The Latest in Rape Victim Blaming

by Nathalie O'Neill

In the newest chapter on horrifying indications of rape culture, a New Zealand defense attorney actually blamed the victim in a rape case for failing to keep her legs closed. It's bad enough when someone says something like this at all, let alone in an actual court.

Here are the exact words he used to try and convince the jury in his closing statement:

All she would have had to do was to close her's as simple as that. Why didn't she do that? The reason she didn't do that was because the sex was consensual, as easy as that.

Wait. Seriously?

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The lawyer, Keith Jefferies, was addressing the Wellington District Court in defense of George Jason Pule, who was found guilty last week of raping the 20-year-old woman after telling her he could help her get into a club where he worked as a bouncer to see her friends.

Jefferies said after the case that his comments were only made as part of his defense and did not reflect his personal views. Because the whole case revolved around whether the sex was consensual, Jefferies believed he had to make that comment. But the idea that avoiding rape is as simple as keeping your legs closed, and that the onus should be on the victim to prevent rape from happening in the first place, is what makes Jefferies' statement so problematic.

In response to allegations that the sex was consensual, crown prosecutor Geraldine Kelly explained:

No, she didn't fight back, she didn't scream her head off, she didn't go running into the street screaming "Rape!" But this isn't an American TV show. This is real life. She was scared, and she didn't want to make the situation worse.

Kelly's comments reflect an important element of rape culture. The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women estimates only 2 to 8 percent of rape accusations are false, yet survivors are met with disbelief way more often, apparently because they're not reacting the way rape victims are "supposed" to. It's almost a miracle Pule was actually brought to trial and convicted, given that only about 18 per cent of rape cases involving adult women result in a prosecution. Rape culture is still very much alive, and it's high time the legal system played its part in remedying this.

Image: mike cogh/Flickr, Ryan McKern