Being A Victim Means It’s Not Your Fault: The Problem With Modern Rape Trials


Over spring break, while I was in Ireland, I saw a couple of my new friends who lived there get enraged over a rape trial verdict that had been garnering lots of attention in Northern Ireland. I had never heard of it, but hearing their anger over what they saw as a black and white case had me researching it afterwards. What I discovered was, sadly, the same as had been shown in the Stanford rape case in 2015, where people had blamed the victim for the rape happening. No matter how many people agree that wearing a short skirt or getting drunk or even flirting is not consent, ever, defendants of the alleged rapists continue to use it as evidence against the rape. And that is a problem that stems solely from our stereotypes about rape cases, and general sexism when it comes to assault and rape.

In the case I spoke of earlier, both of the alleged rapists and the other man there were high-profile rugby players in Northern Ireland, and they claimed that every action done with the woman was consensual. Now, defending yourself in a trial is not my problem. The problem in this trial, at least for me, was the words the defendants used in order to clear their clients’ names. Phrases like “drunken consent is still consent” and “she was very forward…and she was flirtatious”. It’s these kinds of sentences that make rape the victim’s fault, that make alcohol consumption and being flirtatious a form of consent when really, the only form of consent is saying yes. Soberly and clearly, saying yes.

Victim-blaming is, however, an all-too-common occurrence in rape or sexual assault cases. According to Newsweek, a third of British people believe that if a woman is wearing a skirt that’s short and she is sexually assaulted, she is to blame. And for the people who blame women for not coming forward immediately about their rape, only 18% percent of rape trials lead to a conviction. That’s not a promising number for those who want justice for their attacker.

In addition, a rape trial is emotionally exhausting for the victims, partly because of the disbelief and interrogations they go through during them. A heartbreaking example of this is happened during the Stanford trial, where the young woman who was raped, who already had to relive the terrifying night, also had to deal with the suspicion and cross-examination of the alleged rapist, judge, jury, and defense simply because she was too drunk to remember the events. The defense used to completely disregard anything she had to say, making it seem as though because she couldn’t remember being raped, it didn’t happen, even with witnesses present. It’s this kind of culture, where people are more suspicious of those who are brave enough to state the crime over those accused of it, that is the main problem with these kinds of cases.

The way to stop this, though, doesn’t just come from articles pointing it out or people talking about how wrong it is. It comes from us, as a society, changing the way we think about rape or sexual assault cases. If we continue to blame the victim and question her story in a way that’s completely beyond how we question the alleged assaulter’s story, we open ourselves to making the kinds of judgements that make it harder and harder for women, or men, who have been raped or assaulted to come out and name their attacker. It’s time for us listen more carefully, to not blame the victim for something that did not and could not mean consent. Because, as the movement has clearly pointed out, time is up.