Monday, 22 January 2007


Watched the Channel 4 docudrama "Consent" last night. Troubling viewing. It took the familiar format of real barristers and judge, ordinary members of the public selected from the electoral role, and actors playing the victim and defendant. Strangely it mostly consisted of a dramatisation of the events (minus the rape scene itself, which was shown at the end), with the trial itself making up a small part of proceedings, and the jury deliberations (which took 3hrs) briefly shown at the end.

The particulars of the case were work colleague acquaintance rape, victim showing bruising on the wrists and clavicle, defence's case that they were engaged in consensual "rough sex", and that the victim was jealous about a promotion given to the defendant.

Personally I was inclined to believe that the guy was guilty - his explanation for the bruising was unconvincing, but the prosecution barrister didn't quiz the defendant too long on how exactly he knew that someone pushing him off was engaging in consensual rough sex rather than just trying to get him off because they didn't want to have sex with him. There were also points where the defendant said things that weren't consistent with the dramatisation (e.g. "I didn't say X", when we saw him say it), which muddied the waters unnecessarily.

As I expected, the jury spent their time arguing off at tangents and justifying their preconceptions with convoluted rationalisations and refusing to entertain the possibility of counterfactuals. I've never served on a jury myself, but I'm told by those that have that this is very much the way that things go - can't say I'm inclined to throw myself at the mercy of a jury of my peers should the need arise (unless I'm clearly guilty - in which case I might get away with it).

Most of the women didn't seem to believe the victim's story because she didn't protest hard enough for their liking (the standard, "I wouldn't have let him do that" stuff), some of the jurors didn't seem to believe that rape was all that traumatic and wouldn't accept that someone could be in shock afterwards and not report it straight away (nicely supporting the proposals that experts give evidence as to the psychological impact of rape; and what would the make jurors think of male rape?). One juror, a crazy looking bloke (who reminded me of Pop from the League of Gentlemen) picked up on the unusual injuries the victim had sustained, which I was surprised the prosecution didn't dwell on - bruising on the right wrist plus bruising on the right clavicle, which the defendant said was due to him supporting his weight (with his right arm!) during sex.

Eventually they come to a 10:2 verdict of not guilty and we're shown the rape scene where it does indeed look like rape.

I was left wondering what it is about rape that leads to such a degree of blaming the victim. There were no discussions of whether or not there was reasonable doubt - something that we're often told is the difficulty in these him vs. her cases. In fact they seemed to have decided he was innocent based mostly on gut instinct.

I know there is a hard core of men who believe that once a woman flirts with them, and certainly if they come home with them, they've pretty much forfeited any right to say no. And the psychology of women blaming the victim to deflect the fear that they could be victims is also understandable. But it seems like there is more to it. I can't help wondering if it is something about the way we think about sex itself, the way it is portrayed as a discrete event. So while kissing is a continuous process, something that you can terminate any time, once you start having sex, and that event seems to begin way before the clothes come off, you somehow don't get to back out - it's too late. Maybe that has got something to do with the way we coyly sidestep around talking about the process of sex, the nitty gritty, whether that is in talking about it, or portraying it on tv.

I'm waiting with baited breath for the celebrity version.

Some other comments on "Consent": Pillock's Pad, FallingStar