Culture of victim blaming dead-legging sexual violence prosecutions

Equality Commission says shaming of rape victims sending negative message to those fearing having to report sexual violence

The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) has added its voice to the chorus of criticism in the acquittal of a police officer accused of raping a female colleague in the Msida police station.

The NCPE pointed out that the court judgement had placed considerable attention on the alleged victims’ sexual conduct and personality, leading to the the accused being acquitted on three of four counts, including that of rape, and found guilty of sexual harassment. 

“Beyond this specific case, questions about past or present sexual behaviour, in the context of court cases dealing with rape and other forms of sexual violence, only serve to humiliate the alleged victim and dismiss her/his version of events, without shedding any light on the occurrence of the crime or otherwise,” the NCEP said.

“When this happens, not only is the victim turned into the accused, but such irrelevant considerations, coupled with sexist tropes, can easily lead to perpetrators walking free. It is to be underlined that non-consensual sexual act is a crime regardless of the victim’s sexual experience, lifestyle and personality traits.”

The NCPE warned that the reality of sexual violence and the fear and helplessness this creates in victims leads to most cases remaining unreported. The NCPE, which can investigate cases of sexual harassment in employment, education and the provision of goods and services, witnesses first hand the difficulty for victims to report a case of sexual harassment.

“Many persons who experienced sexual harassment do not report their case due to fear of the perpetrator, fear of not being believed, fear of public shame and fear of consequences on their employment and private life,” the NCEP said.

“If institutions do not actively prevent victim blaming and shaming, they will be sending a very negative message to those deliberating whether to report or not sexual violence. Both the alleged victim and the accused have a right to due process, and everyone – the police, the Courts of Justice, the prosecution and the defence – has a responsibility to ensure that re-victimisation of persons reporting sexual violence is not part of this process.”