Legal Victim Blaming

Grace Michael on the use of victims’ sexual history in rape trials.

The use of alleged victim’s sexual history as evidence in a rape or sexual assault trial has once more been called into question in light of the final verdict of the notable Ched Evans case. The footballer and alleged rapist was found not guilty as result of evidence based upon the sexual history of his victim. During the trial, two of the victim’s previous partners testified that they had had sex around the time of the incident. Whilst this kind of evidence in rape cases is fairly uncommon, it is not at all unheard of and can be put forward by a defence Barrister in order to discredit the victim.

Recently, speaking in the House of Commons, Attorney General Jeremy Wright stated that the worries based on this evidence within a high profile case is ‘legitimate’ and ‘there is a concern here’; however he was hesitant to provide an overall solution due to this evidence’s lack of routine use.

The use of this evidence not only brings worries regarding the potential decline in sexual assault and rape victims coming forward, but it can also point towards a major flaw within not only the legal system, and also within social attitudes themselves. It is apparent that in no way does the sexual history of a person affect an attacker’s choice to commit a crime – to commit rape. If this is the case, then surely it follows that justice should not be impeded due to the victim being viewed to be the ‘guilty’ party within the eyes of a jury. As the public makes up the representatives of the jury, then perhaps the significance of evidence such as sexual history is indicative to a larger problem with our societal view of sexual assault victims. A marker for deeper prejudices towards victims of rape, this evidence consequently places the blame upon the victim rather than the rapist.

There are no current plans to change legislation regarding the use of this evidence, however discussion within the House of Commons indicates deeper consideration to its ethicality. Overall, it is pertinent that we use high profile cases such as that of Ched Evans, to highlight and address wider issues within the legal system and society itself, both of which can only be improved, especially in how we address sexual assault.

[Grace Michael – @gracemichael925]

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