REVIEW
Carnal Knowledge - Rape on Trial
Sue Lees
Hamish Hamilton 20.00 (0 241 13629 6)
Carnal Knowledge - Rape On TrialSue Lees’ book represents a serious analysis of the facts behind the way that rape is reported and dealt with within the British Legal system.
Over the past few years, rape has attracted unprecedented attention in the media. "Date-rape" has become a household term, and we are too often encouraged to believe that "political correctness" has led to an over-emphasis on women’s rights and that women are falsely crying "rape" when they merely regret an unsatisfactory sexual encounter. Women who say they have been raped are often represented as unstable, calculating or just downright vindictive.
And it’s not just in the press. Rape stories crop up all of the time in police dramas, documentaries, novels, TV discussions etc. a media instigated mythology is developing before our eyes and if we’re not careful our reactions to the reality of rape will be less influenced by compassion and the need for justice, than by false assumptions and irrationality. The tendency to blame the victim rears its ugly head again and again. Have you ever watched a TV drama about rape and however reluctantly been drawn in by the arguments that the woman is lying and the man is falsely accused, only to discover that you’ve got it wrong? And why? Because it is possible. But is it likely? All the evidence, gathered from sitting in on British rape trials, and working closely with the police, and a analysis of previous research suggests false accusations of rape are not the norm.
Here are some of the facts: Conviction rates are dropping year by year, from 24% in 1985 to just 10% in 1993 (Home Office statistics). This is happening despite advances in DNA testing which allows identification of more rapists. An adjunct to this is the disturbing, and increasing tendency of rapists to use condoms in an attempt to foil the DNA test - one source showed that 15-20% of victims stated that their attackers used a condom. It has been predicted that if this trend continues it may become almost impossible to convict due to lack of forensic evidence.
It has been suggested that the decrease in conviction rate may be due to an increase in false accusations on the part of the women. But there appears to be no evidence to support this assumption. Lees cites the only methodologically sound study into the incidence of false allegations of rape (carried out by the New York Sex Crimes Analysis Unit) which reports an incidence of 2%. (Patullo 1983) This rate of false reports is no higher that that seen with any other type of crime (Adler 1987).
Thus it appears that although the technology allows better identification of rapists, fewer are being prosecuted and the courts have been described as a "disaster area" for rape victims (Bart & Moran 1993). Carnal Knowledge "documents the way women are encouraged to report rape, and are often intimidated by their assailants, only to be stereotyped as sexually provocative and blamed by the judiciary and the press". Lees shows how "the British criminal justice system is systematically allowing rapists to go free, and how more and more rapists are getting away with it."
She explodes the myths that surround rape and warns of the harm these myths perpetuate. Rapists themselves draw on popular mythology to justify their own behaviour. For example, one convicted rapist argued (Scully & Marolla 1985) "She semi-struggled but deep down inside I think she felt it was a fantasy come true." This man did not need to invent his own rationalisation for the act. The social myths about rape meant that a justification was already available and he could reasonably expect others to subscribe to it.
Sue Lees’ book is a well-documented analysis of the issues that revolve around rape. The inadequacies and injustices of the British legal system are documented and explored. The facts are presented clearly and their implications argued intelligently. And in Helena Kennedy’s words "Carnal Knowledge is a clarion call for reform"
For anyone who has ever questioned our received wisdom about rape - this book will be a revelation. For those who have always doubted, Carnal Knowledge provides concrete evidence.
In the name of the women whose experiences fuelled the research, to whom the book is dedicated, Sue Lees has taken a powerful stand. This important book not only deserves to be more widely read, but must be. Knowledge is the only antidote to myth and ignorance. (EAL)
References:
Adler, Z. 1987 Rape On Trial. London, Routledge
Bart, P. and Mornan, E.G. (eds.) 1993. Violence Against Women London, Sage
Patullo,P. 1983. Judging Women. London, NCCL
Scully, D. and Marolla, J. 1985. Riding the Bull at Gilley’s: Convicted Rapists Describe the Rewards of Rape.

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