Shock tactics to break prejudice on rape

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A HARD-HITTING billboard campaign aimed at challenging the attitude that women are often to blame for being raped was launched yesterday.

A series of striking images will be posted on billboards and bus stops across Scotland during the campaign, which organisers hope will shock people into challenging attitudes that are said to partly account for why so few rapists in Scotland are brought to justice.

The campaign follows alarming results from recent studies which revealed a large minority of the public believes rape victims are often at least partly to blame for the attack if, for example, they had been drinking or agreed to sexual activity but ended up saying "no" to sex.

Research by Amnesty in 2005 found that 34 per cent of people thought a woman was fully or partially responsible for being raped if she behaved in a flirtatious manner, while 26 per cent thought the same if she was wearing "sexy or revealing" clothing.

A separate study last year found 27 per cent of people in Scotland said if a woman was drunk, she was partly to blame, while almost a fifth said she may be to blame if she had had many sexual partners.

Over the past year, Rape Crisis Scotland has been devising a campaign to challenge these attitudes, which campaigners say are contributing to the shockingly low rape conviction rate in Scotland, which stands at 2.9 per cent of reported attacks.

The images include a newlywed couple, two people kissing in the back of a taxi, a young woman wearing a revealing top and girls drinking at a bar. Alongside these glossy images is the message: "This is not an invitation to rape me."

Sandy Brindley, the national co-ordinator for Rape Crisis Scotland, said they wanted the campaign to shock people.

She said: "What we are wanting to do is confront, challenge these attitudes in a very direct and hard-hitting way. The main aim is to create discussion and to get people to start to look at their attitudes, because I think it is something that is quite deeply engrained."

Ms Brindley said it was "unrealistic" to believe the prejudices exposed by the recent surveys did not translate into rapists evading justice.

She said such prejudices were also discouraging many victims from coming forward, with the number of rapes estimated to be up to eight times those reported to the police.

In 2006-7, 922 rapes were reported to police but only 65 made it to court. That has prompted some concern that "blame" attitudes may exist among members of the police and prosecution service, preventing some cases from going to trial.

The Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, welcomed the campaign, and pledged to make the prosecution of rape "as good as it can be".

Writing in today's Scotsman, she says the prosecution service is in the final stages of implementing 50 recommendations following a major review of the investigation and prosecution of rape and other sexual offences.

The campaign will run for two weeks, with the posters going on display from Monday, and has cost more than 200,000 of Scottish Government money.

Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's justice secretary, said: "Hard- hitting it is and hard-hitting it has to be. We acknowledge that these attitudes straddle genders, classes and indeed all walks of life."

Case study: 'I felt guilty because I'd been drunk'

THIRTEEN-year-old Madeleine may have thought the two American students were just being helpful.

But the truth is, she was probably too drunk to know.

The girl had gone out with a friend, ending up in a caf where they could get alcohol.

"I got really drunk," says Madeleine, now 43, who lives in Glasgow .

"Two guys, probably about 17, put me in a taxi and took me to my friend's house, where we were staying."

Madeleine, originally from London, and her friend had the house to themselves, as her friend's parents had gone away for the weekend.

That night, the two young men raped Madeleine "every way they could".

For years, she was unable to tell anyone about the ordeal.

"I felt guilty, responsible, because I had been drinking," she says.

The consequences of not speaking out were nearly fatal.

She developed an eating disorder and became suicidal, nearly taking her own life with an overdose.

Case study: 'People said, oh, you consented'

JANE was raped when she was 16.

The perpetrator was a young man she used to hang around with. She says: "One night he was pestering me to have sex with him. I said I didn't want to. The next morning he was still going on about it, so I said I'd do it to keep him happy.

"Once I started I realised I didn't want to. It was really sore, and I told him to stop. I was crying because it was so sore. He pinned me down and told me something like, 'You'll have to do this sooner or later'.

"As time wore on, it started to affect me in different ways. I couldn't escape what happened, so I started taking drugs to forget about it."

About seven months later, she broke down and told a friend. Over a year later, she opened up to her mother. Jane only plucked up the courage to go to the police four years ago.

"Their attitude was 'it's so long ago, there can't be enough evidence to convict anyone'.

"A lot of people's attitude was 'oh, you consented'," she says. "These people were supposed to be my friends. They said I made it up."

The everyday images of ordinary women that aim to change attitudes

TWO people are "getting it on" in the back of the taxi. If anything, the young woman is being the most sexually aggressive.

They probably met in a club, or a bar, and, as the night wore to a close, she agreed to go back to his house.

The scenario, as with the other images depicted in the campaign – of a newly married couple and a group of young women enjoying themselves on a night out – are familiar.

The message from the first poster may seem obvious – that agreeing to go home with someone you meet in a club, and engaging in some kind of sexual behaviour with him, is not, as the image says, an invitation to rape.

However, studies have shown many people believe women who are raped after putting themselves in such situations are at least partly responsibility.

"We wanted to test the idea that you can say no at any point," says Sandy Brindley, from Rape Crisis Scotland. "Some people look at that image and say, 'well, she's consenting', that her actions amount to consent to sex.

"It is a common attitude. The taxi and the wedding images are the ones that have caused the most debate."