Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.
Another reason why extension of abortion rights to Northern Irish women is so important: the widespread, appalling attitude that NI rape victims (the ones who, you know, don’t have automatic access to abortion) can be responsible for their attacker forcing himself upon them.
Last month (2008), Amnesty International interviewed 715 NI students across four Ulster campuses. The students were questioned on their attitudes to the treatment of women in dating, sexual relationships, and their attitudes to rape and sexual assault.
– 44% of students thought a woman who was drunk was partly or totally responsible for being raped.
– 46% of students thought that if a woman had been flirting, then she was partly or totally responsible for being raped.
– If a woman failed to say ‘no’ clearly enough to her attacker, then 48% of students thought that she was at least partly responsible for being raped.
– 30% of students thought that if a woman was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, then she was partly or totally responsible for being raped.
– 33% of students thought that a woman known to have had (to have had!) multiple sexual partners was partly or totally responsible for being raped (this one really horrifies me… so because she’s had several, past, consensual relationships, if a man forces her to perform a sex act on him, or forces himself on her, it’s her own fault?).
– 47% of students thought that if a woman got raped while walking alone in a dark or dangerous area, she was partly or totally responsible.
All these figures are significantly higher than Amnesty’s 2006 poll of 16-18 year old UK mainland students, and to a 2005 poll of British adults. With such harsh attitudes to rape, with such endemic cultural hostility to victims of rape, it becomes even more important to ease the experience of NI women rape victims; some of whom will be pregnant and seeking abortion. Sarah Palin may attest that if her daughter was raped, she’d expect her to carry the baby to term, but her attitudes have no place in the UK. All women deserve better, but Britain has a chance to give these women – the women of Northern Ireland – the rights they deserve, now.