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

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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

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