Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Telegraph Manufactures a Controversy with Sparse Journalism and a Click-Bait Title (on Men in the UK “Having to Prove That a Woman Said ‘Yes’ to Sex” and More)

What The Telegraph Claimed

According to a recent story from the British newspaper The Telegraph, men must now prove consent under strict new rape guidelines. The first sentence of the story states:

“Men accused of date rape will need to convince police that a woman consented to sex as part of a major change in the way sex offences are investigated.” [1]

After that, several quotes are taken from a speech given by Alison Saunders, whose title is the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). (This would make her similar in authority to Attorney General Eric Holder in the United States.) I am including all of those quotes here:

“Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area - in law it is clearly defined and must be given fully and freely.”

“It is not a crime to drink, but it is a crime for a rapist to target someone who is no longer capable of consenting to sex though drink.”

“These tools take us well beyond the old saying ‘no means no’ - it is now well established that many rape victims freeze rather than fight as a protective and coping mechanism.”

“We want police and prosecutors to make sure they ask in every case where consent is the issue - how did the suspect know the complainant was saying yes and doing so freely and knowingly?”

These statements by the DPP are all made with respect to existing UK laws, and in fact contain nothing in the way of demanding further “proof” of anything from suspects.

Many were under the impression, based on The Telegraph’s article, that these guidelines were some “new” and essentially draconian rules for police investigations meant to presume men guilty when accused, regardless of whether they are or not (“guilty until proven innocent”).

And I, as well, initially thought that to be the case, and wrote a lengthy post highly similar to my article on the “Yes Means Yes” bill in California criticizing the misguided carelessness of these supposedly harsh new guidelines and their potential future impact.

After conducting a bit more research, however, I discovered that it wasn’t so.

The Telegraph, to put it simply, misrepresented the nature of the guidelines almost entirely, particularly with their article’s sensationalistic title; which, given what I have found and will show and explain below, seems as though its only genuine purposes were to draw attention (click-bait) and mislead readers.

My Own Inquiry

As usual, I checked other sources and discovered, more or less verbatim, the same quotes (from DPP Saunders) and the same overall specious narrative provided in The Telegraph’s article. But, I additionally found references to the fact that rape and sexual assault prosecutions are up over the past year, and the number of additional cases going through the courts, something around a 30% increase, are causing a bit of a bottleneck. I suspect, although I did not find it stated explicitly anywhere, that some might be blaming the new DPP for the entirety of this overload.

Nevertheless, from The Telegraphs story regarding the new rape guidelines, I drew the impression that they were attempting to paint a negative picture of these changes. They certainly struck me negatively as they did many MRA blogs. But, I also had a nagging feeling that something was missing.

As I read and re-read several articles on the subject, I kept seeing references to a “Toolkit” and a document that proposed to define what “consent” consisted of, and yet nowhere were there links to such a document in any of the articles related to the guidelines themselves.

Indeed, the remarks that were made by DPP Saunders were all cast as future tense deliverables, so perhaps these documents hadn’t even been produced yet, I considered. I thought that maybe I should wait, unlike my sources, to see what the documents actually stated, rather than simply accepting a summation from a journalist that I know nothing about in a paper which I don’t read all that often.

Eventually, I started going back to the government websites directly, looking for biographical information on DPP Saunders and anything else that I could find. And as it turns out, when I did that, instead of merely allowing the media to spoon-feed me the news, I came across a wealth of information. Including the documents that were said to be forthcoming, as well as a December Press Release on funding for male victims of sexual violence (that link is here [5], but more about that later).

The documents in question concerning consent were also not that difficult to find once I decided to search for them. The thread that links them together is here. [2] Which looks like it may be where The Telegraph took much of its article from, although the inference that the burden of proof had suddenly shifted entirely to the accused is nowhere to be found there (nor is the implication of any sort of “presumption of guilt,” as several have been brought to believe). The comments section of The Telegraph, as well as many blog sites, are certainly ablaze with such assumptions. But, when I examined the document, what I found was quite different.

