For juries in rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse trials to receive mandatory briefings about rape myths and stereotypes.
How do we define a rape myth?
prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists – in creating a climate hostile to rape victims. 
This definition applies to all forms of sexual violence.
We want the briefing to include:
- overview of barriers to reporting
- sexualised trauma and responses
- freeze/flop/flight and fight responses
- ‘no’ means ‘yes’
- stats about the false allegations
- stats about stranger rape vs ‘acquaintance’ rape
- where the rape/sexual assault has occurred in intimate relationship, myths such as ‘why didn’t she leave?’ to be addressed
- stats about reports made to the police
Most of the above is already available on the CPS website
BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
There were proposals to introduce ‘myth busting packs’ under the last government. We welcome recent developments of best practice in the judiciary as agreed by the Judicial Studies Board 2010, such as the Crown Court Bench Book setting out judicial directions after the evidence has been heard and before the jury commences its deliberations.
However, we feel that this is not enough not only because it comes at the end of the trial process when all the evidence has been heard and any myths and/or stereotypes that members of the jury may have would have been present throughout the trial and influencing their decision. Furthermore, there can be no assurances or guarantees that such directions are consistently applied.
Alison Saunders is reported to have said:
that a jury might decide that no rape had occurred because of an alleged victim’s sexual history, because they were drunk or because they had previously consented to sex with the alleged perpetrator. It was vital, she said, to tackle such “myths and stereotypes” at the start of a trial.
(The Times: Judges must instruct rape juries to ignore the victim’s sexual history’ by Frances Gibb, Wednesday May 7th 2014)
In the BPP University College (November 2012) paper Do Rape Myths Affect Juror Decision Making? A Systematic Review of the Literature it is stated that:
The highest conviction rate is 91.6% for drug offences; the lowest 60.4% for all sex offences (Ministry of Justice 2012) (p3)
The BBP paper concludes:
This review systematically explored all of the published research on the impact of rape myths on judgements. The overwhelming conclusion from this review is that rape myths do appear to have an impact on judgements. Individuals who hold stereotypical attitudes towards rape are more likely to judge complainants in rape cases harshly and defendants leniently. This finding is consistent regardless of the quality of the individual research studies or whether studies used members of the public or students as participants. This finding is corroborated by qualitative research that has identified the impact of rape myths on juror deliberations (e.g. Ellison and Munro, 2009).
You can read some of the research here:
We welcome the recent report Transforming the Criminal Justice System Strategy and Action Plan – Implementation Update, dated July 2014 which states:
We believe that the final two bullet points could be achieved by such jury briefings
CULTURE OF MYTHS AND VICTIM BLAMING
One only has to look at discussion boards and social media for any discussion about rape trials, cases and the topic of sexual violence in general to see a myriad of victim blaming, misogyny and culture of disbelief at play. These are the same people who will and do end up serving on juries.
In the recent case of Regina vs Rolf Harris, it was reported:
Jurors asked: “Is it allowed to stereotype what the victim should have done prior to an alleged offence taking place in more than one count or using it against them?”
Justice Sweeney responded by reminding the six men and six women of the lengthy legal directions he’d given them both in court and in writing.
They could, if they decided to, consider evidence from other complainants or witnesses when deciding each indecent assault charge, he said.
The judge also reiterated there was no classic or typical response to abuse.
“A late complaint does not necessarily signal a false complaint any more than an immediate complaint demonstrates it’s true,” he said.
Justice Sweeney reminded jurors there was no stereotype for a sexual offence, a sex offender or a victim of sexual abuse.
The introduction of jury briefings would hopefully obviate this kind of thinking and these types of questions.
The media coverage of rape trials tends to focus on the more sensationalist cases where rapes are stranger perpetrated and/or extreme violence was used as well as those where the defendant is a celebrity. The disproportionate amount of news coverage that these types of case get distorts the public’s perception of rape and invisibilises cases which do not fit with this, further reinforcing myths and stereotypes. The same applies to the minority of false allegations which also receive a disproportionate amount of coverage. Whilst the criminal justice system is predicated on the notion of innocent until proven guilty, when applied to rape and sexual abuse trials, many adopt the default position of believing the complainant to be lying.
IMPLEMENTATION OF JURY BRIEFINGS
It would not be a huge undertaking nor resource intensive to have an independent and specially trained person talk through these with the jurors prior to them hearing the evidence before them. This could be presented as a pre-recorded DVD to ensure that all juries receive exactly the same briefing by the same person, in open court. We hope that this will also educate members of the press and the public in the public gallery. It is not proposed that this is in lieu of judicial directions but in addition to.
Please sign our petition which can be found here.
THE LONGER TERM
We recommend that when education and awareness-raising campaigns and programmes on rape and sexual assault are developed, careful consideration be given to their design so that they spread understanding of the current law on rape; do not in any way perpetuate false understandings of how rape victims respond; and take full advantage of the diverse range of new media outlets so that they are as imaginative, targeted and effective as possible.
We support the Compulsory Sex and Relationship Education campaign. This will hopefully educate the jurors of the future, what we need to address is how we educate current and the immediate jurors who have grown up without this kind of awareness.
Alison Boydell and Jill Saward, October 2014
If you have any questions, please see our FAQs here.
Nina Burrowes Six things you need to know about false reports of rape
Jenny Kitzinger Framing Abuse: media influence and public understandings of sexual violence against children (2004)
‘Rape in the Media’ in Horvath, M and Brown, J (eds) Rape: Challenging contemporary thinking (2009)
Nina Burrowes: Why are sex offenders able to get away with it?
Nina Burrowes: Should I go to the police?
Nina Burrowes: I am a man who has been raped. Am I gay?
Nina Burrowes: What is the relationship between power and sexual abuse?
 Burt, M.R. 1980, “Cultural myths and supports for rape”, Journal of personality and social psychology, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 217-230.