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Men must prove a woman said 'yes' to sex under new rape guidance

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New guidelines will be issued to the police regarding rape allegations in the UK, with the onus to now be placed upon suspects to prove that the woman consented to sex instead of proving that she said ‘no’.

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service said that women should not be punished if they were incapacitated due to drink or drugs or could not verbally agree to sex because of shock or fear.

"For too long society has blamed rape victims for confusing the issue of consent - by drinking or dressing provocatively for example - but it is not they who are confused, it is society itself and we must challenge that," commented Saunders at the first National Crown Prosecution Service/Police Conference on Rape Investigations and Prosecutions, which took place yesterday in London. "Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area - in law it is clearly defined and must be given fully and freely. It is not a crime to drink, but it is a crime for a rapist to target someone who is no longer capable of consenting to sex though drink."

Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders

Rape Crisis reports that roughly 85,000 women a year are raped in England and Wales, but the latest figures show that just 5,670 attacks were reported to the police and of the 2,910 cases which went to court, only 1,070 led to a conviction.

90% of rape victims are said to know their attacker. Speaking further about the new approach which will be rolled out to police and prosecutors, Saunders added: “We want police and prosecutors to make sure they ask in every case where consent is the issue - how did the suspect know the complainant was saying yes and doing so freely and knowingly?"

The guidelines also say that the ability to consent to sex should also be questioned where the complainant has mental health problems, learning difficulties or was asleep or unconscious at the time of the alleged attack.

"These tools take us well beyond the old saying 'no means no' – it is now well established that many rape victims freeze rather than fight as a protective and coping mechanism," said Saunders.

Read more: 'Will we ever stamp out victim-blaming in cases of sexual assault?'

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