19:16, January 06 259 0 theguardian.com

2018-01-06 19:16:03
Serial rape cases deserve answers, not just a shrug

However sickening it was to hear about John Worboys’ crimes, attacking at least 12 women in the back of his cab (with many more alleged victims coming forward), back in 2009 the serial rapist ended up behind bars with an “indeterminate sentence”.

Considering the ongoing travesty of how few rape cases in the UK make it to court, never mind the farcically low number of convictions, this could be quietly considered to constitute justice.

Well, not any more. Worboys is perceived to have served adequate time for his crimes, having presumably presented a convincing case to a parole board behind closed doors.

As both men and women (including the women attacked by Worboys and not warned of his impending release) furiously questioned the decision, the point was made that Worboys had served the correct time for his actual convictions – as opposed to all the other allegations made against him, but which never made it to court.

However galling it might be, the law couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be twisted to accommodate strong public opinion. A valid point. However, it didn’t cover all the issues raised by Worboys’ release. For one thing, an argument could be made in cases of high public interest for parole boards to give satisfactory explanations as to how they arrived at their decision. Explain how a serial rapist, such as Worboys, could tick all parole board boxes and be deemed fit to return to society. After all, historically, there have been high-profile cases where defendants were not released, or even allowed to apply for parole, as it would result in a public outcry. Granted, I’m thinking of notorious homicides, but what exactly was deemed so heartening and reassuring about the progress of this particular serial rapist?

There’s also the fact that, at the time of the trial, some women came forward with allegations against Worboys that didn’t make it to court, as it wasn’t deemed to be in the public interest. Similarly, while, back then, “indeterminate sentencing” sounded as though it benefited plaintiffs, this now seems debatable. Now it sounds as though it would have been better for more allegations to be heard, and, potentially, more convictions won – indeed, there’s talk of further cases being brought against Worboys.

Then there’s the wider picture. The impression that, somehow, in the midst of all this, feminism itself stands in the dock. Not all feminism, just the sort that produces shrieking unreasonable harpies who never accept the facts. But from where I am standing, most accept that the law should be upheld, just as they believe in the principle of prison rehabilitation, and decry all thoughts of mob justice. What many people, feminist or otherwise, seem to want is an explanation of how it is still possible that a rapist such as Worboys, guilty of multiple assaults, could be lawfully released in that amount of time.

That’s the point – not that Worboys hasn’t served his time, but that he has, and that this is somehow deemed sufficient. This not only insults the women attacked by Worboys, it insults all women, indeed all decent human beings. It says that rape, even these premeditated multiple assaults, are… not such a big thing. It says, oh yeah, society will punish sexual assault, but with such a low rate of cases coming to court, and convictions, it can only ever look glaringly inadequate.

And when people question decisions such as Worboys’ parole, they will be told that this is the law, when really this situation demands a further question, the same one that’s always there with sexual assault cases – is the law doing enough, or should the tariff for sexual assault be increased? Worboys was a cab driver, then he was a convicted rapist – now it’s as though he has morphed into a human motif for society’s ongoing attitude of indifference to sexual assault.