One Judge's Consoling Message to a Convicted Rapist Captures Rape Culture at Its Worst

One Judge's Consoling Message to a Convicted Rapist Captures Rape Culture at Its Worst
Source: Fikr
Source: Fikr

Anger abounds in the latest example of how skewed societal understandings of sexual assault result in problematic and damaging precedents.

This case comes courtesy of a judge in East Yorkshire, U.K., who sentenced a man to five years in jail for rape, only to publicly sympathize with the convicted, noting that he seemed like a pretty nice guy, all things considered.

Lee Setford, a 29-year-old bricklayer from Beverley in East Yorkshire, was found unanimously guilty by a jury of his peers by the Hull Crown Court, according to the Hull Daily Mail. But this didn't stop Judge Michael Mettyear, the honorary recorder of Hull and the East Riding, from offering something close to consolation to Setford by saying, "I do not regard you as a classic rapist. I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape."

So what is this non-classic rape Mettyear is referring to, exactly?

According to the Hull newspaper, on Feb. 23, a 24-year-old woman became severely intoxicated while out with friends. A police officer later verified that she was so drunk she tripped on the road, injuring her nose. The woman and her friend reached Setford's house in Beverley in that condition. 

                                                                   

Image Credit: Facebook

The victim passed out in Setford's house, only to eventually awake to him having sex with her. In a strange twisting of the fact, Mettyear implied that Setford's assault was more about misdirected romantic advances than blatant rape.

"It was almost out of the blue that two girls turned up late at night, very, very drunk, at your home," Mettyear said. "The victim was the worst for drink out of the two of them. She was completely out of it. I accept that evidence. She was a pretty girl who you fancied. You simply could not resist. You had sex with her."

Obviously, the fact that the woman was drunk and came to his house is not in any way consent, as Setford tried to plead to the court. But the judge's parting remarks on the case are even more disturbing. 

Image Credit: Global Post

Is Setford any less at fault because he doesn't fit the (outdated) image of a rapist on the road in a dark alley? Are only men who go "searching for women" a threat to society? This seriously misguided pseudo-logic ignores one very important misconception about sexual assault: The vast majority of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim and close to 40% are committed by a friend or acquaintance.

Yes that's right, Judge Mettyear, your notion of a shadowy predator is not only irrelevant, it's also widely inaccurate.

Telling a man that not being able to resist a "pretty" girl and accepting an intoxicated invitation to come to someone's house is just as problematic. Rape is rape. That is all.

As Jezebel's Isha Aran noted:

Rape isn't a lapse of control or restraint, like accidentally letting a dog loose or eating jellybeans when you're on a diet. It is assault.

A man "in the dock" for such a "serious offences" isn't sad. It's justice. (Note: Setford had a previous conviction for battery, so I don't know to what "good character" the judge was referring.)

Estimates vary, but on the lower end are statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which notes that in 2010, females reported 270,000 rape or sexual assault victimizations. And this doesn't take into account the rape of men and boys. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control puts the number much higher. In the U.K., the BBC notes that while the number of reported rapes has been rising "steadily" since 2008 with law enforcement dropping cases at an alarming rate: up to 30% in some regions.

This is exactly why Mettyear's sentiments are not only poorly thought out, but also dangerous. As Liz Kelly, chairwoman of the End Violence Against Women coalition, told the BBC, there is still a "culture of scepticism remains in some police forces. Our member organizations know how deep disbelief and victim-blaming goes in institutions and communities."

Victim-blaming, coupled with a culture that encourages the "boys will be boys" narrative is a toxic mixture. But it is sadly not uncommon. Remember the 2013 case in Louisiana, where officials attempted to argue that a 14-year-old girl in juvenile detention had consented to sex with her 40-year-old guard?

On social media, news of the verdict in East Yorkshire spread quickly, a good sign:




The damage of Mettyear's verdict may be harder to undo in his hometown. Despite a previous conviction for assault, Setford may only have to serve half of his sentence, meaning he could be released by 2017.