After John Worboys had been found guilty of drugging and attacking 12 female passengers in his black cab, the judge thanked 75 women for coming forward with evidence. Now that Kirk Reid, pictured below, had been found guilty of stalking and sexually assaulting 25 women, the police say they believe he is behind at least 71 attacks that are known to them.
Both men had highly distinctive methods of selecting their victims, and many women reported incidents over a number of years before the two men were charged. The Metropolitan Police admit that their specialist Sapphire team, assembled to deal with sexual crime, should have identified the predators much earlier. Certainly the reputation of the Metropolitan Police has been tarnished by these contemptibly inadequate investigations. But the problem does not stop there.
Somehow, society manages to express its revulsion against sexual assault by stressing how awful it must be for a man to be accused of such a heinous crime, rather than for a woman to undergo it. I wouldnt even know Peter Bacons name, for example, if the Daily Mail had not this week trumpeted it in an effort to argue once again that it is invidious for an innocent man accused of rape to be named, while his alleged victim remains anonymous.
Actually, that practice is invidious, but not for the reasons that the Daily Mail argues. It is awful that the law is obliged to acknowledge that one of the psychological consequences of being the victim of a sex attack is a quite unwarranted feeling of shame, and awful that this highly debilitating injury is then used as propaganda by people who appear to believe that accusations of rape are something that women routinely manufacture in order to humiliate men.
With a rape conviction rate of just 6 per cent, few women can be unaware that it is not a particularly effective technique. Im not saying that false accusations of rape never happen. But an unproven allegation of rape is by no means always the same thing as an unjustified slur on a persons good name.
A few months back I was talking to a friend who had just completed jury service in south London (where most of the above attacks took place). He had sat for a trial in which a 15-year-old girl had alleged that a middle-aged man has sexually assaulted her on an underground train by pressing his erection into her thigh. The defendant, who had been picked up after the girl had described him to police, was found not guilty. He said that the girl must have felt only his bulky mobile phone.
What sort of man presses his crotch into a girl at all? Even on a crowded train, people have the option of turning their bodies away. Having little regard for the comfort or reticence of others is not a crime, and in this case, it was one persons word against anothers, not least because the police had failed to secure the CCTV footage that might have helped them to find witnesses.
Yet when I suggested that the man could well have been guilty, all those involved in the conversation were horrified. What can you do, said one man, a lawyer, when a person has a hammer over his head, and his life could be ruined? Im not in favour of finding people guilty when the evidence isnt there. But the implication was that since the hammer had fallen on the girls head anyway, a lack of justice for her was far less important.
Unfortunately, especially in cases involving sexual assault, the person telling the truth is sometimes disregarded, while the person who is cynically lying is championed. In those cases involving Reid and Worboys, it is easy to see that this attitude is far too pervasive. The complaints of women were not treated with sufficient seriousness, even when mounting evidence was there to be pieced together. No wonder so few women feel it is worth it to report assaults to the police at all.
By contrast, the woman who took Mr Bacon to court woke up in bed with him one morning, and decided she had been too drunk to have consented to intercourse. …