual relationship does not automatically accord one partner (primarily male) his presumed right of sexual access to the woman's/girl's body as and when he desires. In 1991 legislation was passed making the crime of marital rape including partner rape a criminal offence, but implementing and enforcing this law has proven to be extremely difficult given dominant views of male sex right to women's and girls' bodies still persists. There is still an underlying belief that partners cannot ‘rape’ to the same degree as a stranger. The fact both parties had been or are currently in a sexual relationship is currently used to justify the spurious argument that the female victim 'consented' to sexual contact due to previous consent. Similarly, simply having any sort of relationship in an acquaintance rape case should not be used to justify belief in consent. Any rape is not less or more serious than another however stranger and acquaintance rape take place very differently therefore they need to be investigated in this light. Unlike stranger rapes in most acquaintance rapes it is not possible to provide physical evidence of rape and therefore other evidence needs to be taken into strong consideration when the Crown Prosecution Service makes a decision whether or not to prosecute the alleged male perpetrator who is known to the victim.

PROPOSAL TWO: Consent should always be communicated, a relationship does not entitle the alleged perpetrator to believe they automatically have consent and should never be held by the police, CPS or jury as a credible excuse. The commonness and seriousness of partner rape needs to be focused upon and the 1991 law properly implemented through education to rid the rape myth that a ‘real’ rape is stranger rape involving violence. Investigations should consider the differing available evidence of partner and acquaintance rape cases. Where it is impossible to provide forensic evidence, any other evidence needs to be taken into strong consideration.

To date victims of acquaintance rape continue to have their lives/character/actions/behaviours minutely scrutinised for any sign of supposed 'non-creditability’. The alleged perpetrator's actions/behaviours must be investigated thoroughly in order to ascertain whether or not there is a case to answer. The police and CPS do not experience difficulties when investigating cases of alleged mugging, theft or even male on male violence because they do not commonly ask if the male victim(s) 'consented' to be robbed or physically assaulted. They are not often openly treated suspiciously. Such questions about the victim are considered irrelevant as does the fact that commonly no third party witnessed said alleged crime(s) which is typical of partner rape cases. (Lees 2002, 1997 & Gregory & Lees 1999)

The Crown Prosecution Service focus on the behaviour/actions of the female victim at the time of the alleged rape. They often judge how the partner rape victim reacts and doubt her credibility due to how they perceive her behaviour/actions. They should not base any element of their decisions to prosecute on these observations because all too commonly male partner rape is only one component of male domination, violence, abuse and control over the female partner. They need to be educated of this fact and take into account that his actions and behaviour severely affect how the victim will react and behave herself due to the trauma of abuse. They should not base their decision on suspicions of ‘unusual’ behaviour because abuse can create various reactions which are often perfectly normal but not understood to an untrained professional. There is no ‘normal’ way to react and each victim is different and should not be judged on their reaction. This is more commonly known as 'domestic violence' but correct terminology is intimate male terrorism of the female partner. (Stark 2007).

PROPOSAL THREE: A victim's consensual sexual experiences should not be raised during police questioning because it reinforces continuing myths that a woman's/girl's creditability can be ascertained by her 'sexual purity.' Such intrusive questions commonly serve to reinforce the victim's view that she rather than the male perpetrator is responsible for what happened to her. Police do not routinely question males about their sexual history in order to ascertain whether or not the male suspect is lying.

Additionally, the character/ actions/behaviour of a partner rape victim during the time the sexual violence occurred should play no part in the CPS's decision whether or not to prosecute the alleged male perpetrator due to the effects of ongoing domestic abuse. The actions/behaviour/beliefs of the alleged male perpetrator however should decide whether or not there is a case to answer. The jury should be educated on this along with the CPS and police who should receive regular mandated training on how unequal sexual relationships are maintained and the severe psychological/emotional harm male perpetrators inflict on the victim, which affects how the female victim behaves. Training must be regularly evaluated and any recommendations/improvements swiftly implemented and enforced. (Stark 2007) Members of the jury must be educated concerning the realities of how and why acquaintance and male partner rape occurs. The public (from which juries are selected) continue to hold misogynistic women-blaming myths as 'real evidence' of women's supposedly innate non-creditability. The issue of why male sexual violence against women and girls continues to be endemic and not as commonly claimed 'isolated events which only occur when a deviant monster leaps out of a bush and rapes an innocent virginal asexual little girl or an elderly supposedly asexual frail female victim.' Men who choose to commit rape commonly do not need to use physical or even the threat of physical violence in order to gain sexual access to women's and girls' bodies but they are still committing rape.

