Justice, and the perception of justice, is something that can be very personal. Many people will see acts, or offences, or outcomes of criminal or civil cases and overlay their own experiences and views on them. Similarly, this must happen to those people who have been asked to act as jurors. Additionally, we have a whole host of people in the UK who are charged with seeing justice delivered - police officers, lawyers, judges, Police and Crime Commissioners. They will also use their own experiences. I want to look at the reaction to two very different situations which are surprisingly closely linked. Our system of justice works on the basis that we believe people will be as fair as they can be. But can we really trust that still?
I am no legal expert. I am sure that any lawyers who read this will have a field day with my lack of reasoning. Having said that, I still find myself wondering what drove the jury in the Ched Evans case ( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/ched-evans-rape-verdict-footballer-cleared-not-guilty-a7361701.html ) to their decision. To recap the points of the case that are NOT in dispute. His friend chatted up and took an extremely drunken girl back to a hotel room.Once there, his friend phoned him, and he travelled to the hotel, got a key card for the room, went in, had sex with the girl and then left via a fire exit.
Initially, this was sufficient evidence to have Ched Evans convicted of rape - a decision he appealed, on the basis of new evidence. What new evidence could possibly throw light on what appears a straight forward case to the uninitiated? Surprisingly, it was evidence that aimed to make the case about the previous actions of the victim rather than the accused. The new evidence was that the person in question had, in previous encounters, consented to sex with other men whilst drunk. It wasn't evidence about the night in question, or the act itself, but rather evidence that this girl could have consented AND had done so previously with other men. That was sufficient for Ched Evans to be found not guilty. Not only that, but there has been an outpouring of support for him and talk of how his life has been ruined.
I can just about understand how today's world can be confusing for young men. Ironically for someone who uses the internet to share his thoughts, I can see how corrupting an influence the internet can be. Recently a friend of mine had to post the following message on her Facebook account
"Just a friendly reminded that if you're a left winger and I accepted you as a friend on here based upon our similar political affiliation PLEASE don't inbox me being a perv because I'm really not interested - I mean seriously - even if you look like Daniel Craig and have the political principles of Jeremy Corbyn. I'm here for friendship / comradeship / solidarity - not sex.
I'm getting REALLY pissed off with the amount of men inboxing creepy stuff and I refuse to stop accepting people based upon the actions of a few because we're socialists and socialism is all about being social! But let's keep in mind there's a line and let's try not to cross it! "
People are confused about what the social conventions are, particularly on the internet. At the same time we now have unfettered access to free pornography and the impact that has on our view of what is normal. But I defy anyone to tell me that travelling to a hotel because you believe a girl is there who is so drunk she will have sex with anyone can be seen as positive behaviour. We have to assume the court is correct. But even if it was consensual, how many of you would be happy to hear that your brother, or father, or son, or friend had behaved that way? So how exactly do people now see him as an innocent victim? Whatever the answer, the court ruling and parts of public opinion are clear - if any blame can be attributed to the victim (real or not) then they shouldn't receive justice through the courts.
To contrast that I want to also talk about another news story that has occurred recently. The assistant chief of police in Leicestershire said that people who don't lock doors and windows shouldn't have crimes investigated ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3841248/Police-chief-claims-burglaries-shouldn-t-investigated-victims-leave-WINDOWS-open-12-months-telling-officers-ignore-attempted-break-ins-odd-numbered-houses.html ). So his argument is that if you are a victim, and you could have done more to prevent the crime, in other words you carry some of the blame (by making it easier for thieves) you shouldn't get access to justice. As you can imagine, this caused uproar. Even Tory MPs rushed to condemn his comments as victim blaming.
I find this incredible. I don't agree with the Assistant Chief by the way. But I find the hypocrisy sickening. We may as well write the rules and laws down as "if any blame can be attributed to the victim (real or not) then they shouldn't receive justice through the courts - but only where the victim is a woman". We really can't allow this to continue. This level of horrific, damaging, harmful patriarchy simply shouldn't still exist. A system where the past behaviour of a victim (any victim) is considered as part of the crime surely can't be right? Particularly where this seems to be much more used when it comes to rape and sexual assault. When was the last time you heard a murderer get away with a crime because their victim wasn't very nice for example? Quite simply justice must be available to everyone in the same way. It is one of the cornerstones of a mature democracy. But all the available evidence shows that we don't have that, and in some cases, we don't want it.