What does it say when a child rapist is painted as the victim?

[Content note: child sexual abuse, rape culture]

There are many, many horrifying aspects to this case recently heard in the Napier District Court, of a 17-year-old who repeatedly raped a 5-year-old girl then waited six months to confess to his pastor and a further two months to confess to the police.

There’s the fact his lawyer is repeatedly quoted calling him “courageous”. There’s the fact he’ll only serve 4.5 years in prison, which works out to about 11 months per rape. Or the fact the judge said there were “no aggravating features” and even the prosecuting lawyer noted that she “didn’t need medical attention” as though trauma is only real when it’s physically damaging. Or the fact that the defence lawyer blames ~The Internet~ for the rapist’s “distorted” views about sex and not his closed religious community (because anti-sex religious movements never propagate distorted views of sex.)

Or the fact that right there is an article depicting a bunch of men basically agreeing that the rape of a 5-year-old girl isn’t really that big a deal as long as (six months later) you grow a conscience.

But beyond this case, the worst part is this, where – seriously – the defence lawyer is trying to make his client sound more sympathetic by emphasising just how little the justice system could do if he didn’t confess:

He had advised the teen that the Crown would face obstacles in securing convictions against him if it was years before the victim complained, as it would be just a case of “one person’s word against another’s”.

That’s right. Because if the little girl in this case grew up and one day needed to tell someone what had happened, needed the man who raped her five times to answer for his crimes, defence lawyer Bill Calver knows full well that in all likelihood, nothing would happen. And a man who raped a child five times would walk free.

Of course, because he was so courageous in coming forward, he’ll just walk free in 4.5 years – or less – instead. At the latest, he will be out at age 23. Maybe it doesn’t feel this way to him now, but that’s nothing in the grand scheme of your whole life (says the wise and ancient 31-year-old).

It’s unbelievable. And yet so unsurprising.

This is what we mean when we talk about rape culture. We mean the constant downplaying of even the most heinous, deliberate assaults by any excuse necessary. We mean the “common knowledge” that even repeatedly raping a child carries very little consequence – for the rapist. We mean the media’s framing of a story – the courageous rapist, the invisible survivor – which tells survivors, and every woman, that their hurt doesn’t matter and their word isn’t good enough and their rapes won’t be taken seriously.

This is why we’re so angry.

Not the war on men you’re looking for

It’s headline news: Labour supports re-starting a Law Commission review initiated by Simon Power to investigate possible changes in our judicial system including the option of adopting an inquisitorial approach in cases of sexual violence. Shocking stuff!

Hang on, why is that headline news? Because the Herald and David Farrar have chosen to spin this story into a tale of Labour’s continued War On Men.

Tom Scott has helpfully illustrated the debate with a cartoon in which the personification of Justice is clearly asking for it with her slutty attire and manhating ways.

There are so many things I want to say but just can’t find the words for. The statistics are all out there: the utter everyday common-ness of sexual assault. The under-reporting. The horrifyingly low level of prosecutions, much less convictions. The trauma and pain that survivors go through on a routine basis just to get a smidgen of justice.

All I can really focus on are these two incredibly ignorant statements from DPF’s hysterical little post:

Bear in mind that even if you are married to them, that is not proof [of consent].

If it is what you say vs what they say, you will lose.

And all day today, I’ve seen men on Twitter and Facebook say things like “if this happens men will be afraid to be in a room with a woman without a witness!” or “what if my ex suddenly decides to attack me with a false accusation?” or “how can I possibly prove my innocence when it’s their word against mine?”

Here’s the thing, men. If those ideas horrify you, you need to understand one thing: that’s how women feel all the time. These are the thoughts we’re already having. The reality is that somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime – and that’s an overall statistic, because it’s far higher for women of colour, for example.

I can appreciate that when the only version of this story you hear is the David Farrar “Labour will murder everything you hold dear” spin, you might start to get worried, and you might decide to completely ignore the realities of how our justice system treats sexual violence (9% estimated reporting rate, 13% conviction rate, awesome!).

But the only thing Labour is guilty of is considering an expert, independent review of our justice system. That’s all.

On the other hand, after a day of reading awful, heartless comments like “this is just about protecting victims’ feelings” I have to say this. If it were the radical man-hating straw-feminist outrage that the Herald and DPF are trying to sell you, you know what? It’s about damn time that the people who commit sexual assault are held to account for their actions, and far beyond time that we stopped persecuting their victims by putting them in the impossible situation of proving they never consented.

(Hat-tip to DawgBelly: 1, 2)