Possible controversy ahead. OK, deep breath – and please keep reading – I was raped once. It wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it didn’t ruin my life. But that isn’t the point. As it happened, I didn’t go to the police – because I was young and unsure of myself, and because it was the early 1980s, and I didn’t have bruises or witnesses, and I went to the man’s house of my own free will (I was supposed to be valuing books for him), and I didn’t think the police would be interested. But if I had gone to the police, and he had been prosecuted, the fact that he didn’t ruin my life would have been irrelevant. You shouldn’t do that because you shouldn’t do it, however the victim feels about it.
Every time I read a report of a trial, and there is evidence given of how it has ruined the victim’s life, or the lives of the victim’s family, I get twitchy. Because, OK, it sounds fine, you have done a terrible thing raping this person or murdering this person, and you have caused all this grief, and that should be reflected in your punishment. BUT – where does reason take it from there? Does it follow that if, as in my case, the victim copes well, or maybe, in the case of a murder, no-one like the victim much, or knew them well, and no-one misses them – what then? Does that make the crime not so bad? Are we saying, in fact, it’s OK to murder unpopular people, that people who cope well with trauma can be raped with impunity? Of course not, no-one would say that. But the fact is, the act is what must not be allowed. The after-effects are not the business of the law. People have said and done things to me that went far closer to ruining my life, because they had a specific effect on me. I’m not asking for those people to go to jail. The law should be concerned with what the perpetrator did, and not, frankly, how anyone feels about it.