By Dr Yvette Russell, Senior Lecturer in Law and Feminist Theory (University of Bristol Law School)
Monday last week saw the announcement of a new national policy requiring criminal complainants to sign consent forms authorising detectives to access data in their mobile phones. Conveyed in a joint briefing by Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave and director of public prosecutions (DPP) Max Hill QC, the new policy is designed to ‘ensure all relevant lines of enquiry are followed’ and that any material that undermines the case for the prosecution or assists the case for the accused is detected and disclosed to the defence. While the forms are not to be used solely for sexual offence complainants the use of the forms in these cases was a major focus of Monday’s briefing. While the CPS noted that not all sexual offence complainants will be asked to divulge digital data it is likely, given that most sex crimes occur between parties who are known to each other, that a high proportion of those complaining will be asked to sign a consent form and hand over their phones and the data therein.
Following the robust objections of many rape survivors’ advocacy groups to the new policy, the CPS and police late last week invited victims’ groups to discuss their concerns about the new consent form. Over the weekend, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners took the unusual step of publicly objecting to the introduction of the consent form, labelling it a risk to public confidence in the criminal justice system. (more…)
The last few weeks have seen the revelation that Harvey Weinstein, renowned Hollywood producer of such award-winning films as Gangs of New York, Pulp Fiction, and Shakespeare in Love, moonlighted as a prolific sexual predator. A significant number of women have now made public complaints of sexual harassment and assault against Weinstein, including well-known Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, and Angelina Jolie. Weinstein is also reportedly facing allegations of rape. His wife, Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving him, the company he co-founded fired him, and police on both sides of the Atlantic have opened investigations into him.
The media discourse that greeted the revelations has been characterised by astonishment at the scale of the alleged offending, and the failure of those making allegations to have come forward sooner. In fact, there is often evidence of a long line of complaints against men who are finally revealed in mainstream media to be chronic sexual predators. In Weinstein’s case there is evidence of three decades of prior complaints by women, at least two of which were reported to police. The public disclosure of these allegations was repeatedly thwarted by the use of non-disclosure agreements, the alleged ‘killing’ of news stories on the topic, and the habitual capacity of those who knew about it to ignore it. In the case of Jimmy Savile in the UK, believed to have preyed unimpeded for 60 years on around 500 vulnerable victims as young as two years old, a 2013 HMIC report found at least seven complaints against Savile in police records since 1964. (more…)
In recently published work I engage in a philosophical and psychoanalytic excavation of legal discourse on (and in) the rape trial. In this post I briefly summarise my key claims arguing, while I do, that legal scholars must diversify the theoretical tools they draw on in confronting issues of social justice.
Much feminist scholarship on rape asserts that the law has reached a best practice plateau and justice for victims is now being held back primarily by the aberrant ‘attitudes’ of criminal justice actors charged with implementing the law. Those attitudes, it is argued, militate against the best intentions of law makers charged with stemming burgeoning attrition rates. Attrition refers to the phenomena – not anomalous in the criminal justice system, but particularly marked in cases of sex crime – whereby alleged instances of sexual violence drop out of the criminal justice system. This occurs at multiple points, the most notable of which is the first point where a victim makes the decision to report to police. (more…)
On July 13, 2016 Nottinghamshire police became the first force in the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime. Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic’. In practical terms, this means that in Nottinghamshire police can record reported incidents such as wolf whistling, verbal abuse, taking photographs without consent, and using mobile phones to send unwanted messages with an additional ‘flag’ or qualifier on their incident log as hate crime. It appears that the move is largely symbolic, as gender animus is not a relevant aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing under relevant UK ‘hate crime’ legislation, and does not create any new criminal offences. However, the initiative has been supported by the force working in partnership with the Nottingham Women’s Centre and has involved the specialised training of officers to better identify and respond to the public harassment of women by men.
The announcement last week of the initiative was met with the predictable level of teeth gnashing and cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’ characteristic of any policy announcement addressed to countering gender inequality. While the move may be largely bureaucratic, it does present an opportunity to look again at the spectre of criminalisation in our time and consider a related question: What is the role of the criminal law in regulating gender (in)equality, and what should it be? (more…)