Are “rape myths” in fact myths?
The Guardian newspaper reports on a new piece in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies.
Helen Reece, Rape Myths: Is Elite Opinion Right and Popular Opinion Wrong? Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, (2013), pp. 1–29. Published 25 March 2013.
The abstract says: England and Wales have recently experienced wide-ranging rape law reform and a galloping rape reporting rate but no comparable increase in rape convictions, leading many erstwhile law reformers to turn attention to attitudes. In essence, their argument is that reform has proved relatively ineffective because a range of agents hold ‘rape myths’. Despite the broad consensus that this approach has attracted, I argue that the regressiveness of current public attitudes towards rape has been overstated. The claim that rape myths are widespread may be challenged on three grounds: first, some of the attitudes are not myths; secondly, not all the myths are about rape; thirdly, there is little evidence that the rape myths are widespread. To a troubling extent, we are in the process of creating myths about myths. This process functions to close down, not open up, the possibilities of a productive public conversation about important and at times vexed questions. (Emphasis added.)
There are some other points that are important about ways in which current approaches to sexual assault cases may in fact be counter-productive. For example.
Without Consent (pub. 2007) notes that the specially trained officers responsible for obtaining victim statements were sometimes reluctant to explore inconsistencies in a complainant’s account too deeply for fear of alienating the complainant. As a result, ambiguities in a victim statement were not always fully addressed, in some cases undermining the complainant’s credibility at a later stage in the investigation.
This point is something I think is and will be ignored. It’s not just to the point about a false complaint slipping through. But it goes to the issue of police and prosecutor thoroughness in investigating and preparing a case.
Ms. Reece does give a backhand compliment to rape law reform as being somewhat successful.
While increasing the number of rape convictions has without doubt been a primary aim of rape law reform. some have stressed other, broader, aims. Notably, Wendy Larcombe suggests that ‘increasing conviction rates is not itself a valid objective of reform’, and identifies alternative legitimate aims of rape reform that centre on treating the rape complaint as an ‘occasion of respect’. These broader aims have been more successfully achieved than the aim of increasing convictions: for example, it is commonly suggested that the burgeoning rate of rape reporting, even as it worsens the attrition rate, is itself the achievement of one aim of rape law reform.