Rape Crisis Scotland has said a lack of public understanding is affecting the outcome of rape cases
The general public has a “worrying lack of understanding of what rape actually is”, a charity has claimed.
A major new study by the End Violence Against Women Coalition has shown an alarming number of adults across the UK are unclear about what rape is.
The survey, of 4,000 people, found that a third (33%) of people in Britain think it isn’t usually rape if a woman is pressured into having sex but there is no physical violence.
It also found a third of men think if a woman has flirted on a date it generally wouldn’t count as rape, even if she hasn’t explicitly consented to sex (compared with 21% of women).
Other worrying findings included a third of men believing a woman can’t change her mind after sex has started, and almost a quarter (24%) think that sex without consent in long-term relationships is usually not rape.
Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said that public misunderstanding of sexual assault is affecting court trials.
She said: "Rape Crisis Scotland has had concerns for some time about the impact of attitudes that jury members might hold on decision making in rape trials. Study after study has shown that a significant minority of the Scottish population blame women due rape in certain circumstances, if we are flirting, drinking or have engaged in a certain level of consensual sexual activity.
“It would be naive to think these attitudes have no bearing on how jury members interpret the evidence in rape trials. These attitudes have no place in our justice system.
“This new study shows a worrying lack of understanding of what rape actually is. The law is clear - sex without consent is rape. In Scotland, the conviction rate for rape is 39%, which is lower than for any other crime type. Public attitudes need to change if rape survivors are to have access to justice.”
Brindley added that concerted and sustained efforts are needed to change public attitudes and improve awareness of the reality of rape.
Jonathan Christie is UK Deputy Director at The Wood Foundation – the manager and principal funder of Youth Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) in Scotland. In the 2018/19 academic year to date, a quarter of all YPI grant recipient charities have been those dealing with domestic and sexual abuse demonstrating these are issues young people are concerned about yet feel empowered to tackle.
“These statistics make for difficult reading and demonstrates a real need to change the way society speaks about sexual abuse," he said.
“What can give us real hope though is the fact that a quarter of all YPI recipient charities in this academic year have been those supporting survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.
“Young people are, at a formative stage, learning about these issues and feel confident to voice the impacts of this sensitive topic.
“Empowering young people to speak out, speak up and make a difference is hugely important for the evolution of such attitudes.”