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Artillery Row

Why don’t women always go to the police?

The legal system fails victims

Channel 4’s Dispatches, The Sunday Times and The Times have collaborated to bring to the public’s notice a number of women’s testimonies that collectively accuse the celebrity Russell Brand of a number of sexual assaults, rape and incidents of coercive and controlling behaviour. 

This is not, as has been complained by many, “mob justice”. It is instead a huge and very important piece of investigative journalism, four years in the making, which will have been rigorously examined by the various legal teams of the producers and publications before they allowed it to reach the public.

It is the task of such journalism to validate and expose stories which might otherwise never be brought to the public’s attention. The work of brave and innovative journalists can lead to a criminal justice process not previously expected to be achieved; to socio-political and institutional change, or simply raise public awareness of an important issue or event. 

It is therefore astounding that one common response to this particular journalistic endeavour, mainly from men, over the last few days, has been to suggest that the exposé is unfair to Brand and that none of these women should have spoken of their experiences in the media; that their testimony should not be heard at all, other than in court, after police reporting by the alleged victims, and as a result of any action via the subsequent judicial process. 

This reaction reveals — laughably to many feminist women — an unwavering, innate trust in a criminal justice system which is virtually broken when it comes to effectively punishing men for their crimes of sexual violence against women and girls. What these men are essentially saying to alleged female victims of sexual violence is that they have only one path available for them to choose, even if it leads to a cold, deep lake where they drown trying to swim to the other side. 

They are asking women who may have been raped or sexually assaulted to speak to the police or no one. They are demanding women gamble their testimony against a criminally low conviction rate for sexual offences. In 2021/2022 the number of recorded offences was 70,330 and the convictions achieved were 1378. This is a conviction rate of less than 2 per cent — and of course, as we know, many women do not report, and in large part because they are aware of these appalling statistics. Yet men require women to keep faith in this torturous system. 

A number of prominent men have rallied behind the thundering online cry of “due process!”. The rule of law must be respected, and due process adhered to. This is demanded of women in the legal landscape outlined above, where they are abjectly failed in huge numbers. Is this necessarily where women should take their chances against their alleged rapist? That seems a huge expectation to me — one lacking any understanding of institutional and patriarchal misogyny. 

An equally bizarre response has been to focus condemnation on mainstream media outlets and suggest that they are persecuting Brand for his controversial stances on a number of topics. This attitude pivots graphic reports of alleged sexual violence into the arena of free speech in a way I don’t think I have witnessed before. Such defences have been hoovered up by Michael Barrymore and Tommy Robinson, who have offered support for Brand as a victim of a media witch hunt.  Men promoting this view did not seem to be able to focus on the women’s testimony given to Channel 4 and The Times, at all. They did not discuss them. Women in their eyes became objects being exploited by media figures for the purposes of persecution.

Bev Turner of GB News tweeted her support directly at Brand saying:

You are being attacked @rustyrockets

Establishment media don’t know what to do with the fact that you have 6 million subscribers and generate autonomous, knowing and original comment. You are welcome on my @GBNEWS show anytime. We are mainstream media. But we are not Establisment media. There’s a difference. Keep going. This proves you are winning. You’re a hero.

Like Robinson and Barrymore, Turner neglects to consider the testimony of the women in any way. When discussing this today with Andrew Pierce her, co-host on the GB News show, he called her “shameful” and asked if she had watched the Dispatches news item when she tweeted her supportive comments at Brand. Turner admitted that she had not and stood by her views that Brand was a personal hero and the target of a media conspiracy. She called the women’s testimony “flimsy” with a particular focus on them remaining anonymous. In a prosecuted rape case, an alleged victim is granted life-long anonymity, something essential to affording her dignity and privacy after a traumatic event. Of course, women describing in graphic detail, to a news outlet, what they allege has happened to them would require the same level of dignity to feel confident to do so. Few women would want to forever be defined by the act of sexual violence she alleges has been committed against her.   

Women think very carefully about disclosing rape with some of the key barriers to reporting being a desire to protect their reputation, not wishing for people to know what has happened to them because they feel shame and embarrassment, a desire to move past the assault and to not be seen as a victim. Some have sadly embraced the victim-blaming common in society and are left feeling they are partly responsible for what happened to them. They sense instinctively that they are not society’s idea of a “perfect victim”. Overwhelmingly however, the key obstacle that any woman considers when she has been raped or sexually assaulted is that she simply will not be believed — and that if she is believed, she will still not obtain justice.

Watching the Dispatches programme was gruelling. Some women reported having to watch it in shifts as their own trauma was ignited again by what they were listening to. They expressed deep empathy with alleged victims sharing their experiences. It isn’t necessary to assert without doubt that a man is guilty of a crime to be able keep your focus on what women are telling you about their experiences — and to feel empathy or sympathy with what they say has happened to them. 

The BBC is now reporting that new sexual assault allegations have been reported to the Met Police as a result of the reporting by Channel 4 and The Times on Brand. They appear to be related to an assault in Soho in 2003. The women in the documentary alleging crimes committed by Russell Brand chose not to pursue police reporting and instead to put their trust in journalists to transmit their allegations to the public. As a result of the exposure more women will now perhaps feel they can come forward to report crimes of sexual violence by famous perpetrators and may feel more securely that they will be believed. Many still will not. 

If just one woman feels able to take a report about a man she alleges has raped or sexually assaulted her to the police as a result of the media exposure over the weekend, then we can certainly consider that brave journalism has done its job for women. We then have to hope, with the eyes of the nation upon them, that the police and the courts will do theirs.

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