Let me first set the scene. This event occurred in a pub in Leeds called “The Packhorse”. It was the boozer that a certain Professor Tolkien and his student poetry and drinking gang used to frequent. I can’t claim this interchange was as cultured or erudite as the good professor’s evenings there but by the end it included at least as much Anglo-Saxon…
The press that day had been harumphing around the low-rate of conviction for rape, engaging in ritual hand-wringing and why-oh-whying with a side order of something-must-be-done.
So, I’m in the Packhorse with the math postgrad gang and this comes up or is rather brought-up by the resident lesbian-feminist (and Unix guru but that doesn’t come into this story really – I’m only including it to demonstrate that the woman was not without merits – she wasn’t a bad shag either but that is another story). Anyway, this woman held forth on the rape issue and argued that the law needed to be changed so an accused rapist was considered guilty until proven otherwise. Because, you see, a rape-trial is such a horrendous ordeal for a woman that it’s almost like being raped again. And that therefore no woman would make it up.
Well, I marshalled the leetle grey cells and argued against this. Well, firstly she made a spurious argument. If it never happened or was consensual then what precisely is the woman in the witness box reliving? Secondly, that is a truly sexist argument because it is based upon the assumption that women can’t lie. Thirdly I noted the case of a chap I knew vaguely as an undergrad who was remanded in custody in Lincoln Nick because he was accused of rape. It was all a fabrication. Everyone who knew him knew that because he’d been stalked by this bird for weeks. What had happened is she’d flung herself at him in a final attempt. He’d told her he wasn’t interested and she’d gone off in a huff and made the whole thing-up. It was hurled out by the judge when the CPS had to ‘fess up that not only was there no physical evidence of sexual assault but no evidence of sex of any form and that in fact the only evidence they had was her statement which was riddled with inconsistencies.
I agreed at this point with the radical lesbian that no woman in her right mind would invent a rape story for giggles but then not every woman is in their right minds. Moreover such wolf crying tactics naturally makes juries (and this case was so pony it was never seen by a jury) sceptical about genuine cases. At this point I had the gang behind me. Of course as well, such tales inflate the reported rapes vs convicted rapist stats. But what the heck, I was clearly winning the debate.
The lad in question had to re-do the year of his medical degree. His accuser was sectioned.
The radical lesbian countered that this was very rare. That was difficult to argue with because by their very nature made-up accusations of rape are I’m sure a ticklish beast to get accurate stats on. Accurate statistics on lying is almost an oxymoron.
The argument was slipping away from me again. I think I know why. Rape is rightly considered an extremely severe crime so there is an argument that everything possible ought to be done to ensure a conviction. OK, but that pre-supposes guilt and by the same “serious crime” token that means we should be very careful about wrongful conviction because the penalties for rape are and should be serious. To my mind that means that the case has to be proved conclusively. Which of course brings us back to the beginning. I said, and I still support, better coppering (which means training, forensics, resources and the like) in cases of suspected sexual assault. I don’t believe though that we ought to invert a key principle of English law as an easy route to more convictions to be trumpeted by the Justice Sec.
Because more convictions of criminals is a good thing but more convictions of the accused is not necessarily the same thing. By this point people other than the lesbian feminist were beginning to lose interest and concentrating on the darts so my final killer point was lost on them.
It was this: if we set this dangerous precedent then do you not think that successive Home Secs (as was) would not seek to apply the same “guilty until proven innocent” doctrine to other crimes that have a lower than target conviction rate? The few who were still listening to me didn’t get that. I was told, “Oh, no! This is just for rape cases”. No it isn’t. Once the precedent has been set any minister who wants to assuage Daily Mail readers worried that a rape in their street will lower house prices will use that precedent to increase conviction rate for every bloody thing under the sun. The argument of inverting the presumption of innocence that was initially brought up was silly and wrong but this was worse. This was naive.
Writing this now a thought does occur which perhaps didn’t at the time. Does not presuming guilt for various crimes lead to slip-shod detective work. I mean if the suspect is presumed guilty then the cops can afford to relax a bit. Is that not a dangerous precedent for justice as well?
This discussion happened in 1999. Since then I feel ever more that I was on the side of the angels in it. Except for one thing I did not see. I didn’t see that perverting the justice system was not needed to criminalize people. New Labour did with PCSO, bin-snooping, GATSOs, CCTV and all the extra powers granted to fine or confiscate the property or detain people granted so many organisation which are not the police or the criminal justice system. No. I didn’t see that coming.
Inspired by this at AROOO which seems to imply that all males are responsible for a particularly horrible gang-rape in California. Well, I’m not. I have never been to California and was in Europe at the time. That I regard as a killer alibi.