Tag Archives: Rape

You can’t be raped if you’re wearing skinny jeans


This is an actual heading in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rape of woman in skinny jeans ‘not possible’

A jury asked for more information about how a woman’s clothes were removed during an alleged rape (I have to say ‘alleged’ because the accused has been acquitted).

During the trial the jury sent a note to the judge asking for more information about ”how exactly Nick took off her jeans”.

”I doubt those kind of jeans can be removed without any sort of collaboration,” the note read.

But you know what, even if she did ‘collaborate’, and I’m not for a moment suggesting she did, it’s rape from the moment she says, “No” or “Stop” or “I don’t want to do this” or tries to get away or gives any of the myriad indications that she no longer agrees to sex. And that’s what this woman says she did. Even before the alleged rapist pulled her jeans off, she struggled to get away.

It’s just a sick version of the “she was asking for it because she wore revealing clothes” trope. Only this time it’s dressed up as being about logic and evidence; she was asking for it because you couldn’t possibly tear those clothes off a woman.

This woman, by the way, weighs a mere 42 kilos. She’s tiny. Why didn’t the jury give any consideration to that in their deliberations?

Can the Pope be impeached?

Pope Benedict XVI

Something is rotten in the Vatican.

It seems that when Benedict XVI was Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich and Freising, he approved “rehousing” a priest who was accused of child abuse. That means that instead of turning the matter over to the civil authorities, and allowing it to be investigated, he took active steps to ensure that the matter was covered up. That particular priest was later convicted of abusing more children.

Benedict’s PR corps has sprung into action, saying that there have been “aggressive attempts” to drag him into the scandal surrounding priests who abused children and the cover-up by the church. (I can’t find a relevant press release on the Vatican site, just an invitation to accredited journalists to attend a press conference, I think… my knowledge of Italian lies somewhere between non-existent and extremely scanty.)

“Aggressive”. Meaning, their subjects are getting a bit uppity, asking awkward questions, daring to demand that the church’s hierarchy lives up to the ideals it imposes on others.

The spin doctors have also said that Benedict’s participation in the cover-up was “unwitting”. Right… if you believe that, then I’ve got a rather nice painted ceiling in a spiffy basilica in Rome to sell to you. Even so, he was the chap in charge in that diocese, and it happened on his watch. Funny how this allegedly erudite and punctilious man, known as a micro-manager, didn’t known about this event in his diocese. Or maybe it was like being part of the Hitler Youth. Just following the rules, you know. Obeying orders and all that. (There’s some quick Vatican footwork going on with respect to that episode too.)

There’s some very fancy Vatican two-step going on with the blame game and pedophile priests. Take a look at this statement.

[Monsignor Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg] added that paedophilia was not confined to the Roman Catholic Church. [link]

Indeed it is not. Neither is the covering-up of paedophilia purely a Catholic phenomenon. But when a man stands in front of a congregation one day, and tells them how they ought to behave, and purports to act as a channel for God, and the next day rapes a child, then there are two things wrong with his actions. The first is the terrible crime committed against the child, and the second is being a sanctimonious hypocrite. If the Catholic church wants to claim that it is an institution devoted to holiness, then its clerics need to hold themselves to a much higher standard of behaviour than other institutions, and the church itself needs to show that it will not tolerate such horrible sins.

And then there’s this statement from Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who is the Vatican’s prosecutor for clergy sex abuse cases.

Only about 10 percent of the case dealt with “acts of true pedophilia,” Scicluna said, while 60 percent of the cases involved priests who were sexually attracted to male adolescents. Some 30 percent of cases dealt with heterosexual abuse, he said. [link]

I’m not sure what “true pedophilia” is, but I’m guessing that it’s to do with pre-adolescent children. I wonder if that means that Scicluna thinks that it’s not as bad abusing adolescents? Even so, there are still two problems here. One is that many of those adolescents will almost undoubtedly be below the age of consent. And the second is the hypocrisy charge. Because no matter what, when any priest of the Roman Catholic church has sex with any individual, consenting or non-consenting, adult or child, he is breaking his vows, and not living up to the standards that he preaches.

I also detect the makings of a very nasty sidestep here. Benedict has made some horrid statements about homosexuality, saying that it is intrinsically disordered, and that homosexual men can not be allowed to become priests. He is profoundly anti-gay. And in this statement, his delegate is blaming the majority of pedophilia on gay men. It’s a classic scapegoating move.

