13 Aug 2013

Victim-blaming: It's not just for civilians

So, the latest outcry over the blaming of rape victims for their abuse has, rightly, focused on Judge Nigel Peters' decision to give a man who sexually abused a 13 year-old girl a suspended sentence on the grounds that the victim was 'sexually predatory'.
Where to start despairing over this story is anyone's guess, as there are so many aspects of the story that make you want to drop your forehead onto your desk with considerable force. How about the fact that 'The girl was accused in court of "egging her abuser on" and was described as "looking older" than her thirteen years, something the judge said he would consider in Wilson’s favour"?  Or the fact that the abuser's barrister said, in his defence “There was sexual activity but it was not of Mr Wilson's doing. You might say it was forced upon him despite being older and stronger than her”?
I mean, just take a minute to read that last quote. The sexual activity was not of the abuser's doing. It was forced upon him. Would we ever read about another crime being defended in such an audacious, logically fallacious, victim-blaming fashion? The little old lady forced her handbag on the mugger. The victim forced his Vauxhall Omega on the car thief. The perpetrator of grievous bodily harm may have shoved a broken bottle in his victim's face, but it was not of his doing. How can we still listen to this shit? And how in God's name can anyone get away with standing up in court and still SAYING THIS SHIT?!
Well, maybe they haven't totally gotten away with it. Barrister Robert Colover has been barred from taking on sexual offence cases while the Director of Public Prosecutions conducts an investigation into the case and Colover's conduct. Quite right, but talk about shutting the stable door after the sex offender has walked free. Furthermore, how much can we really lay the blame at the feet of a barrister - whose job it is to defend his client by whatever legal means he can, which sadly still includes completely besmirching the victim's reputation - when he employed tactics that he thought would work in his client's favour, and was proved right by the supposedly neutral paragon of justice, the judge himself?
Judge Nigel Peters made the utterly contradictory statement that he would take the victim's allegedly deceptive appearance and the fact she was ''predatory" and "egging you on" into account when sentencing, then said “That is no defence when dealing with children but I am prepared to impose a suspension.”  Uh, sure. So if it's no defence, WHY MENTION IT? And why give a sentence that implies you think it surely IS a defence, a defence strong enough to put a child abuser back on the streets?
As a result of the objections to his words and sentencing, Judge Peters increased the suspended sentence from 8 months to 12 months, which seems only to add insult to injury. However, the DPP is conducting a separate review and so the sentence may yet change again - although in terms of exposing our legal system as the kind of misogynistic hellhole that we foolishly thought might have improved since Helena Kennedy wrote about the horrendous victim-blaming she witnessed during her time as a QC in the 80s and 90s, the damage is done.
All that said, I'm glad that there at least is an outcry, and that it's not just the public objecting, but key members of the British legal system too. Keir Starmer, who has also been instrumental in exposing the pitifully low rape conviction rate and calling for major improvements in the way rape complaints are handled, has not wasted time in addressing this utterly f-ed up case. Another judge, when sentencing a child abuser a few days later, made a point of saying that the responsibility for abuse always lies with the adult, regardless of the child's behaviour. I'm glad to see this, because cases like these don't always get this degree of attention.
I spent a great deal of time and energy during the first months of 2013 trying to get people similarly outraged about Judge Niclas Parry's comments that a rape victim 'let herself down badly' by drinking and taking drugs on the night of her attack. It was a real slog to a) spread word about the petition and get people to sign, and b) get a response from the Judge in the face of the constant obfuscation that the people surrounding him practised.
After two utterly unhelpful responses from the listing manager of Mold Crown Court, I lodged a complaint with the Office for Judicial Complaints. I received an equally unhelpful response from the OJC, which said:
"I have considered the issues raised in your complaint and I conclude that they relate to HHJ Parry own views and opinion of the people before him. This does not amount to misconduct. It is for this reason that I cannot take your complaint any further. "
In light of the recent focus on Nigel Peters, I do wonder how the OJC can say that judges using the platform of a courtroom to propagate their victim-blaming opinions does not amount to misconduct. While I recognise that the two cases are very different, both in terms of offence and outcome (Judge Parry did rightly impose a 6 year sentence on the rapist in this case), the pitiful sentence given to Neil Wilson doesn't seem to be the main issue here. The objection is, and to my mind rightly so, the victim-blaming words of barrister Robert Colover and the way in which Judge Nigel Peters seemed to agree with, reinforce, and ultimately free the abuser of a 13 year-old girl based on the view that a molested child can in any way be 'asking for it'.
So why are Peters and Colover being put under the microscope while Parry got away with it? If we are really going to change anything about the utterly rotten state of British justice when it comes to its treatment of rape victims, why aren't we taking ALL the misogynistic lawyers and judges to task - and making sure they can never insult victims like this again? Words have power. They create culture, they spread lies, they perpetuate myths. So long as people continue to believe raped women 'let themselves down badly' and 13 year-old girls 'force' adult men to fuck them - and the comments page of any news story about the latter will reveal that terrifyingly, too many people DO believe this - we can't deny that we need to start addressing not just what judges do, but what they say too.

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