When the Perpetrator Goes Free and the Victim Is Imprisoned
It seems impossible but it's true: although her sentence has just been overturned, in Britain recently, a woman was sent to jail for accusing her husband of rape, then retracting the accusation.
Although this story has received little coverage except in The Guardian, a left-wing daily national, it caught my eye at once. The story goes like this: the woman, 'Sarah', was being repeatedly abused by her husband. One night, after brutally raping her, she summoned up the courage to dial 999 and her husband, 'Ray', was arrested. However, one year on, it was Sarah who was sent to prison and Ray who walked free.
After Ray was arrested, Sarah was put under increasing pressure to retract the rape allegation. This she did, after emotional blackmail from both Ray and his sister.
For most people, it would be obvious that a rape victim suddenly retracting her allegation would require more investigation, particularly because the police and CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) knew the background details of the case, including the fact that Ray had abused Sarah before. The physical and forensic evidence was all there. However, rather than investigating further, Sarah was arrested for perverting the course of justice. On November 5th, she was sentenced to eight months in prison. After serving eighteen days, however, her sentence was overturned; she instead received a community sentence and a supervision order for two years.
Some victory: it is Sarah who now has the criminal record, not Ray.
In my eyes, Sarah is a victim not only of her abusive husband but a system that has repeatedly let her down. Although they dealt well with the case initially, arresting Ray and taking her allegation seriously, they let her down by allowing Ray to write emotional letters to his children from prison, blaming Sarah for his predicament. It takes so much courage for a rape victim to come forward, particularly if the perpetrator is her own husband. In Britain, only 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction, a shocking statistic, even allowing for a certain number of false accusations.
It seems incredible that a husband raping his wife was only recognised as a crime in 1991. Since then, rape conviction has barely progressed at all, with judges taking an increasingly hard line on (supposedly) false rape accusations.
The process of reporting a rape is enough to put some women off: an internal forensic exam by a doctor is followed by intense cross-examining from a barrister if the case proceeds to court. Obviously these measures are necessary to discover the truth. But it seems to me that a lot more sensitivity, tact and compassion is needed when it comes to reporting rape; cases like this can hardly encourage victims to come forward. Rape victims can expect nothing but harsh treatment and utter scepticism from the British courts system; this must be changed.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Rape, Domestic violence, Sexuality, Sexualized violence, Law