What Source Documents Say

The document, “What is Consent” [3], which appears as though it might have originated as a pair of PowerPoint slides, simply goes over the definition of consent as applied by the law. The current law, as its first line states, is: “Consent is defined by section 74 Sexual Offences Act 2003” (meaning that it is based on something pre-existing). I’ll quote three sections of the graphic as examples:

“Capacity to consent:
Issues to consider include whether the complainant had the capacity to consent if:
• s/he was under the influence of drink or drugs;
• s/he suffers from a medical condition which limits their ability to consent or communicate consent;
• s/he has a mental health problem or learning difficulties;
• s/he was asleep or unconscious.”

Note the employment of sex-neutral language, consistent with existing UK law (and not even alluded to anywhere by The Telegraph). Seems fairly commonsensical and typical, does it not? How about when the accused is interviewed:

“Steps taken to obtain consent:
• Enquiring as to how the suspect knew or believed the complainant was consenting to sex and that s/he continued to consent;
• Investigating whether the suspect targeted or exploited the victim at a time when s/he was most vulnerable.”

In another section of the same slide:

“Reasonable belief in consent:
• Recognising or ignoring any signs from the complainant that they did not want sexual activity;
• Checking if consent was given for all the sex acts and not just some, e.g. consent for sexual intercourse but not oral sex.”

I could quote from all of the sections of the two slides, but there is nothing more outrageous within the rest of it than what is in the excerpts above, which aren’t outrageous at all, but are simply guidelines for the types of questions that the police should ask both victims and suspects. Guidelines which are likely not at all different from what most police officers are already doing (does anyone truly believe that the majority of police don’t already question suspects, et cetera, in such ways?).

Consistency is the name of the game, and similar guidance goes out from the U.S. federal government every year on how crimes should be classified, investigated, and prosecuted. This is a call for uniformity in approach, an approach which generally already existed; not the creation of, and/or order to enforce or carry out, some draconian new anti-male methodology as The Telegraph painted all of it to be.

Note also that if, for instance, a male suspect, while being questioned, were to say something along the lines of “I’ve never seen this woman before in my life,” or “We never had sex,” then there would really be no point in asking the other questions from the guide at all.

DNA evidence, witnesses to certain behaviors in public, and so on, would be no different than they are now. A person who makes a claim days, weeks, or months after the alleged event will still have quite an uphill battle to fight in proving that any such act(s) took place. Normal policing and common sense procedures will remain.

(If you have issues with how police in the UK already operated, that is aside from the matter of these guidelines.)

The rest of the document is no more onerous than what I’ve quoted above. There is no new law, no truly “new” anything; just some (nearly redundant, but sensible) definitions, procedural rules, and a guidance outline designed for the sake of creating greater overall uniformity in UK policing, based on what is already mostly current policy.

Then there was that “Toolkit” [4] that was mentioned. But a footnote in that makes it clear that these too are merely guidelines based on existing law:

“The legal definitions of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses is outlined in the revised Code of Practice for Victims – this section considers a much wider definition of vulnerability. The legal definitions are based on the criteria set out in sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and are narrower in scope. See CPS Legal Guidance for further information: link

The linked document mentioned in the footnote is a document from 2013 entitled “Code of Practice for Victims of Crime.” In essence, it tells the victim of a crime what their rights are.

Possible Motivation for The Telegraph Article and Derivatives

So, why did The Telegraph and all those who saw its coverage look no further in investigating these supposedly “new” and allegedly extremely biased rules? Was the misreporting accidental? Did they know that there was virtually nothing new to see or reveal, aside from a political speech and some relatively common sense guidelines (which were nearly redundant and more for the sake of uniformity than anything so systematically malevolent as implied)?

Wouldn’t have been much of a story. Wouldn’t have been very efficient click-bait at all.

Wouldn’t have resulted in over 800 angry comments from readers who... didn’t really do all that much reading (but we can’t blame the readers there, or elsewhere, too much for that, as this kerfuffle and the confusion over the guidelines are primarily The Telegraph’s fault).

