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Courting Trouble Can Be Seriously Awkward

25/04/2016 17:05

Violence, rape and sexual exploitation is a bigger threat to the health of European women and teenagers than cancer. Two women die a week in Britain at the hands of their male partners and a billion of the world's women will be beaten up or killed by men during their lifetime.

If I have any strength as a writer it's putting down on paper the way women talk when there are no men around. Outraged at the treatment of women in rape trials, I wanted to address this issue. But how? As my only commandment as an author is "Thou shalt not bore", I decided to set my new novel, Courting Trouble, in the world's first mother/daughter, barrister/solicitor, two-person, boutique-feminist law firm, where they only take on women's cases. This allowed me to have a lot of witty, female banter and odd-couple comedy to cushion the more harrowing details of a rape case, which is the spine of the story.

Researching the true rape case for my novel, Courting Trouble (in which a grandma is so sure her granddaughter will not get justice, she takes the law into her own hands and shoots the rapists in the testicles) I read many court transcripts of rape trials. Defence barristers frequently portray the female victim as "delinquent" and "manipulative". Another described a child as "sexualised and dangerous". He said she was "glowing with hormones" and "very confident about her body's power and movement" when she "seduced" a 50-year-old bloke. He said she "played the game well" and was, he claimed, a danger to men.

He was describing a girl who was 11.

"Are you a victim or just a naughty girl doing grown-up things you bitterly regret?" or "Wasn't this just rough sex that got out of hand?" are typical questions. "Isn't it true that you were in as much control of the situation as the men? You were like a spider -- predatory in all your actions, totally sexually experienced, dressing older than your age and dancing provocatively?"

Dancing is not against the law, I believe, unless you are living under the Taliban, but time and again teenage girls in rape trials are accused of being voracious Jessica Rabbit-type temptresses who've seen more ceilings than Michelangelo and are "asking for it".

Just compare that to murder for a moment. No one ever thinks: "Maybe the murder victim wanted to die, perhaps it was a consensual death?"

My novel makes the point that it doesn't matter if you are a 16-year-old virgin, a high-class sex worker or paralytic and lying naked on a boyfriend's bed - the blame lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. The book also emphasises the fact that judges need to stop the kind of aggressive cross-examination that leaves the victim in shreds and explain why between 75 to 95 per cent of rapes are not even reported. Until then, it is the way sexual assault cases are handled in Britain which remains on trial.

Only 6.4 per cent of rapes recorded by the police resulting in a conviction (the figure is 34 per cent in general criminal cases) and more than three quarters of cases of reported sexual crimes against 16 and 17 year olds result in no police action against the perpetrator with only a tiny proportion resulting in a successful prosecution.

Strangely, certain male comedians think it's incredibly amusing to make "jokes" about all this. Whenever I turn on the telly, some chippy stand-up is thrusting testosterone-ed misogyny down my throat.

"The cops said men who rape will be named... Cool, can I have 'Nightstriker' or has that been taken?" bantered some weedy bloke on a comedy panel.

In 2012, American comedian Daniel Tosh was in mid-flow of a whole series of rape "jokes" when a female member of the Hollywood audience called out that rape jokes are never funny. The comedian apparently retorted: "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys, right now?" a remark for which he has since apologised "all the out-of-context misquotes aside".

Whenever women complain the stock reaction from male comics is that we can't take a joke. Comedian Louis CK's response to the backlash against the aptly named Tosh was to say that comedians and feminists are "natural enemies. Because stereotypically speaking, feminists can't take a joke, and comedians can't take criticism."

The book has had some great reviews, including five-star ratings on Amazon; won glowing quotes from Jo Brand, Lorraine Candy, June Sarpong, Ruby Wax and other feminist role models, and is in TV development. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that many bookshops have been reluctant to stock it.

My publisher explained - and I'm saying this as casually as an imminent cardiac arrest will allow - that some shops felt it was "inappropriate to be funny about rape".

If only my desk had an emergency airbag to cushion the blow so I could thump my head on the table in despair, for the humour in the novel is not about the trauma of rape. The joke is about the ridiculousness of the system that is supposed to deliver justice for victims which is why I am supporting The Children's Society and their Seriously Awkward campaign.

Kathy is supporting The Children's Society and their Seriously Awkward campaign with its call to make changes to the Policing and Crime bill which is currently going through Parliament. The charity has put forward two main priority amendments including extending the power of the police to give the same protection to 16 and 17-year-old victims of sexual exploitation as younger children. The second amendment calls for therapeutic treatment for teenage victims of sexual abuse. Research shows that only 14% of health trusts currently give priority mental health support to teenage victims of sexual abuse. The charity is urging the public to support these amendments by visiting their website at: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/act

Kathy Lette's novel Courting Trouble is published by Black Swan and is available in SOME good bookshops.

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