When A Magistrate Says An Alleged Rape Victim Has 'Buyer's Remorse', It's Not Just Vile, It's Dangerous
Buyer's remorse is something suffered by people who spend a bucket-load on a new computer, only to walk past the shop window the next week and find it is now 20 percent off. It's not something suffered by women who are raped.
Unless you ask controversial Melbourne magistrate, Richard Pithouse, who told a woman that the alleged criminal assault against her was nothing more than her changing her mind the morning after, the Herald Sun reported on Tuesday.
There is no doubt that this comment is absolutely reprehensible. Vile, in fact.
To imply that a woman who is an alleged victim of rape simply ‘regretted her decision’ after having a few too many drinks and stumbling home with a stranger is insensitive, potentially re-traumatising and unnecessary.
A gently worded sentence or two from the judge about facts needing to be established would have been more than enough.
It is hard enough as a woman to report rape, assault or harassment and be taken seriously. In Victoria, recent statistics show we see barely three percent of accused attackers being imprisoned, despite global evidence suggesting only about four percent of claims are found or suspected to be false.
A lot of things are at play that make statistics like the above possible. We live in a society where the culture has allowed women to be shamed when they are the victims of rape and assault, rather than shaming the perpetrators of violence.
This is further compounded by the fact that we do not have enough women in positions of power, especially in the justice system.
In our courts, the burden of proof lies with the victim -- in other words we make it incredibly difficult and traumatic for people who are victims of sexual assault to simply go through the process of seeking a conviction.
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We are constantly slut-shaming, questioning and demeaning women who are brave enough to come forward with allegations and actively pursue criminal convictions. Why, we demean women who call out sexism and bullying in our parliament, a democratic institution that is meant to be a reflection of the people.
Judges have an incredibly important role to play in law making in our society. While it is our elected officials who make laws, judges have the power to interpret the meaning. Which is why it is so important that our judges, at both a state and federal level, reflect the values of our society and interpret the laws accordingly.
However, unlike our politicians (who, to be fair, often leave something to be desired) our judges are instead appointed by the Attorney General (in states and territories) and the Governor General (for federal judges). In other words, while we get to pick the people who make our laws, we don’t get to pick the people who decide what those laws mean and how they should be applied.
This week, there have been calls for Richard Pithouse to be sacked. And fair enough -- this is not the first time he has made insensitive, demeaning comments, or acted brashly in a court of law. Once, he was late to court and refused to listen to a rape victim’s statement because of the time he had lost.
But unlike our pollies, judges cannot be replaced. They do not have a minimum term (although, federal judges must retire upon their 70th birthday), and the public cannot vote them out if they act, well, contrary to our beliefs and attitudes.
In order for a judge to be removed, an act of parliament must be made by both houses in the same sitting -- in Victoria’s case, the legislative assembly and the legislative council. At that point, the Attorney General can choose to remove them. It’s incredibly rare -- but it might be time to consider it when judges aren’t living up to today’s standards.