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.

2 Responses to “Worth the read”

  1. stewie says:

    I think both sides (G and D) can agree that investigations of SA allegations are substandard across the board.  The addition of SVPs helps a bit, but I also have no doubt that government counsel don’t always fully investigate either.  Preparation is also an area that could use more work on the government side.
    This would help either ferret out cases that shouldn’t go to trial, or better prep cases that should go and should be convictions but end up not because of a poor initial interview of the alleged victim/poor investigation.
    I don’t believe it a “myth” to think that intoxication or date rapes or marital rapes are much harder to prove and that a lot more burden is placed on the alleged victim in those cases.  I’m sure that’s not the end of the analysis, but it’s part of it.

  2. k fischer says:

    I’ve had at least 3 Article 32’s from GTMO to Ft. Benning where the SVP or TC solicits testimony from a CID or NCIS agent who states, in effect, a thorough investigation which sought to corroborate the victim’s story with independent evidence would result in the further victimization of the victim. 
    I always follow up with “How would asking her for her phone records victimize her?  How would asking her to draw a diagram of the crime scene victimize her?  How would running a background check to see if she has previously been a complaining witness without her knowledge victimize her?”  Crickets…..
    I still can’t grasp the conviction in US v. Soto:
    Does anyone have some background on the case because if there is not reasonable doubt in that case, then I cannot imagine when reasonable doubt would exist.  Now, it is a rape myth that a woman would not want to have sexual intercourse with her rapist after he raped her in a new relationship.  That just because she flies from California to Texas two more times to see him after the rape and have consensual sex with him does not mean that she is lying.  The fact that she has a boyfriend while she is making these flights means nothing.  Just because she reports the rape after she refers to him as a player and catches him on Facebook with another girlfriend, doesn’t mean that she has a motive to fabricate.  You see, she’s Vietnamese and she is trying to save face from the shame that she has been raped.  I spent a year in Korea as a Legal Assistance Attorney.  I don’t know if the Vietnamese culture is like the Korean culture, but if it is, then I would have a really hard time convicting after listening to Dr. Chung testify that she was soooo ashamed that she was raped that she continued flying out to Texas until she found out he was a player, but her shame that she was played would not make her falsely accuse Soto of rape.