Benedict is up to his ears in the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. He wrote the 2001 instruction to clergy to keep abuse cases confidential (that’s a polite way of saying, “cover-up”). Cardinals and bishops world-wide took that as instructions not to go to the police. Now it turns out, of course, that they were the ones who made the mistake. Apparently it was never supposed to be a ban, just something to protect the victims.

At the Vatican, rules on handling sexual abuse were “never understood as a ban on making a complaint to civil authorities,” Monsignor Charles Scicluna said.

But Irish bishops have said the document was widely taken to mean that they shouldn’t go to police. And victims’ attorneys in the United States say the document shows that the church tried to obstruct justice. [link]

The Vatican has tried to make some reassuring noises, saying that even though it hasn’t prosecuted many cases of priests abusing children, it has imposed its own penalties.

[Sicluna] said that 60% of the cases had not come to trial, largely because of the advanced age of the accused, but that they faced other “administrative and disciplinary provisions”, including being required to live in seclusion and prohibition from celebrating Mass. [link]

In other words, the offenders have been allowed to run away and hide, and they have never faced prosecution by the authorities in the countries in which they live. It’s criminous clerics all over again.

I see an on-going, organised, liturgy of lies, and failures to tell the truth, a determination to be untruthful and to dissemble. Benedict seems to be completely unable to face the horrible reality that abuse of children has been systemic in the Roman Catholic church. Even worse than that, it now seems that he has assisted in allowing clerics to escape prosecution for their crimes, and he continues to allow the church he leads to cover-up and minimise these terrible deeds.

I do not think that this is just a matter of one bad man in power leading the church astray. Benedict was elected by the College of Cardinals in 2005, only four years after he sent out his cover-up rules. The men who elected him knew that he was responsible for that directive; they knew the calibre of the man they were electing. They too must bear some of the responsibility for allowing this man to become the leader of the church.

Of course, they might shuffle their feet, and claim that it is the holy spirit working through them who elected Benedict. But do they really think that this is what the holy spirit is working for, a church that engages in lies and deceit and sophistical obfuscations. Or perhaps the ghostie is playing a long game, hoping that the maldeeds of the church hierarchy will become so noisome that the whole structure will collapse. That is of course, somewhat immoral with respect to the treatment of the people who are damaged en route, but I suppose god might be a utilitarian after all.

What of the ordinary Catholics, the priests who are doing good and faithful service, the people sitting in the pews, doing their best to lead good lives, and to follow the teachings of their god? I suppose that many of them just accept the church hierarchy as something over there, far away from them, and get on with the affairs of their own parish. Others, I think, must feel that the church they love is being stolen from them, and the only thing that they can do is keep gong to church, and hope that they will in time, be able to take it back. And others must actually support the Pope and his scarlet cohorts.

The problem is that it is impossible to tell which Catholics support the Pope, and which are just people hoping to save their church. At present, their attendance in the pews looks very much like support for the church hierarchy, and for its misdeeds. When will they stand up, and demand change?

Full of win

I clicked through to the article about training bar staff to intervene to reduce the risk of rape, thinking, “No doubt it will all be all about telling women to stay safe.”

I was wrong.

Dr McGregor said staff … needed to be aware of the sexual risks for heavy drinkers.

“We are teaching bar staff how to keep patrons safe – identifying predatory males, and being aware of the consent laws,” she said.

“They don’t understand that it’s rape if you have sex with someone who is so stupefied by alcohol or drugs that they can’t give consent.

Programme co-ordinator Kylie Tippett said the workshops trained bar staff to watch out for “red flags” such as patrons being sexually harassed, being plied with double or triple drinks or drugs without their knowledge, simply getting drunk very quickly, or leaving the bar with no way to get to their next destination safely.

She said security staff could approach offenders and say, “We have noticed your inappropriate sexual behaviour towards women or men this evening. We don’t tolerate harassment on these premises – either stop or you’ll be asked to leave.”

There’s not a word of victim blaming in it. Perhaps that’s because the programme has been put together by police and ACC, in conjunction with Rape Prevention Education.

It’s not sex – it’s …

Another case for the “It’s not sex, it’s rape” files, except that this time, I’m not sure that “rape” is the right word to use.

This case concerns murder and sexual violation. It could be triggering, so the rest of the post is below the cut, and I’ve included some blank space so that you can flick past this on your feedreader without having to read the details, even inadvertently.

Continue reading

So where did the rape culture at St Paul’s come from?

