As long as stereotypes of wicked women persist, we can never be safe

Kelly Grehan
© Yupa Watchanakit/

‘Cry rape’. A phrase that exists purely to speculate that women – and let’s not pretend this is a gender neutral term – make up having experienced a sexual assault for attention, revenge or some other reason that makes no sense. Given the appalling low rate of rape convictions in this country, it seems bizarre that some people believe the country is full of devious women just waiting to trick an innocent man into a situation where he unfairly serves a prison sentence.

It is odd that we don’t have phraseology specifically pertaining to people falsifying allegations of any other crimes. Presumably, there are people who falsely report muggings or burglaries but our language does not cover that. There is no phrase of ‘cry robbery’ or ‘cry burglary’. The Home Office estimates that around 3% of rape allegations are false. Despite this, if you type “false allegations” into Google, a list of pages aimed at men who are falsely accused comes up. I could not find any data or help on false allegations of other crimes.

Crimes that women are more likely to be victims of than men seem to provoke very different reactions to other crimes. I have yet to see a social media post about women suffering domestic violence that isn’t followed by a comment that ‘men can be victims too’. It’s odd that posts talking about how older people are targeted by scammers don’t seem to be accompanied by comments that ‘young people get scammed too’.

Stories about women being killed by their partners often feature comments about the perpetrator being under pressure at work, being worried the woman would leave or even that the victim’s ‘nagging’ drove him over the edge – despite this being in contrast to everything we know about domestic homicide and the circumstances in which it generally occurs, which is in the context of abusive relationships. Our justice system perpetuates the idea that female victims need to prove themselves; rape victims going through the court system know they will face an ordeal that would never be placed upon victims of other crimes.

If you are the victim of a robbery or an assault, your personal history is not likely to be relevant to the treatment you receive or to ascertaining the perpetrators guilt. Assault victims are not asked to explain their previous interactions, such as what age they first had a fight, what they wore when they went out or a history of all the fights they might have previously been in. The idea is ludicrous and offensive – yet victims of sexual assaults are routinely asked what age they first had sex, for their sexual history and about their motivation when they chose their outfit that day.

We all know that women who are victims of crimes will face a trial of their own to explain their actions pre and post whatever happened to them happened. Over the last few weeks we have heard the phrase #NotAllMen accompanied by spirited defences of men by men, who appear to feel victimised by recent attention paid to the epidemic of violence against women.

Of course not all men are violent or sexual predators. But all women are expected to behave in a certain way if they expect to be listened to when they are a victim of crime. And all women are somehow expected to atone for the failings of any other woman who might have previously found themselves involved with the criminal justice system, whatever the reason they were there. And all women know that they must amend their conduct lest they be victim of a crime, in which case their actions and choices will be judged in a way no male victim could expect.

I implore everyone to think about whether, when they hear that a woman has been the victim of a crime, their first word is ‘why’ – as in, why was she alone? Why was she with him? Why was she there? And if it is, do you do the same when you hear a man has been attacked or mugged? Misogyny runs through our approach to women who are victims of crime, with stereotypes of wicked women continuing to permeate. As long as women are held responsible for the actions of all women and all men, we can never be safe.

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