Sexual History: It’s Ours by Jennifer

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Content note: Discussion of rape, sexual assault, and victim blaming. 

Police Scotland have published statistics from the year between 2015/16 and 2016/17 that indicate a reduction in most crimes, however, sexual crimes increased by 5%, the highest number of reported sexual crime in 46 years.

In Scotland between 2015 and 2016 there were 1,809 rapes and attempted rapes reported to police. Of those, 216 reached court and were prosecuted and of those, only 104 resulted in convictions.

Statistics show that 10% of women in Scotland have been raped and 19% of women in Scotland has had another person try to force sex upon them. I have been sexually assaulted and I am friends with other women who have been raped and sexually assaulted. Some of these women reported the crime to the police. Some did not. Some went to court, some did not.

Absolutely none of the cases that went to court resulted in a conviction. I know that in at least two of those cases, past sexual history was brought forward in court and systematically used in an attempt to tear down any credibility or reliability of the survivor. This practice in abominable. This is personal. Too many of us have experienced this type of oppression or know someone who has and we must speak up and make some noise.

In the past year, cases in the media of exonerated men accused of rape, such as the footballer Ched Evans in the UK and the basketball star Derrick Rose in the United States, show that the use of accusers’ past sexual history can be instrumental in the victory of the defendant. I can’t help but wonder if recent media coverage regarding a certain Hollywood mogul and his accusers of sexual assault will turn tide and begin pointing the finger at the victims and their history…

I fear the negative impact that publicised cases, where the sexual history of victims is used as a defence tactic, will have on survivors and their confidence in reporting. I fear that public attitudes are still misogynistic in that many view the woman at fault and believe rape is somehow instigated as a result of behaviour or attire.

The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 lists restrictions for using a complainant’s sexual history as evidence in rape cases and the subsequent Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2002 laid down stricter laws prohibiting irrelevant sexual history evidence and general character attacks on the survivor. However, in the five years following the 2002 Act, applications to use past sexual history increased, as did the number of applications granted. The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 aids in defining free agreement and consent, and stipulates additional related offences, however it lacks any further clarification on inhibiting the frequency of the use of sexual histories of rape victims.

Speaking of her experience of the Scottish judicial system, one brave survivor, in collaboration with Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre (ERCC), stated: “With hindsight, heaven forbid that if anything like this should happen again, I would not put myself through it. I would close the door on the police and legal process.”

In the modern age, where words like feminism and equality are common to everyone’s ears, why on earth do we need to fight for our right to keep our previous sex lives, our previous love lives out of public scrutiny and out of the reach of opposing lawyers?

Gender based violence is still prevalent, and the stigma attached to being a victim of this violence is compounded by the justice system and institutions which fail to keep survivors safe. We all must work together to fight for our rights to be heard and believed, and demand justice without being subject to ingrained misogyny and scrutiny.

Thankfully, Police Scotland has set up a specialised National Rape Task Force that is dedicated to ensuring compassionate and thorough investigation with access to support and information for survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Scotland has many organisations that offer help, information, support, counselling and advocacy for women who are seeking information or have suffered abuse, such as Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, and Engender.

We have our power and there is help available for those that wish to demand justice and also for those that wish to defend their right to silence and gentle support.

With the power of our voices, I hope that the services and laws protecting survivors continue to expand and improve, and more empathy and understanding is gained by the sharing of our stories and experiences.

With the successful vote in the House of Commons earlier last year on a Bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which sets minimum standards for addressing violence against women, a new Domestic Abuse Bill set to be introduced in the House of Commons and Scotland’s own Domestic Abuse Bill likely to be passed in the Scottish Parliament this year, we might be one step closer to achieving that goal.

Pictures courtesy of Jennifer Ochoa, studio tdes, The Daily English Show, Molly Adams, and milknosugar.

Jennifer Ochoa is a perpetual student of health science, relationship and trauma counselling, and most importantly… LIFE. She is a feminist and mother of three sons, spanning sixteen years, in the beautiful and diverse city of Edinburgh. She loves nothing more than pushing the boundaries, both societally and self-imposed. Jenni revels in connecting with others in the journey of life seeking knowledge, justice, and joy in the ordinary.

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