Alleged Victim Slut-Shamed, Rape Case Thrown Out

by Cara on January 15, 2010

in assholes, bigotry, courts, Europe, International, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, slut-shaming, violence against women and girls

A particular rape case has been making the rounds lately, for its especially ludicrous and misogynistic outcome. In short, a U.K. woman made allegations of a gang rape by five perpetrators. The case made it to court. And then, the judge ordered the jury to return a not guilty verdict when “evidence” was presented — not by the defense, but the prosecution — showing that the alleged victim had made statements online about her fantasies involving group sex. The revelation that she had had group sex fantasies was, in fact, the entire reason presented for the dismissal of the case. Indeed, agreeing with the prosecutor, the judge remarked that with the admission of these fantasies, “her credibility was shot to pieces.”

Many have written about this case by now, ranging from the F-Word, to Penny Red, to Pandora Blake (Note: images on this site may be NSFW). These are all great posts that each touch on several important points — I particularly like Pandora’s concise statement that “Desire is not consent. Consent is consent.” — and I highly recommend that you go check them all out, right now, if you have not already. Especially since I’m going to avoid repeating those points very much here.

Because with all of the astute analysis I’ve seen, one thing I’m not seeing discussed a lot is the nature of the fantasy itself. I’m very, very glad, on the one hand, to see that a fantasy of group sex is not being treated as some sort of abnormal, shameful thing for a woman to fantasize about, and that women are not being treated as immoral for having sexual fantasies at all and particularly immoral for having a fantasy that involves multiple partners. This is very important, and good on everyone for it.

But I also think it’s important to acknowledge the cultural context in which the decision was made. And that cultural context is one of a world in which group sex is seen as being among the most debasing things that a woman could think about, let alone do. In a misogynistic world where sex is seen as inherently degrading to a woman’s sense of integrity, sex with multiple partners at the same time is seen to leave her with no integrity left at all.

And so while I’m willing to be entirely proven wrong, and while I put absolutely nothing past the courts at this point, I think it’s a lot less likely — possible, but less likely — that we’d be seeing this case exist if the woman had fantasized about “vanilla” intercourse with a single partner, and then was raped by a single man. I think this case is less about whether or not a woman has a right to refuse consent to something she has previously expressed interest in — though it certainly is about that as well, and this is an ongoing source of horrific rape trial outcomes — but more about whether or not a “slut” has a right to ever say no to anything. The victim in this case has been officially portrayed, by way of her fantasy and cultural attitude towards it, as a “slut.” And the answer to the question by the prosecutor and judge alike is “no, a slut does not have that right.”

Again, in our society some women are more vulnerable than others to both sexual assault and rape apologism. And though virtually any woman can be made to be seen as unrapeable, some women start out closer to that status already. Among the many factors that can make a woman unrapeable in the eyes of our society, including race, gender identity, and disability, is the willingness to behave sexually. “Sexual” women are automatically seen as less rapeable than “chaste” women — “bad girls” more unrapeable than “good” ones. And women who behave sexually in ways that are less culturally approved are more unrapeable still.

This inevitably influenced the decision here. Judges and prosecutors are not magically immune from thinking nasty things about “sluts” when most of the general public does the same, nor are they immune from thinking that a fantasy about group sex makes a woman a dirty, dirty slut when this misogynistic notion is culturally ingrained.

The very official reason behind this decision seems to be “she openly fantasized about doing it, and thus she likely consented when the opportunity was presented to her” — and that assumption is a problem of proportions so enormous it’s impossible to overstate. But the prejudice behind that reason is “look what as slut she is, thinking about group sex with several men — how could a slut like that have possibly said no?” And that? That is an epically huge problem, too.

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{ 9 comments }

1 Adelheid January 16, 2010 at 9:16 am

I never have, and never will, be able to understand this “she crys rape” rationale.

A woman feels guilty, or regrets, having sex, so she’d go to the police, be questioned and forensically examined, go through a court case (when the chances of conviction are tiny – what, 6% or something?) because this will somehow make her feel better about it. How is prolonging, and having to re-live the experience in front of a court full of people, going to make them feel better about it?

Why is the assumption that women who report rape would do such a thing? How mentally imbalanced would you have to be to think that it would help you in any way? Do we really think that 90-odd % of the women whose rape cases go to trial (which is in itself a small percentage of those that are actually reported) are that mentally imbalanced?

It makes me feel sick, it really does. The assumption of innocence until proven guilty in rape cases essentially means that the woman is put on trial – because in assuming the defendant is innocent, the court assumes that the woman (or man) is lying, unless they can prove otherwise. That is one reason why it is so incredibly difficult to prove someone’s guilt in a rape case.

