The Sunday Times: Putting the DPP in the dock. Why women should be equal in law



Alison Saunders is the second woman to become director of public prosecutions. Women should be celebrating her success. I am not. Her very focus on women is what worries me.

Since she started she has promoted a focus on female “victims”. That word itself is telling. It is not the language of criminal justice, which considers “complainants”, but of an ideology that sees women as helpless targets, which I do not.

In my experience of reporting on forced marriage I’ve met brilliant, strong young women who have testified, sometimes against their families, proud to stand up for themselves and protect other girls. They called themselves survivors.

Saunders does not credit women with this ability to know how to act. She pushed ahead with her first female genital mutilation prosecution against the wishes of the adult female “victim” involved, who did not want the case brought.

Saunders brings a similar approach to female rape complainants. Before they have even proved their cases she describes them as “victims”.

She has told police and prosecutors to place the onus on men in date-rape cases to prove they obtained explicit consent from the women they slept with, especially when they have been drinking (although it is unclear how this fits with the presumption of innocence). So now women can claim retrospectively that they were raped after a sexual encounter they regret.

This saddens me. It undermines the ability of women to make their own decisions. It suggests that, especially when drunk, we do not know our own minds. When intoxicated people get behind the wheel of a car it is considered their choice of action. Women, similarly, must take responsibility — or we do not have real equality.

I would not expect a man who went home with me after a night out to wake up and withdraw his consent. But then usually men do not. Because men do not buy into the same post-sexual shame that women are fed — the puritanical idea that women are harmed by sex. Men do not promote their victimhood.

So we do not hear much about the 700,000 men (according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics) who reported last year that they had been assaulted in acts of domestic violence. Nor do we hear much about the 75,000 men who, the Ministry of Justice claims, experience sexual assault or attempted assault each year.

Saunders is right about one thing: female victims were maligned by the criminal justice system in the past. The way to see them treated equally, however, is not to baby-fy them. Women will not gain equality by being portrayed as victims.

Instead we must take gender out of crime. Women who report sexual assaults are crossing the same Rubicon as men in criminal cases. We are all grown-ups. We can all stand by our actions.


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