Some current and former inmates residents of St Pauls College at the University of Sydney set up a pro-rape Facebook group, saying they were “anti-consent.” There seems to be a culture of rape at St Pauls, and at other colleges at the Sydney University. It’s not just the Facebook group – there seems to be a whole lot of other “recreational” and social behaviour based around the denigration, and rape of women at Sydney University’s colleges [link]. FuckPoliteness has an excellent rant about it, Hoyden Mary analyses college rape culture based on her own experiences of living in a college a few years ago, Kayloulee (in comments at HaT) describes her experience of living in a Sydney University college right now, Penguin Unearthed worries about nurturing misogyist culture, newswithnipples notices that news.com.au has rewritten the story to downplay the issue of consent, and Jezebel points out Facebook’s appalling standards – it let the pro-rape group stay up for months, but removes pictures of breastfeeding mothers. Gentle readers, welcome to rape culture. You’re soaking in it.

As Mary says at Hoyden about Town, the rebuttal stories, the counterpoint stories, the ones that point out that there are lots and lots of good things about colleges and it’s all overblown and it’s just a few bad boys and the rest are really all decent chaps, and no matter what, IT”S NOT THE COLLEGE’S FAULT, will start to appear tomorrow. But in the meantime, Dr Ivan Head, the Warden of St Paul’s College, has sent off a very prompt response to the Sydney Morning Herald. (Funny how they never respond to rape allegations quite so quickly.)


The College holds all forms of sexual assault, rape or any proven incitement to rape to be abhorrent and we hold in varying degrees of condemnation anything that detracts from the freedom and dignity of women on campus and within our grounds. We at times work night and day on behalf of the women and men on campus to sustain a 24/7 environment in which learning is enhanced and enriched and in which we aim consistently at good, better and best outcomes.

You can go read the rest of the Warden’s response, and you will see that it does indeed hit all the high points. But what gets me is this. Where the hell does the Warden think the rape culture among residents of his college comes from? Does he really think that it just sprang full grown from the brow dick of Zeus? Or just maybe, is there something poisonous about the college, which turns otherwise decent young men (of course they are decent young men – they come from the best schools and the wealthiest families in Sydney) into misogynist groups who think it’s funny to say things like, “They can’t say no with a c–k in their mouth.” And it’s quite clear that it’s not just talk; women at the colleges report having been raped, living in fear of rape, not feeling safe even in their own rooms. There is something deeply wrong about the social structures that are nurtured within the walls of St Pauls.

But to top it off, this comment that shows that the Warden just doesn’t even understand how far off the planet he is.

St Paul’s College in the University is … one of those rare places in which the radical possibilities of life in a modern ‘secular monastery’ can be explored by an increasingly diverse group of very able students.

He is so deadened to the rape culture within the walls of the college that he oversees that he regards it as a ‘secular monastery’. Trying to cover up rape and rape culture by cloaking it in holiness, is he? Which reminds me, most of those colleges seem to be run by various Christian denominations. The churches who lend their names to these colleges should be feeling deeply ashamed. Do you think they will do anything about it?

Well, there’s a surprise

Some research by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in New Zealand has found that few men charged with serious sex offences are convicted.*

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs yesterday released the findings of a two-year study analysing all adult sexual violation cases recorded by the police between July 2005 and December 2007.

Research manager Denise Lievore said the study looked at why sexual violation cases did not continue through the different stages of the criminal process.

The study found the overall conviction rate, based on 1955 recorded cases, was just 13 per cent.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has a two year research programme on sexual violence, and it has released the first two reports: an environmental scan (PDF – 2.4MB) and a study of attrition rates in the criminal justice system (PDF – 1.7mb).

The environmental scan surveyed views from individuals and agencies that work with adult victims of sexual violence, and it found that agencies didn’t have enough funding, or enough qualified staff. They thought that barriers that prevented victims from getting help included victim shame and self-blaming, lack of information about services, the cost of services, the lack of services, and geographical isolation. The criminal justice system retraumatised victims, and excluding police, less than half of the doctors (20%), service providers (38%) and Crown prosecutors (39%) involved in working with victims of sexual violence would advise a friend or family member to go through the criminal justice system, and even police (59%) weren’t all that keen on it.

That’s disturbing. Most people working in the area, and many police officers, don’t think that it’s worth pursuing a sexual violence case through the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system fails women. Full stop.

And when you look at the numbers in the attrition study, you can see why . The research team looked at 1,955 police files that were coded as sexual violation of an adult victim. These covered all of the offences so coded in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Of all these cases only 13% resulted in a conviction. Even when “no offence” cases were excluded (the initial investigation found no offence), just 20% resulted in a conviction. So that’s odds of 1 in 5, if police think there is a case to answer.

