Visiting historian Prof Joanna Bourke urges more awareness
about sexual violence. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Despite rape and other sexual assaults having low
conviction rates, a London-based historian is optimistic this
situation can be changed and offending reduced.
Prof Joanna Bourke, author of a book titled Rape, A History
from 1860 to the Present (2007), said in Dunedin this week
that rape and other sexual assaults were issues for men and
society, not just for women.
Her optimism came partly from her perspective as an
historian: ''I can see that things have changed and ... they
can change again.''
Born in Blenheim, New Zealand, she is now based in Birbeck
College, at the University of London.
She was in Dunedin this week to give the annual Michael King
Memorial Lecture, on ''Sexual Violence in the Past and
She said conviction rates for rape and other sexual assault
cases prosecuted in British courts had fallen from about 33%
in the 1970s to about 5% this decade.
The recent equivalent New Zealand figure was about 9%. She
said in the UK today, and in New Zealand only a small
percentage of rapes reported to the police later ended in a
''Given the huge proportion of rapes that are never even
reported in the first place, this is damning evidence that
something is terribly wrong.''
Having interviews with sexual assault victims conducted by
police officers with specialised training had been '' a
really good step'', and there was scope for further
Many myths and double standards involving rape also needed to
be exposed, including the way women who had been drinking
were judged much more harshly than male drinkers, if a sexual
assault subsequently took place.
And Prof Bourke (47) urged much more public awareness and
open discussion about the issues involved.
Men had a major role to play in such discussions, and should
not fear saying something ''politically incorrect''.
It was also crucial that funding was maintained for Rape
Crisis centres and other key networks, including those
working with men.`It's something we need to keep the pressure
on with our governments.''
And more people needed to become aware of sexual violence.
''A lot of people don't understand.''
Such assaults had happened to ''a lot of people'' over the
''It just damages all of our lives.''