Finally: Good News Not given Proper Emphasis

Prioritizing controversy over meaningful, truthful and positive news would also explain why nobody, or barely anyone, seems to be aware of the fact that a million pounds is being allocated to organizations that help victimized men. I found that out because I was looking on the UK government’s own Crown Prosecution Service’s website for the details that The Telegraph was so willing to leave out. One could hardly have missed it.

But, good news doesn’t garner as much attention; even when that news is in the same general realm as something “controversial” (or which an entity has twisted to be so). How many people have actually heard of the organizations receiving this money? I’ve been led to believe that no such groups even exist. And they’ve been out there all along, not just planning to help men, not merely rallying the troops, but in fact doing things in the trenches, so to speak. I simply picked one out of the list above. They have their very own website! You can contribute to them. Right now!

The related Press Release [5] states, among other things:

“More than £1 million is being provided to specialist rape support organisations across England and Wales as part of the first ever fund to help male victims of rape and sexual violence.

These organisations are: The Green House, Bristol; Southampton Rape Crisis; Mankind, Brighton, East Sussex; Survivors, Manchester; Rotherham Women’s Counsel and Pitstop for Men, South Yorkshire; Safeline, Warwickshire; New Pathways, Merthyr Tydfil Mid Wales; Survivors UK, London; Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Wirral, Liverpool and Sefton, Merseyside; Barnsley Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Service, South Yorkshire; Axis Counselling, Shrewsbury, Shropshire; Sunderland Counselling Service.” [5]

I selected one of the organizations from the collection above at random, conducted a web search, and discovered that they have a web page. I suspect that most of the others do as well.

Go up there and choose another, perform a web search on them, and I am certain that you will find one which is worthy of your help. Do it (if you can)! You will feel better knowing that your contribution will be used to assist and benefit people in the real world, where it truly matters now.

Or, be lazy and click this link to the one that I found here:

Author: Krista [@Femitheist]
NOTE I: In regard to the allocations of funds for male victims of rape and sexual violence, I am aware, because I did a post on it, of the issues related to how rape is defined in the UK (forced penetration vs. forced enveloping).

Nonetheless, anything which helps any victims of violence now is certainly a good thing, so I still find it to be something to celebrate, even if I have a few problems with other aspects related to it.

Keep in mind that one can be fairly critical of something, or can argue that something is not enough, in and of itself, or due to certain other factors (e.g., it should apply to more people), while still acknowledging the positive fact that it will benefit victims of violence (in this instance, male victims) in the real world today.

NOTE II: I was originally going to write a repurposed and expanded article of criticisms of these guidelines similar to my piece on the Yes Means Yes bill in California, but changed course after doing more reading and finding out that the guidelines in this case had been misrepresented.

NOTE III: If you have any thoughts on all of this, please leave them in the comments below, and if you enjoyed or found this post to be informative, please share it as well. As always, I gladly accept any and all reasonable feedback, positive or negative, and would like to spread the word on this to those who might have been, or who may still be, confused about the nature of these “new” guidelines due to The Telegraph’s careless and shoddy journalism.
References (Last Accessed on January 30, 2015):

[1] Telegraph Article: “Men Must Prove a Woman Said ‘Yes’ under Tough New Rape Rules”

[2] CPS and Police Focus on Consent at First Joint National Rape Conference

[3] CPS - What is Consent - January 2015

[4] Toolkit for Prosecutors on Violence against Women and Girls Cases Involving a Vulnerable Victim

[5] New Support for Male Rape and Sexual Violence Victims

Additional (Unused) Links of Possible Interest (Last Accessed on January 30, 2015):

1) My Piece on Rape Definitions and Statistics in the United States, the UK and Canada

2) My Earlier Post on False Rape Accusations

3) My Article on the “Yes Means Yes” Bill in California

4) Joint CPS and Police Action Plan on Rape - January 2015

5) Main CPS Web Page

6) Legal Guidance (of Which This New Guidance Is Just a Small Part)

7) Rape Protocol in Detail

8) Rise in Sex Offence Claims Triggering Legal Delays, Says Lord Chief Justice