Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Rape conviction rates will not improve "until women stop getting so drunk", says former judge


A female former judge has sparked an outcry after saying that rape conviction rates in the UK will not rise "until women stop getting so drunk".

In a controversial interview with the Oxford Mail yesterday, retired Judge Mary Jane Mowat claimed that a victim being drunk at the time of a sexual assault did not help in the "one person’s word against another" situation that often transpires in a rape trial.

Judge Mowat, 66, who retired this month from Oxford Crown Court, said: "It is an inevitable fact of it being one person’s word against another, and the burden of proof being that you have to be sure before you convict.

"I will also say, and I will be pilloried for saying so, but the rape conviction statistics will not improve until women stop getting so drunk.

"I’m not saying it’s right to rape a drunken woman, I’m not saying for a moment that it’s allowable to take advantage of a drunken woman.

"But a jury in a position where they’ve got a woman who says 'I was absolutely off my head, I can’t really remember what I was doing, I can’t remember what I said, I can’t remember if I consented or not but I know I wouldn’t have done'. I mean when a jury is faced with something like that, how are they supposed to react?"

Judge Mary Jane Mowat

Judge Mowat's comments were greeted with anger and disbelief among victim support groups and rape crisis workers, who view them as evidence of an endemic victim-blaming culture in cases of sexual assault.

"Suggesting that rape conviction statistics will not improve until women stop getting so drunk is an outrageous, misguided and frankly dangerous statement to make," Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre service manager Natalie Brook told the Oxford Mail.

"Rape convictions will improve when those who perpetrate it – who are disproportionately male – stop raping, and when society stops blaming women for somehow being complicit in this act of violence.

"Rape is 100 per cent the fault of the perpetrator, and suggesting otherwise serves only to feed myths that do nothing other than deter women from reporting this crime or accessing the support they need."

Katie Russell, of Rape Crisis England & Wales, agreed that Judge Mowat's remarks were potentially "very harmful."

"The point that she and other influential people within the criminal justice system should be making clearly and publicly is that the legal responsibility is with the defendant in a rape case to evidence how they sought and received consent," she told the Independent.

"And if a woman is incapacitated through drink or drugs then she is not capable of giving her consent."

Slutwalk protesters march through London in a 2012 demonstration to demand that women not be blamed for rape

Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year, according to Rape Crisis UK, and 1 in 5 women aged 16 - 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

Figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service showed the conviction rate for rape has dropped in the last 12 months in Britain, after five years of steady improvements. In 2007-08, 58% of cases brought to trial resulted in a conviction. This rate rose to 63% in 2011-12 but has since fallen back to 60%.

Director of Public Prosecutions and the leading national police officer for rape, Alison Saunders, said the onus was on those within the justice system to dispel "the myths and stereotypes surrounding these types of cases".

"Myths and stereotypes still pervade throughout society and have the potential to influence jurors too," Saunders said in an interview with the BBC earlier this year. "We have a part to play in fighting any pre-conceptions through the way we handle and present our cases to those juries. "

Saunders said she was planning a series of key measures to help increase national rape conviction rates.

These steps will include ensuring that prosecutions focus more clearly on what the law says about consent to sex in complicated cases, and reviewing the operation of specialist Crown Prosecution Service teams and the barristers they use to present evidence to juries in court.

One of the team members from Undercover Colors, a US-based group who claim to have invented a nail polish that detects date rape drugs in drinks

The furore comes as a US-based team of researchers claim to have invented a nail polish that detects date rape drugs such Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB in drinks.

North Carolina State University student group Undercover Colors makes the unlikely sell of being "the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault".

They claim their nail polish will change colour if it comes into contact with so-called "date rape" drugs in drinks so that "any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger".

But critics have been quick to point out that alcohol is far more commonly used in cases of rape, as opposed to pharmaceutical drugs.

And once again, the concept - however well intended - puts the onus of the crime on the potential victim, rather than the rapist.

Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress told the Washington Post that the nail polish could have a detrimental effect on women who are assaulted.

"Any college students who don’t use the special polish could open themselves up to criticism for failing to do everything in their power to prevent rape," she noted.

What do you think? What can be done to combat flailing rape conviction rates in the UK and how can we overcome myths and stereotypes related to sexual offences? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter.

For more information on rape statistics and victim support, visit Rape Crisis England & Wales.

Photos: Rex Features



'It's a French woman's duty to wear a bikini' Ex-French Minister sparks outrage after sharing image of veiled woman on beach


Judge overturns rape conviction as woman "didn't behave like a victim"


'You simply could not resist' Fury at judge's comments on convicted rapist


Myth and rape: will we ever stamp out victim-blaming in cases of sexual assault?


Outrage over 'victim-blaming' rape posters published by the government


Outrage as Target photoshops teen to give her a thigh gap


Oscar-nominated director accused of sexual harassment by 31 women

“He told me he'd love nothing more than to masturbate while looking into my eyes”

by Susan Devaney
23 Oct 2017

Rebecca Black on the “intense nastiness” and abuse of her early fame

She was just 13 years old when her music video went viral

by Nicola Colyer
23 Oct 2017

Chrissy Teigen is a Clueless fangirl just like the rest of us

She did what we’d all do

by Susan Devaney
23 Oct 2017

Bridget Jones star Sarah Solemani: women need protection in auditions

The Bad Education actor recalls being asked to act out intimate scenes

by Amy Swales
23 Oct 2017

Kate Hudson on the unique harassment faced by women in Hollywood

“It feels horrible. It’s degrading. It’s dismissive. So much needs to change”

by Moya Crockett
23 Oct 2017

Jennifer Aniston reveals the £18 secret behind her iconic hair

And it's extremely low-effort

by Kayleigh Dray
23 Oct 2017

This is why Paloma Faith has never revealed her baby’s name

She welcomed her first child in December 2016, but has chosen not to publicise its name or sex

by Kayleigh Dray
23 Oct 2017

This massive star was very nearly in Hocus Pocus

Oh sisters, how very different things could have been

by Nicola Colyer
20 Oct 2017

Quentin Tarantino on not doing more to stop Harvey Weinstein

“I knew enough to do more than I did”

by Nicola Colyer
20 Oct 2017

Lupita Nyong’o says she was harassed by Harvey Weinstein as a student

“He told me not to be so naïve. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing.”

by Moya Crockett
20 Oct 2017