Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sexual Assault: What Doesn't Kill You Doesn't Matter?

This repugnant argument highlights just how much work still needs to be done when it comes to changing the way we think about sexual assault:

A barrister has caused outrage by suggesting a rape victim could not have been upset by her ordeal because there were photos of her on Facebook looking happy.

The woman was attacked in 2001 when she was 19 and has since tried to kill herself.

Her attacker, Anthony Francis, was caught seven years later as a result of a DNA sample.

His barrister tried to persuade a judge to be lenient by showing pictures posted on the social networking site of the woman laughing and smiling at a fancy dress party in the years since the rape.

Colin McCarraher, defending, told Reading Crown Court last week: 'What we have is a person who has post traumatic stress but is quite capable of going out and having a good time at a fancy dress party.'
The lawyer's "she doesn't look upset enough" defense failed, and Francis has received a five-and-a-half year sentence. Yet, that this argument was even made reveals a still prominent attitude that rape and sexual assault are somehow essentially different from other crimes; unlike other types of assault, if the victim is not completely debilitated - if the victim shows signs of recovery - then we're supposed to act as though the attack must not have been a serious crime. Can you imagine treating another type of physical assault in the same way? If someone is attacked and beaten, does anyone try to excuse the attacker if the victim had a drink that night or manages to smile at a party years later? There is only one other type of physical assault I can think of in which defense attorneys routinely try to blame the victim for the abuse - domestic violence. Hum... what do those two types of attacks have in common?

For more outrage visit Guanabee, where I first found the story, and Feministing.


I am so wise said...

I've heard similar stories floating through the military of people who have either begun recovering from PTSD or are good at faking recovering from PTSD getting flak when seeking benefits.

Unfortunately, American (and I suspect many other) society has really problems dealing with non-obvious handicapped be it PTSD, the learning disabled, or mental illness.

NewsCat said...

Well the one note of caution is that its merely an argument made by a defense lawyer. They can and will float almost any line of reasoning to the benefit of their client (short of lying).

I'm not sure it's the right time to get upset because a defense lawyer floated a pretty reprehensible defensive. They can float any theory they want. Including "She wanted to be raped." Its part of the bargin of our system where you get to have a lawyer in your defense. He can make any kind of argument on your behalf. It's a slimy argument, but it's not a sign that the situation of victims has changed.

Now had the judge bought it, that's a different story.

Habladora said...

Well, I'll definitely agree that its good news that the judge didn't buy it. Still, I'm not sure I can adopt the happy view that this is just one slimy lawyer in a sea of much more enlightened and compassionate people. The attempt to diminish the "seriousness" of sexual assaults based on some perceived 'wrong behavior' of the victim is one that is still, tragically, pretty common both in and out of the courtroom - like here, and here, and here, and here.

frau sally benz said...

I agree with Habladora -- this isn't an isolated incident by any means, and the fact that the lawyer would even think to use it as a defense shows just how bad things are.

Mächtige Maus said...

I get to hear all kinds of arguments from defense attorneys when it comes to defending a client. I'm going to have to go with newscat on this. Insane arguments from a defense attorney isn't isolated to sexual assaults. We might not like it, but it is part of our system. It is their job to get a client off, no matter how they go about it. Revamp the system...well, that is about the only way to combat something like this.

Personally, I couldn't be a defense attorney. No way, no how...because this is what is required from them in *any* case.