No room for equivocation on rape
When someone is raped, the person responsible is the rapist
George Hook on Monday offered a “profound apology” to Newstalk listeners for suggesting last week that a woman who was raped may have been partly to blame. File photograph: Eric Luke
When someone is raped, the person responsible is the rapist. Such a self-evident truth should go without saying, yet the persistent strain of insidious equivocation over one of the most serious crimes on the statute books suggests not everyone understands this basic moral and legal precept. The Newstalk presenter George Hook on Monday offered a “profound apology” for suggesting that a woman who was raped may have been partly to blame. Hook was right to apologise, but the remark was a telling reminder of why it is so difficult to prosecute rape cases and do justice for victims.
Rape victims are no more to blame for the crime than are murder victims for their own killing
Important steps have been taken in recent years to make it easier to achieve those aims. A new definition of consent to a sexual act took effect this year, stipulating in law for the first time that a person is incapable of consenting in a range of scenarios, including if they are asleep or unconscious. The Garda Síochána has said it will introduce specialist units to deal with domestic and sexual violence. Moreover, an analysis by this newspaper last year showed the average sentence for rape has been gradually increasing for the past decade and now stands at 10 years.
Yet such progress is dwarfed by the scale of the task ahead. The establishment of the Garda Protective Services Units has been too slow, and professionals, including gardaí and lawyers, need more training. The trial process, already exceptionally traumatic for rape victims, is made immeasurably worse by the fact that large numbers of them are being questioned about their sexual history as a means of character assassination. The UK is reviewing that practice; the Government should do likewise.
Behind all of this is the biggest problem of all: a set of attitudes that seeks to minimise or blur the nature of the offence, or assign blame to the victim. That’s one of the chief reasons for an unacceptable gap between reported rapes and convictions. Rape victims are no more to blame for the crime than are murder victims for their own killing. To suggest otherwise is dangerous and wrong.