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Shocking attitudes to sexual consent revealed

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YouGov survey, EVAW Coalition, report, consent, rape, stealthing, CPS, prosecution figures, “These figures are alarming.”

The results of YouGov survey just published, asking around 4,000 British people about their attitudes to rape and sexual violence, has shown that far too many people are still unsure what is actually rape.

A third (33 per cent) of those surveyed said they thought it wasn’t usually rape if a woman was pressured into having sex but there was no physical violence.

And a third of men said they thought that if a woman has flirted on a date it generally wouldn’t count as rape, even if she hasn’t explicitly consented to sex – compared with 21 per cent of women.

A third of men also said they believed a woman shouldn’t change her mind after sex has started and almost a quarter (24 per cent) thought that sex without consent in long-term relationships was usually not rape.

It also found there is a generation divide: more than a third (35 per cent) of over-65s asked thought that in most cases it wasn’t rape to have non-consenting sex with your wife or partner, compared to just 16 per cent of 16-24 year-olds.

And 42 per cent of over-65s generally said they thought that in most cases if a woman changed her mind halfway through but the sex continues, it isn’t rape. Just 22 per cent of the 25-49 year-olds thought that.

This although rape in marriage was criminalised in 1991.

Around one in 10 people weren’t sure or thought it usually or definitely was not rape if a man has sex with a woman who is very drunk or asleep.

The survey also found that 40 per cent said they thought ‘stealthing’ – removing a condom without a partner’s consent – is never or usually not rape.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), a coalition of specialist women’s support services, researchers, activists, survivors and NGOs, commissioned the YouGov survey in order to examine why rape is still so difficult to tackle at a time when reports to police are increasing exponentially.

In 2012/13, the police recorded 16,374 rape offences. This figure leapt to 41,186 in 2016/17.

But there was a 23 per cent drop in charges for rape last year, despite a huge leap in reports to the police: 2,822 men were charged with rape in 2017/18, compared with 3,671 in 2016/17.

And following Freedom of Information requests, recent reports showed that the criminal justice system is struggling to cope with the vast majority of reports of rape and sexual violence.

Of the 1,343 rape cases taken up by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) against 18-24 year old men in the last 5 years, only 404 were convicted – an average of 30 per cent.

The survey also asked what people thought should be and actually is in place to support women if they are raped, and 60 per cent of the people surveyed thought that free counselling services were available to victims of rape.

But in reality there is no automatic right to counselling for victims of rape, and many of the women-led, independent rape-support counselling services in our local communities really struggle to find funding to meet the demand, and are sometimes forced to close their waiting lists.

Remarking on all this, Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “These figures are alarming because they show that a huge proportion of adults in Britain – who make up juries in rape trials – are still very unclear about what rape is.

“It is known that the vast majority of women who are raped know the person who raped them, but for many people, the most commonly understood scenario is a single violent incident of rape committed by a stranger on a dark street.

“This could help explain why juries are so reluctant to convict particularly younger men where consent is in question.

“There has been a huge increase in the number of women reporting rape and sexual violence to the police and seeking support from specialist rape support organisations.

“#MeToo has shone a light on the scale of sexual violence, and more women are seeking justice.

“Yet as a society we are failing to respond to this call for help, and this year the number of cases being taken forward by police and the courts fell.

“We’ve learned this year that the system which is supposed to prosecute rapists and provide justice for victims is failing badly,” Krys continued.

“In spite of a huge rise in the number of women reporting, far fewer rapists are being charged or ending up in court. For too many women, justice is not an option open to them.

“This research shows that confusion and myths about rape are still very common, and this could explain why it’s hard for juries to make fair decisions if they don’t understand or agree with our laws on rape.

“It also shows that victims won’t necessarily be given the support they need from their family and friends, if the rape they experience isn’t understood as harmful or even as rape.

“Yet most people think the system is important and is working for victims of rape.

“We need an independent end-to-end review of how the police and courts tackle rape, from the first report to sentencing and parole.

“It’s vital that justice for rape victims is prioritised and we put in place measures to make the system fairer.

“We also need guaranteed counselling for all rape survivors – and practical and legal help if they choose to report to the police.”

And Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales, the umbrella body for a network of independent Rape Crisis Centres, said: “These stark and deeply concerning findings confirm and evidence what victims and survivors of sexual abuse, rape and all forms of sexual violence consistently tell us in the course of our frontline work at specialist Rape Crisis Centres across the country.

“The ingrained victim-blaming myths and widespread lack of understanding of the basics around consent and sexual activity make it extremely difficult for those who’ve been through these traumatic experiences to seek the support or justice they want and deserve, or even to talk to friends and family.

“Despite the significant rise in reports of sexual violence and abuse to the police in recent years, the vast majority of those subjected to these serious crimes still choose not to report.

“When they do the process takes far too long, can feel re-traumatising and all too rarely ends in the perpetrator being convicted.

“Rape Crisis has called for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system in relation to all sexual violence and abuse for many years now. The current system is not fit for purpose and routinely fails victims and survivors at every stage.

“A thorough root and branch review of how we handle reported sexual offences must also be accompanied with the vital education and awareness-raising work needed not only to improve justice outcomes but also reduce and prevent sexual violence in our communities.

“And it is above all essential that the government commits to sustainable funding for desperately under-resourced specialist Rape Crisis advocacy, counselling and support services as a matter of urgency.

“The need and demand for these services is unprecedented, overwhelming and continuing to grow, while their experience, specialist, independent providers are chronically under-funded.”

To read the full report, click here.

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