Expert witnesses are produced in criminal cases not involving sexual violence in order to educate juries about the complexities of the case and to date have not negated or impacted negatively on defendant's right of a fair trial. However, female victims of intimate partner rape and acquaintance rape continue to be subjected to minute irrelevant cross-examination of their lifestyles; sexual history; medical history and their behaviour immediately after being subjected to alleged rape/sexual assault. The dominant misogynistic belief continues that a woman's creditability and truthfulness depends solely on her sexual character and sexual history. Men's creditability however
is not defined by their sexual character or sexual history rather it is their public respectability and class which supposedly defines a man's truthfulness and creditability! (Smart 1995)

The UK law defines evidential consent:

2. The circumstances are that:
(a) Any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, using violence against the complainant or causing the complainant to fear that immediate violence would be used against him (sic).
(b) Any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, causing the complainant to fear that violence was being used, or that immediate violence would be used, against another person:
© The Complainant was, and the defendant was not, unlawfully detained at the time of the relevant act;
(d) The complainant was asleep or otherwise unconscious at the time of the relevant act;
(e) Because of the complainant's physical disability; the complainant would not have been able at the time of the relevant act to communicate to the defendant whether the complainant consented.
(f) Any person had administered or caused to be taken by the complainant, without the complainant's consent a substance which, having regard to when it was administered or taken was capable of causing or enabling the complainant to be stupefied or overpowered at the time of the relevant act.

Here, the law demonstrates that physical violence or threat of violence is defined as a reasonable belief that consent was not given and that 'A' the perpetrator was aware that consent was not given. This law caters heavily towards stranger rapes which are more likely to involve physical violence, neglecting the common non-physical force of partner rapes. In partner and acquaintance rape cases, due to a variety of ongoing and complex domestic abuse, it is common for other types of threats and abuse to be used to control and force, such as psychological and emotional coercion (Eastel and McOrmond-Plummer, 2006). These demonstrate the use of force, clearly illustrate lack of consent (therefore rape) and are common in partner rape cases, yet they are still not recognised by law just because they do not involve direct physical violence. Any lack of consent and use of force is rape, this should be recognised by law and throughout the whole investigation.

'Interpersonal Coercion' is defined by Eastel and McOrmond-Plummer as 'non consent' which is inclusive of threats of physical violence; emotional duress; psychological abuse, threats of removal of financial support. Here the male partner uses his continuous pressure to force woman to submit to his pseudo sexual demands. Non-consent is non-consent irrespective of whether or not it is male physical brutality; the threat of male brutality or emotional male coercion. (Stark 2007, Eastel & McOrmond-Plummer 2006, & Bancroft 2002). Violence is not always physical violence, because it encompasses a range of behaviours including unequal socio-economic power and status between the sexes; psychological coercion; enforcement of subservient female sex role in relation to dominant male sex role. In intimate male partner domestic abuse situations, often non-physical coercion and force is used including fear, threat, verbal and emotional intimidation and abuse of male socio-economic power over the female which must be accorded the same consideration by the police, CPS and jury and recognised as violence rather than continuing to define violence as only use of or threat of physical violence.

PROPOSAL FOUR: Free agreement must be mutual without any threat of violence/intimidation/fear/denial of a person's right of sexual autonomy. Intimidation; verbal threats; emotional or verbal coercion and pressure should all be taken into account rather than narrowly defining force as 'physical only.' Emotional, physical, mental or psychological threats or abuse of any kind must be taken into account when considering what is and is not deemed to be 'force' and should act to invalidate 'consent' just as physical violence does during the police, CPS and court investigations.

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Laura ConnettBy:
Justice, rights and public orderIn:
Petition target:
Ministery of Justice, House of Commons,

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acquaintance rape, domestic abuse, domestic violence, justice, partner rape, rape, rape culture, rape myths

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