2 Cara January 16, 2010 at 9:33 am

Thanks, Adelheid. Can we try to avoid terms like “mentally imbalanced” though? The notion that people with mental illness and irrationality are irrevocably linked (and that people with mental illness shouldn’t be believed) is ableist. Not to mention that I might potentially be considered a person who is “mentally imbalanced” myself …

3 JeninCanada January 17, 2010 at 10:42 pm

“The assumption of innocence until proven guilty in rape cases essentially means that the woman is put on trial – because in assuming the defendant is innocent, the court assumes that the woman (or man) is lying, unless they can prove otherwise.” ~Adelheid

Well said and you are absolutely right. I’ve had the ‘do you REALLY think the majority of reported rape cases are false?’ talk with my mom in law and it was VERY frustrating. She’s known one or two women who have ‘cried wolf’, so to speak, so it’s coloured her whole perception of things.

4 Ned B. January 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Un-f***ing-believable (at least I wish it was). Others have already expressed this more articulately than I, but never mind fantasy. Even if this woman had been having multiple partners, consensually, on a daily basis, if she doesn’t consent, it is rape. I don’t know the details of the case, but to dismiss it from the start for this . . . Arrggggg!

BTW,(again, not an original observation), you don’t see this kind of excrement to excuse other crimes. If someone has their house broken into and all their stuff taken, the fact that they have given to charity or fantasized about getting rid of their possessions is not used to excuse burglary.

5 wiggles January 19, 2010 at 6:52 pm

The maybe 1 or 2 out of 100 rape allegations that turn out to be truly false – like nobody actually raped anybody, not the cops equated the victim’s having had a couple tequila shots with consent – are made by someone other than but related to the alleged victim and are always the stranger-in-the-bushes scenario, not the date-gone-bad scenario deniers like to claim are the majority of false rape charges.
Also, an equivalent percentage of robbery and mugging allegations are false but you don’t hear anybody freaking out about that, do you? Or conducting trials on the presumption that the accuser is lying? When’s anybody ever seen that?

6 Did you mean small? January 25, 2010 at 1:01 am

Adelheid, your comments are really astute. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone can really believe someone would undergo the torment and difficulty involved in bringing a rape accusation to trial if she or he had not been raped. I think what this decision exposes is the fact that courts, and the community in general, understand the wrong done to women who are raped, whatever the circumstance; they believe some women deserve it. Underneath the legal requirement to present promiscuity (or promiscuous fantasy) as consent in order to let the perpetrators of rape go free, I suspect the true belief expressed by the judges in this case is that it is ok to rape some women.

After all, we don’t have to scratch very hard to expose, in our attitudes to crimes of battery, bullying and even murder, the underlying belief that it is ok to hurt or kill some people.

The grief and rage I feel at this finding comes from the fact that it shows, not that the courts don’t understand that the complainant suffered, but that they think the suffering of people like her — i.e., women who dare to express their sexual desires — doesn’t matter. More dangerously, they believe the crimes of people like the perpetrators, who punish desiring women, are excusable.

7 VagabondSaint February 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm

This is truly appalling. If she had fantasized about sec with someone of a different ethnicity, would that mean that a member of that ethnicity could rape her and get away with it? This is persecution of the victim at its worst.

8 SECRET February 18, 2010 at 10:19 pm

ALOT OF YOU MAKE GOOD POINTS….A WHOLE HELLA OF ALOT OF POINTS…AND INDEED THET TRULY DO MAKE IT APPEAR THAT RAPE IS OK…DO THEY KNOW THE MESSAGE THEY SEND TO ACTUAL VICTIMS OF RAPE???…SOMEONES THOUGHTS FANATASIES AND BELIEFS,OR HOWEVER YOU WANT TO PUT IT THAT DOESNT GIVE ANYONE THE RIGHT TO ACT UPON THAT PERSONS THOUGHTS OR FEELINGS WITHOUT THEIR OK…I MYSELF IS A VICTIM OF RAPE READING THAT AND READING ALL COMMENTS UP HERE MADE ME ASK MYSELF BECAUSE I TRUST PEOPLE AND WAS BORN IN THE FAMILY I WAS DID THAT GIVE HIM THE RIGHT TO STEAL MY VIRGINITY????I MEAN JUST SAYING THATS THE MESSAGE THEIR SENDING.

9 SunlessNick February 19, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Jennifer Kesler (who runs The Hathor Legacy) made a very good point about this, though in reference to another case:

If speaking your fantasies out loud entitles people to enact them AT you, then everyone who’s ever admitted “Yes, sometimes when I’m depressed I fantasize about dying” is in grave danger.

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