Catriona MacLennan: Stop blaming the victims

Sexual assault has been used by men throughout history to intimidate, punish and control women.
Sexual assault has been used by men throughout history to intimidate, punish and control women.

On Saturday night, I walked alone past Albert Park to meet friends at the town hall.

The lesson is that, if I had been attacked, it would have been my fault for venturing out after dark without a male chaperone.

Sexual assault has been used by men throughout history to intimidate, punish and control women.

And part of this has been the well-worn tactic of blaming victims rather than perpetrators for attacks.

What on earth has what women wear got to do with their being attacked? And why should we women remain imprisoned in our homes after dark?

The Herald on August 14 reported on a seminar called One in a hundred: Improving justice for sexual violence survivors. The "one in a hundred" figure refers to the fact that only seven in a hundred sexual violence cases are reported to police; only three cases are prosecuted; and only one conviction results.

Speakers discussed ways of improving the current processes.

I attended this excellent seminar - but unfortunately I can also recall attending similar seminars a decade ago and two decades ago.

There have been few improvements in that time.

In 2011, the book From "Real Rape" to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand was published. It set out detailed proposals for reforming the prosecution of sexual offences. These included the expansion of specialist police units for investigating sexual offending; specialist training for all those involved in sexual offence trials; and the use of judges rather than juries in such cases.

The reason for the last proposal was that the researchers believed judges would be less likely than jurors to be swayed by common - and incorrect - myths about sexual offences. Unfortunately, this appears to have been too optimistic a view.

In February last year, the Law Commission released an issues paper titled Alternative Pre-Trial and Trial Processes: Possible Reforms. It also considered ways of improving trial processes in sexual offence cases, including whether the current adversarial model should be replaced by an inquisitorial system.

However, all work on that project has now been halted and there appears to be no political will to take steps to ensure that sexual offence survivors receive justice from the legal system.

It's time for women to unite and call for justice from the police, courts and judges. Next year's general election offers the perfect opportunity for women to make this an election issue.

Maybe it's also time for some more Reclaim The Night marches - and perhaps judges could walk in solidarity alongside sexual assault survivors and their supporters.

More than 40 years ago, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was asked to place a curfew on women to help stop rapes. She replied: "But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home."

How sad that, in 2013, we still have people who believe it is the victims rather than the perpetrators who are to blame.

Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and the presenter of the feminist television series Womenpower on Sky Channel 83 from October 2.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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