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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 16:59 GMT
Dispelling the myths surrounding rape
By Liam Allen
BBC News

The government is to set up a panel of experts to tackle misconceptions of jurors in rape cases. What are the myths surrounding rape cases?

Victim
5.7% of reported rapes in England and Wales end in conviction

Announcing measures aimed at addressing the low rape conviction rapes in England and Wales, Solicitor General Vera Baird said that "justice must not be defeated by myths and stereotypes".

To that end, the panel - comprising of two senior judges, two academics and two doctors - has been set up to look into ways of explain to juries the way people react to the trauma of being raped.

That information could ultimately be delivered in a leaflet or an agreed statement being read to the jury.

Ms Baird said the government would take the lead on producing "myth-busting material and ensuring that it is fair and factual".

Often post-traumatic reactions may be very flat of aspect and also matter-of-fact, possibly suggesting to some jurors that the person wasn't really moved
Solicitor General Vera Baird

She said the government would be specifically looking to address two main myths surrounding rape.

One was that rape victims would always report their attack straight away.

She said there was a belief that rape was "such a traumatic thing that you will come out and complain about it straight away".

"It can take a long time to get up and talk about something so intimate and undermining," she added.

The other main myth, Ms Baird said, was an expectation that an alleged victim would "be very upset and really very emotionally raw when she relives the upset for the court".

She added: "Often post-traumatic reactions may be very flat of aspect and also matter-of-fact, possibly suggesting to some jurors that the person wasn't really moved.

"These are the two main myths that we would like to see tackled but the experts may well come up with more."

I welcome anything that helps jurors not operate with the stereotypes that research tells us they are doing currently
Professor Liz Kelly
End Violence Against Women
Another common problem in rape trials is that juries find it hard to understand why a victim did not try to escape.

The group End Violence Against Women thinks the panel could make a real difference.

The group's Professor Liz Kelly said: "I welcome anything that helps jurors not operate with the stereotypes that research tells us they are doing currently.

"We've had some research that looks at mock jury trials and they do use all sorts of information that is not about the facts of the case and are actually about prejudices and expectations to do with women's behaviour."

General evidence

But Emma Scott, of the Rights of Women charity, expressed reservations about what could be achieved.

We hope that today's announcement of a panel of experts to look at how to combat rape myths will seriously consider the use of educative expert evidence
Emma Scott
Rights of Women

"We remain to be convinced that one of the suggested alternatives, an information leaflet for juries, will be enough to challenge entrenched attitudes about rape and women who are raped," she said.

Instead, she said the way to "dispel rape myths" was for experts to give general evidence to individual trials.

"We hope that today's announcement of a panel of experts to look at how to combat rape myths will seriously consider the use of educative expert evidence."

But the government has ruled out the use of expert witnesses, saying general evidence could expand into "becoming evidence about the specific complainant in a particular case".

Ms Baird said that, in turn, could lead to "a battle of experts".

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