The history of the component of corroboration as an element in proving that the crime of rape has occurred, is deeply rooted in the assumption that rape victims falsely accuse the alleged perpetrators of rape. This social condition finds legacy in the general sexual suspicion of women.
Essentially, as a society, we have this idea that women are these crazy, gold-digging humans, who cannot be trusted when it comes to sex. These women we have conceived in our minds hold so much sexual power over men, that men find themselves helpless around them, and more specifically, towards their sexual prowess.
This is the innate assumption when we advise women to not walk alone at night, or not to dress in a certain way. It essentially presupposes that if men see a woman, drunk, at night on her own, or looking somehow vulnerable, he will be so enticed, aroused and more importantly tempted, that he will not be able to control the urges provoked by the sight of this drunk fiend.
This presupposition almost paints women as the problem behind the crime of rape. It perpetuates what we call rape culture, and informs a position that in order to do away with the crime of rape, attention has to be on the victim. This assumption is not only unfounded and quite frankly ridiculous, but it is also extremely dangerous. And yet, it is one we have internalized even so, systematically and institutionally, reporting on rape as illustrated by the number of rape victims who have reported having been raped.
Here is what the problem is, right?! When a house is burgled, we do not interrogate the level of security it’s resident’s had. We don’t after the burglary, give the advice, reinforce the locks on your door, and sleep in shifts to avoid being burgled again.
We also don’t say things like, don’t play your TV so loud next time, to avoid the thieves. When a crime of burglary is explored in Court, the issues considered do not include the character of the people stolen from. There is a universal acknowledgment that a person who burgles is the one under scrutiny. That it is their behavior in a given instance, therefore, that should be looked at carefully.
The treatment extended to rape survivors on the other hand, differs tremendously, from that accorded survivors of other crimes. And perhaps that is how we ended up where we are. With the internalization of rape culture and the conditioning that if it is someone you know, who is accused, then it has to be an exaggeration on the survivor’s part.
In an article titled Corroborating the Evidence
“The general Constitutional rule that an accused is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty seems to have been translated, as far as the complainant in a sexual [violence} case is concerned, into one of being a liar until proven credible.”
Some of the reasons for the requirement of corroboration of the complainant’s evidence in sexual cases, as cited by Quansah, are: the frequency of false charges of rape; the emotion raised in the trier of facts by a charge of rape; and the difficulty in disproving an accusation of rape.
On the first point, no substantive evidence has been adduced to show that women are worse liars than men in this regard, or that they lie more in cases of rape and other sexual assault cases. The second factor is so inconsequential though. If the general legal position is that women falsify rape charges, then the general assumption is that those looking at the facts, are conditioned similarly, to approach such cases cautiously. This is perhaps the basis for the extremely low convictions. On the last point, as a matter of fact, and regard had to the statistics presented in the article on Who Are Rapists, 19% of convictions in cases that are before Court evidences that the converse is actually correct.
Quansah’s article which ends in a proposition that the practice or rule of requiring corroboration in rape cases be repealed. At that time, the section defining rape limited it to being as against ‘females’. This position has since been amended. However, there are clear indications that the crime still disproportionately affects women and other vulnerable communities. It is therefore noteworthy, that despite the change in the wording of the Penal Code, it still, as Quansah concluded, violates the rights of women on the bases of their sex, in that it is discriminatory.
There are various possible reasons why the number of reported rape cases increases annually. One of them is that more women are speaking out. The other, however, is that rape is occurring more frequently. One of the reasons is the low convictions because of archaic rules like that on corroboration. Further, in considering solutions, the victim cannot surely be the starting point. Please let your children read this.