New Zealand’s second-largest political party has proposed a radical change for the criminal justice system concerning rape cases—and we could not be more into it. The opposition party, should it come into power this September, wants to reverse the burden of proof in rape cases, making the defendants prove they had consent when they acted. And get this! They want to do it to reduce the trauma and suffering of the rape victims. What a novel idea!
In a statement so sane and so on point—and uttered by a male politician, no less—NZ Labor Party’s justice spokesman Andrew Little said: “The reason why many victims either don't lay a complaint or don't go through with one is fear of the court process and the likelihood of humiliation and re-victimization.” We’re almost tearing up. He gets it. He really gets it.
So why are we freaking out over just the mere idea of adjusting the criminal justice system in New Zealand? Come along with us for a little walk down U.S. sexual assault “justice” lane and we think you'll understand . . .
Rape Injustice in the U.S.
For starters, there’s the Georgia judge who overturned a rape conviction because he didn’t believe the victim in the case “behaved like a victim.” Appeals Court Judge Christopher McFadden literally wrote the following words in his decision: “At no time prior to her outcry . . . did [the victim] behave like a victim.” We’re sorry. Was there a PSA somewhere that lays out exactly how a victim should behave? It seems like pretty pertinent information if rape convictions are going to be overturned because of it.
BUT WAIT, the judge wasn’t even done there. He goes on: “Nor did [William Jeffrey] Dumas behave like someone who had recently perpetrated a series of violent crimes against her.” Gotcha. So the convicted rapist seemed like a nice dude so there’s NO WAY he could have actually raped someone who failed to fit the profile of “victim.” Especially because as McFadden points out, the victim—who, by the way, has down syndrome—showed no signs of “visible distress.” Noted.
Continuing our stroll down what-is-this-egregious-insanity lane, is Texas judge Jeanine Howard, who sentenced 20 year-old Sir Young—who admitted to and then was convicted of raping a 14 year-old girl—to 45 days in prison. Newsflash: Young was convicted of sexual assault of a child, a second-degree felony, which can carry a 20-year prison sentence. What factored into the judge’s sentencing decision? Judge Howard told a newspaper that the victim "wasn't the victim she claimed to be" because, according to medical records, the girl had had three sexual partners and had given birth. And we all know that if you’re “promiscuous” you can’t be a victim of sexual assault.
But not only did the judge slut-shame a barely teenaged girl and factor her past behavior into her decision (not uncommon in these cases where eviscerating a plaintiff’s character is a go-to strategy for the defense—Hillary Clinton just made headlines for doing that very thing in back in the day), she said that Young, who we’ll reemphasize admitted to the rape, given his academic success in school, was “not your typical sex offender." It gets worse. In addition to his 45-day prison sentence, Judge Howard sentenced Young to 250 hours of community service—in a rape crisis center. Head, meet table.
This all may seem totally insane-crazy, but such stories are par for the course. Turns out 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail in this country. Most rapes never even get reported. And given the “justice” just described, is that even a little surprising? Especially when we have people like columnist George Will running around actually saying that sexual assault confers special privileges on victims (for a real peek into the kind of “privileges” survivors face, check out the devastating #survivorprivilege trend on Twitter). And that whole rampant-false-rape-accusation phenomenon that hideous dinosaurs like the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto drone on and on about? Yeah, not so much a thing—studies show false rape accusations only occur between 2 and 8% of the time. Probably because, we dunno, most victims are endlessly re-traumatized the second they open their mouths about their attacks by the media, courts, universities?
Meanwhile, Across the Pond . . .
But maybe England is doing better than we are! Oh wait. Definitely no. Just this past weekend a British man was sentenced to five years in prison for raping an unconscious woman. Yes, he got a prison sentence, but check out what Judge Michael Mettyear added during the sentencing:
I do not regard you as a classic rapist. I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape. This was a case where you just lost control of normal restraint. She was a pretty girl who you fancied. You simply could not resist.
He’s actually empathizing with the rapist. Can you imagine if this were, say, a robbery case? Theoretical judge man: “Sir, you were just surrounded by a lot of super nice electronics. You couldn’t help yourself! I feel for you.” Would never happen. Ah, rape culture.
Further, the judge’s “classic rapist” jab captures everything that’s wrong with our understanding of rape. Who’s a “classic rapist”!? Somewhere between 73 and 90% of rape survivors know their attackers—and nearly 40% of those rapists are friends or acquaintances. Classic rapist? Very much not a thing. But thanks for the effort, England.
Enter dear, precious, sweet New Zealand opposition party. In his continuing nailing-it-ness, Andrew Little told local newspapers that the fact that only 1% of sexual violence cases result in a conviction points to “something wrong” in the criminal justice system and that “the circumstances may well justify doing something radically different.” OMG ALL THE SANITY. CANNOT DEAL. BRAIN EXPLODING.
And so concludes our little jaunt through sexual assault justice land. We gotta go fill out visas to move to New Zealand (prevalence of sheep be damned), where we at least have a shot at living within a more just, rational legal system. And while we’re there, we can dump George Will into Mordor. A veritable win-win!