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What is rape? Despite #MeToo, few really know

by Lin Taylor | @linnytayls | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 December 2018 16:35 GMT

Globally, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, Dec 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A woman cannot change her mind once sex has started. If she flirts on a date, she cannot cry rape later - even if she hasn't consented to sex. And pushing a woman into intercourse but stopping short of physical violence does not equal rape.

Some of the commonly held views voiced in a poll released on Thursday that revealed how few Britons understand the law around rape or what constitutes consent in the post #MeToo world.

In a separate study, pollsters found that people vastly under-estimated the prevalence of sexual harassment, despite the issue dominating headlines for more than a year.

That finding came from a survey by research group Ipsos MORI, which quizzed more than 28,000 people in 37 countries on issues from climate change to sex to crime.

On average, people thought that 39 percent of women had been sexually harassed, yet according to a report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the true figure is 60 percent, the poll said.

People surveyed in Denmark, the Netherlands, France and the United States were most likely to under-estimate the extent of sexual abuse, it added.

"On a major issue such as sexual harassment towards women, many people do not realise quite how prevalent it really is," Gideon Skinner, research director of Ipsos MORI's Social Research Institute, said in a statement.

Globally, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, according to the U.N. Women agency.

Conversations about sexual harassment have snowballed in recent months, unleashed by the #MeToo movement that started in Hollywood and has spread across a myriad of workplaces, sparking investigations and toppling hundreds of high-profile men.


Ignorance is widespread in Britain, too.

Britain's End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) said many adults misunderstand what constitutes rape and the concept of consent, surveying 4,000 British adults to probe everyday scenarios from date etiquette to having second thoughts.

According to a study it published on Thursday, one in three people polled said if a woman was pressured into sex but no physical violence was involved, it would not equal rape.

A third of the men surveyed said a woman could not change her mind once sex has started, and a third of men also believed that if a woman flirted on a date, any sex thereafter would not be counted as rape even if she had not consented, it found.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the campaign group, said sexist views and rape myths could influence the outcomes of sexual assault cases in court, especially if jurors were involved.

"These figures are alarming because they show that a huge proportion of adults in Britain – who make up juries in rape trials – are still very unclear about what rape is," said Krys in a statement.

Police in 2017 recorded more than 121,000 sexual offences in England and Wales, an increase from more than 106,000 reports the year before, according to government data.

Despite the rise in cases, only 2,822 men were charged for their crimes in 2017/2018, dropping by almost a quarter from 3,671 the year before, according to figures from Britain's Crown Prosecution Service.

Women's rights advocates say prosecutions often fail as many victims are disbelieved or considered to blame, with cases around consent - after sex happens in private between two adults who know each other - often considered too hard to win.

"The message currently being sent to women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence is that they don't matter and that crimes involving sexual assault won't be punished," said Jacqui Hunt, European director of rights group Equality Now.

Former judge John Gillen in November released an independent review of how the Northern Irish justice system deals with rape cases and concluded that jurors held harmful gender stereotypes and tended to blame victims for their assault.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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