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We live in a rape culture

The feminist fix: Root out the rapists who claim innocence

“We live in a rape culture” is the thirteenth article in Julie Bindel’s online column for The Critic, “The feminist fix”, which explores feminism’s answer to today’s challenges. The twelfth article, on cutting off the local demand for sex trafficking, can be read here.

How many false allegations of rape are made each year? The disproportionate media attention would suggest that hordes of women lie constantly about being sexually assaulted, packing our prisons full with innocent men.

In fact, there are countless men declared innocent of rape. If we look at the current statistics on reported cases that lead to a conviction, we are looking at under one per cent. That would mean 99 per cent of women are lying, right?


The investigation was a total shambles from start to finish

The problem of disbelieving women who report sexual assault is a universal one. One horrific example of this, is that of 18-year-old British student Anna*, who was enjoying a working summer in the party town of Ayia Napa. Anna was having a great time, dating a handsome young Israeli man, who was passing the holiday with a number of friends at the same resort. But in July 2019 Anna reported being gang raped at her hotel, in an attack by up to 12 men, some of which was filmed without Anna’s consent and shared on social media.

The investigation was a total shambles from start to finish. Before police had gathered evidence, TV crews were allowed to access the crime scene. They failed to download data from the mobile phones of the suspects, and even detained the group together rather than separately.

Although the suspects were arrested and held in custody, they insisted that any sex had been consensual. A few days later, Anna, under intense pressure from police, retracted the allegations. She has since explained that she was coerced into by police, who interviewed her for eight hours without a lawyer or family member present.

Anna spent four weeks in prison prior to being charged, sharing a cell with nine other women.

I met Anna in Cyprus in December 2019, following her release from prison prior to the trial. Her trauma was palpable. During this time, she was deprived of her passport, in case she fled the country. In the meantime, the suspects had all travelled home and were filmed popping Champagne at the airport on arrival, chanting about the “British whore”.

Rape myths are perpetuated not just by men but by women, too

At the subsequent trial in January 2020, Anna was convicted of public nuisance”, which basically amounts to wasting police time. She received a suspended four-month jail sentence.

At trial, the defence team were not allowed to put forward any evidence that the rapes took place, as the judge told them this is not a rape trial. But what was it about, if not to establish whether Anna was lying?

Yesterday justice finally prevailed. The Supreme Court of Cyprus in Nicosia allowed the appeal and overturned the conviction for public nuisance.

Josie Christodoulou, an independent expert in women’s rights based in Cyprus, has been following the case closely. “Why do we always need to appeal for such cases to find justice? Why must we, institutions and wider society that is, assume that women victims of sexual assault are lying?” asks Christodoulou. “Why must a woman, who finds the courage to report an incident and puts her faith and trust to the police, go through stress and trauma?”

Similar cases happen elsewhere. As the feminist lawyer Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice points out, “where the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) consider there is evidence to prosecute, we often see far more investment by the police and prosecution in building a case to support a conviction than in the average rape prosecution”.

The Home Office estimates that false allegations make up around 2.5 per cent of reports, and yet numerous women have told me over the years that police officers taking statements, following a report of rape, have made it clear they doubted their word.

Rape myths and stereotypes are perpetuated not just by men, but by women, too. It is hard for women who have male partners and sons to admit to themselves that sexual assault is too commonplace a crime for only a few oddball men to be guilty of it.

Men feel entitled to commit sex crimes, knowing they can get away with it

What is the feminist fix when it comes to wrongly accusing women of making false allegations of rape? We have to stop looking at rape as a crime committed by monsters, and recognise it is a crime committed by ordinary men. I have observed a number of rape trials over the years, all of which ended with an acquittal. The trauma of being sexually assaulted, coupled with the hell of going through the criminal justice system, only to be deemed a liar at the very end of the process is unimaginable. It is unconscionable that Anna, a young woman full of life and with great things ahead of her, has had to endure the torture of a criminal justice system branding her as the perpetrator.

Yesterday was a victory for this brave and tenacious young woman, and for women and girls everywhere, but why should Anna have had to put her life on hold for two years to win her appeal? She should never have been convicted in the first place.

Feminists have to fix the system, and this means recognising that we live in a rape culture where legions of men feel entitled to commit sex crimes, secure in the knowledge that they will very probably get away with it. There is no point suggesting that Cyprus is particularly patriarchal or misogynistic. We just have to look at tragedies that have happened on our own doorstep. Eleanor de Freitas, who took her own life in 2014 rather than stand trial for making a false allegation of rape, is one example. The CPS is advised to exercise extreme caution when deciding whether to prosecute on suspicion of making a false allegation, especially if the person is vulnerable or if it is unclear whether the accusation was made maliciously.

We owe Anna a debt of gratitude for fighting this case. Feminists everywhere should shame our institutions into rooting out the rapists that make false allegations of innocence.

Julie Bindel’s latest book, Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation (Constable, Robinson), was published on 2 September 2021.

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