FRIDAY marked international women’s day: an event which aims to encourage people around the world to do their bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.
An issue gaining prominence in this yearly event is gender-based violence and some shocking statistics were highlighted last week. In South Africa, women are more likely to be raped than learn to read; across the world women are more likely to be raped or subjected to domestic violence than to have cancer.
You might think that these statistics are skewed by the goings-on in war-torn regions and here, in Scotland, things are not as bad. They’re not, but they’re far from good, either. Research shows us that only around a fifth of women who have been raped report it and less than 4 per cent of those reported rapes are prosecuted.
Why is this? Well, these statistics might make the reasons clearer. In Scotland, according to Rape Crisis, 24 per cent of people think a woman can be at least partly responsible for being raped if she is drunk at the time of the attack; 27 per cent think that a woman bears some responsibility if she wore revealing clothing; and 15 per cent think rape can be the woman’s fault if she is known to have had many sexual partners.
And after the recent sale on Amazon of T-shirts with the slogan “keep calm and rape them”, we’ve got to wonder just how different we are, or might be in the future, from places like South Africa.
There are opportunities to prevent such a decline and to change attitudes, though, especially at the moment. The sickening revelations about Jimmy Savile have, it seems, created an environment where it is both safer for victims to report alleged abuse and harder for people and organisations to cover it up – the Liberal Democrats and the Catholic Church being the most recent examples.
Whether or not this has a wider effect on women and society as a whole, we will have to wait and see, but in the meantime we have to make sure that women are supported to report rape. We have seen advances in the law over the definition of rape and more recently the Scottish Government has committed to revise the need for corroboration in such cases. But it will take more than that for women to come forward.
It takes a huge amount of courage for a woman to go to the police and say she has been raped and then to deal with the sequence of events which that action triggers. Yet, Rape Crisis and other organisations who support women through that process spend half their time fighting for funding.
Rape is not the same as other crimes – it deserves special treatment. We need to recognise that because if we get to the position where women in Scotland are more likely to be raped than learn to read, there will be no going back.