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UK: New poll finds a third of people believe women who flirt partially responsible for being raped

The poll, 'Sexual Assault Research', published today (21 November) as part of Amnesty International's Women's rights's campaign, shows that similar 'blame culture' attitudes exist over clothing, drinking, perceived promiscuity, personal safety and whether a woman has clearly said 'no' to the man.

For instance, more than a quarter (26%) of those asked said that they thought a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than one in five (22%) held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners.

Around one in 12 people (8%) believed that a woman was totally responsible for being raped if she'd had many sexual partners. Similarly, more than a quarter of people (30%) said that a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk, and more than a third (37%) held the same view if the woman had failed to clearly say so to the man.

Changes in the law relating to consent mean that an alleged rapist must show that they had taken reasonable steps to ensure that the other person had consented to sex. In this respect the poll exposes a gap between the law and public attitudes. Amnesty International UK Kate Allen said:

"This poll shows that a disturbingly large proportion of the public blame women themselves for being raped. It is shocking that so many people will lay the blame for being raped at the feet of women. The government must launch a new drive to counteract this sexist 'blame culture'."

The poll also shows that the vast majority of the British population has no idea how many women are raped every year in the UK, with 96% of those polled saying they either didn't know the true extent of rape or that they thought it was far lower than the true figure.

Only 4% of respondents even thought the number of women raped exceeds 10,000 per year when the true figure is likely to be well in excess of 50,000:

  • Six out of seven people either said they didn't know that only 5.6% of rapes reported to the police currently result in conviction or believed the conviction rate to be far higher.
  • The average estimate was of a 26% conviction rate, nearly fives times higher than the actual rate.

Kate Allen added:

"In addition to uncovering disturbing attitudes over women being 'to blame', this poll also reveals the scale of public ignorance of the unacceptably high numbers of women being raped every year in the UK as well as the dreadfully low conviction rates. Our government has an international duty to prevent this gross human rights violation yet it's clear that the government's policies on tackling rape are failing and failing badly.

"These findings should act as a wake-up call to the government to urgently tackle the triple problem of the high incidence of rape, low conviction rates and a sexist blame culture."

South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre (SERICC) Director Sheila Coates said:

"This poll shows that people don't realise how common rape actually is and that there's little understanding of how many people rape crisis groups actually support.

"Groups like ours are picking up an ever increasing number of helpline calls and waiting lists are growing. Services for rape victims and women's specialist sexual violence services are in crisis.

"Those needing counselling face waiting lists of up to one year and this can only get worse as more rape crisis groups close or cut back services due to a lack of funding and government support. This situation has forced victims into a post code lottery when trying to find support."

Amnesty International's poll comes ahead of a new call on government later this week from a coalition of women's rights organisations, Amnesty International and the TUC for an integrated government strategy to combating violence against women in all its forms in the UK, including sexual assault.

Amnesty International is also conducting local opinion polls on rape awareness and attitudes and calling on local politicians and community leaders to support the campaign for an integrated strategy to combat violence against women.

Later this week (Thursday 24) Amnesty International is also unveiling a new audio-visual art exhibition in the Bargehouse gallery on London's South Bank, where artists and the public have contributed to a set of 'imaginings' of what a world without violence against women would mean and what it would look like.

Note to editors ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,095 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 7-9 October 2005. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council.

  • The British Crime Survey 2001 indicates that there were at least 47,000 female victims of rape in England and Wales in 2000.

    This figure did not include Scotland or Northern Ireland and did not take account of legislation (Sexual Offences Act 2003) broadening the definition from anal/vaginal penetration to include oral penetration.

  • Home Office Research Study 293: A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases (February 2005).

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