Some more numbers: stranger assaults accounted for just 15% of cases, and “just met” (within the last 24 hours) assaults for another 16%. So 69% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by people known to the victim – 33% by intimates (family, current or ex-partners), and 37% by other known offenders (friends, acquaintances, colleagues and other work associates, caregivers).

As for how to fix the problems – people suggested improving the ways in which victims are able to give evidence, especially with respect to cross-examination, abolishing the accused’s right to silence, requring the full disclosure of defence evidence, placing the onus on the accused to prove that consent had been given.

Hmmm… In many ways I am loathe to give up the standard protections that a person accused of a crime is entitled to. I don’t want to see the power of the state deployed against individuals without giving those individuals some rights and protections. But clearly, there is something deeply wrong with the way we perceive and prosecute sexual violence. I’ve written before about consent: On consent. Very roughly, I think that if the accused pleads “not guilty because she consented,” then the onus is on him to prove that he did indeed have good grounds to believe that consent was given. And it needs to be positive consent, not merely the absence of non-consent.

Respondents also suggested educating juries, who seem to believe that rape is carried out by strangers, not by family, friends and acquaintances. Some police and professionals should specialise in sexual violence cases, victims should have access to more information, especially written information so they can read it when they are ready to, there should be earlier and improved contact with prosecutors, more doctors qualified to conduct examinations, better facilities for victims.

The reports are disheartening reading, confirming what we already know about the justice system and sexual violence i.e. there is no justice for victims of sexual violence. The proposed solutions would all cost money, and the New Zeaand government seems to be in a cost-cutting mood, unless it’s to provide subsidies for pollution. However, the Minister for Justice does seem to want to make improvements to the law around sexual violence. I hope he’s getting a briefing about these reports from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.


*NB: stuff.co.nz is loading very, very slowly, so you may not be able to get the story up. I would have linked to a story on the NZ Herald site if I could, but Granny Herald doesn’t seem to think it’s worth reporting.

Moral luck, Gauguin and Polanski

Sometimes, we’re just plain lucky that the right outcome, or at least not the wrong outcome, has come about. Such as when you don’t put the handbrake on properly in your car, and it starts rolling backward, but by great good fortune it misses the toddler on the footpath behind you. Everyone is shaken, but no one is hurt, and most of all, no one seems to be to blame. It seems to be a matter of moral luck.

And sometimes, even though something we do is wrong, if later on it brings about something good, then we accept that the wrong thing may be morally justified, and not so morally wrong after all. But at the point at which we do the bad thing, we can’t know how events will turn out. If events turn out well, then our action is justified, but if they don’t, then it is not. And it’s a matter of moral luck as to whether or not our action will ever be justified.

So far so good?

Philosopher Bernard Williams wrote about moral luck, and used an example which has become famous, in moral philosophy, to illustrate the idea of moral luck. Imagine a man who has a wife and children, and further imagine that he could become a talented painter. Let’s call this painter, “Gauguin.” Imagine that his art means so much to him that he does a morally bad thing, leaving his wife and children in poverty, and heading off to say, Tahiti, where his art flourishes, and he paints works that are now recognised as masterpieces. Williams says that at the time when Gauguin left his wife and children, in order to pursue painting, it was a matter of moral luck as to whether his decision was justified. It depended on whether or not his art flourished. If it did, then his decision was justified, but if it didn’t, then it wasn’t.*

Whatever. For me, the project doesn’t even get off the ground in the first place. Gauguin may or may not have become a great artist, but that simply would not ever justify abandoning his wife and children. They were left destitute, and without any means of support. Personally, I can understand someone walking out on their partner; people change, relationships break down, stuff happens. It was however a somewhat different matter back in 1885; women then simply did not have access to earning an income in the way that women do now in 2009. But I can’t see how walking out on responsibilities to your young children can be justified, at all. It wouldn’t matter if you subsequently painted the greatest painting ever. Art does not justify moral dereliction.

All the more so in the wretched case of Roman Polanski. I don’t care how great a filmmaker he is. The fact is that he was convicted of raping a thirteen year old child, and he fled from justice. And I am sickened not only by his outrageous moral wrongdoing, but even more by the swathe of rape-apologists who have been trying to justify his behaviour. They should be ashamed of themselves.


* NB: this is my take on Williams’ account of Gauguin’s story and its relevance to moral luck. You can access the original through Google books: Moral Luck.