Feminism | Posted by Rosamund C on 01/17/2011

When the Perpetrator Goes Free and the Victim Is Imprisoned

the punishment for being raped?

the punishment for being raped?

It seems impossible but it’s true: although her sentence has just been overturned, in Britain recently, a woman was sent to jail for accusing her husband of rape, then retracting the accusation.

Although this story has received little coverage except in The Guardian, a left-wing daily national, it caught my eye at once. The story goes like this: the woman, ‘Sarah’, was being repeatedly abused by her husband. One night, after brutally raping her, she summoned up the courage to dial 999 and her husband, ‘Ray’, was arrested. However, one year on, it was Sarah who was sent to prison and Ray who walked free.

After Ray was arrested, Sarah was put under increasing pressure to retract the rape allegation. This she did, after emotional blackmail from both Ray and his sister.

For most people, it would be obvious that a rape victim suddenly retracting her allegation would require more investigation, particularly because the police and CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) knew the background details of the case, including the fact that Ray had abused Sarah before. The physical and forensic evidence was all there. However, rather than investigating further, Sarah was arrested for perverting the course of justice. On November 5th, she was sentenced to eight months in prison. After serving eighteen days, however, her sentence was overturned; she instead received a community sentence and a supervision order for two years.

Some victory: it is Sarah who now has the criminal record, not Ray.

In my eyes, Sarah is a victim not only of her abusive husband but a system that has repeatedly let her down. Although they dealt well with the case initially, arresting Ray and taking her allegation seriously, they let her down by allowing Ray to write emotional letters to his children from prison, blaming Sarah for his predicament. It takes so much courage for a rape victim to come forward, particularly if the perpetrator is her own husband. In Britain, only 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction, a shocking statistic, even allowing for a certain number of false accusations.

It seems incredible that a husband raping his wife was only recognised as a crime in 1991. Since then, rape conviction has barely progressed at all, with judges taking an increasingly hard line on (supposedly) false rape accusations.

The process of reporting a rape is enough to put some women off: an internal forensic exam by a doctor is followed by intense cross-examining from a barrister if the case proceeds to court. Obviously these measures are necessary to discover the truth. But it seems to me that a lot more sensitivity, tact and compassion is needed when it comes to reporting rape; cases like this can hardly encourage victims to come forward. Rape victims can expect nothing but harsh treatment and utter scepticism from the British courts system; this must be changed.

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  • Katherine C. @ at 11:42 am, January 17th, 2011

    Ugh. Disgusting.

  • Julie @ at 1:56 pm, January 17th, 2011

    While the accused being seen as innocent until proven guilty is a good thing, unfortunately here in the UK that translates as a rape victim being guilty until proven innocent. Also we now have a government who want to close down succesful specialist rape crisis centres because they’re considered too expensive in this recession.

  • Anna @ at 3:04 pm, January 17th, 2011

    In Washington State it is still legal for a husband to rape his wife, it’s called marital exemption and the most the survivor can do in response is gain a protection order. I volunteer as a legal advocate in family court here and it is shocking how many times you see a perpetrator using the court system to further abuse their partner. I know of several cases (and I know it is more common than what I have witnessed personally) in which a perpetrator will call the police on the victim after the victim has defended them self. The victim will then be arrested for assault, generally for just pushing their abuser off of them. What message does this send? Don’t fight back of be punished further? Terrifying.

  • Stephanie @ at 6:28 pm, January 17th, 2011

    This is why we need feminism. Almost every feminist I’ve known including myself has been told “we don’t need feminism anymore” and seeing this just makes me want to forward the article to every person who’s said that.

  • Juliana @ at 2:28 am, January 19th, 2011

    Oh my gosh, this story is sickening. I think marital rape is such a complicated issue, but mostly it’s one that people do not take seriously. It’s this idea that how can you rape something that you own? At least that’s what it used to be, and we haven’t let go of that mindset…

  • Garen @ at 9:43 am, January 19th, 2011

    That is horrible, horrible, horrible. Oh, my God :/

    and Anna, that is really shocking. I can’t believe that law still exists in this day and age.

  • david @ at 9:39 pm, January 19th, 2011

    Rape by force or threat is a felony in Washington state, married or not. You are dealing in half truths Anon.

  • david @ at 9:57 pm, January 19th, 2011

    From the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12021364

    The police told her they were going to prosecute without her so she took back the allegation and now the police no longer had a creditable witness, allowing a rapist to go free. Anyway read for yourself at the site above.

  • Quinc @ at 6:04 am, January 25th, 2011

    So they’re sentencing her for preventing them from sentencing the real criminal, her husband, even though she still technically had the right to drop the charges against him? Apparently if one is going to bring up a criminal court case you better commit to it!

    I’m sure how the deterrent theory of crime and punishment is supposed to apply to this woman and her actions. She basically just gave into the people on her husbands side, and rape culture, and now finds herself in jail with the nagging realization her husband should be there instead.

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