Petition To Investigate Rape Case Judge Receives More Than 10,000 Supporters
The Debrief: A Change.org petition, calling for a millionaire who was accused of raping an 18-year-old to be re-tried, has received over 10,000 supporters
Yesterday everybody was talking about the fact that a Saudi millionaire was found not guilty of rape in a UK court, after using the old ‘I tripped and fell’ defence.
Ehsan Abdulaziz, 46, a millionaire property developer, was cleared of raping a teenage girl at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday after claiming that he accidentally tripped and fell on her.
After this news broke yesterday morning, the story has been the top trending topic on Facebook. A Change.org petition has also been set up demanding ‘a full re-trial and an investigation’ into the judge’s ‘finances and conduct’ as well as calling on Karen Bradley MP, the Home Office Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, to look into the case. So far the petition has gained over 10,000 supporters.
Abdulaziz was accused of forcing himself on the 18-year-old-girl, who had slept on his sofa at his Maida Vale flat, after a night of drinking at central London club Cirque Le Soir.
According to The Daily Mail, in court it was revealed that while at the club Abdulaziz invited two women – aged 18 and 24 – over to his private table, before inviting them back to his flat at the end of the night. He then had sex with the 24-year-old, whom he already knew.
The complainant fell asleep on the sofa. She later told police that she woke up in the small hours of the morning to find Abdulaziz on top of her, forcing himself inside her.
His defence claimed that she had put her hands on his head and pulled him towards her. ‘I’m fragile’, he said, ‘I fell down but nothing ever happened, between me and this girl nothing ever happened.’
He also said that his penis might have been poking out of his underwear when he fell on the teen, after having sex with her friend in the bedroom. When asked, ‘Are you in the habit of meeting a girl for the first time at a club and taking her back home?’, Abdulaziz said, ‘It never happened in my life, I always respect ladies and I have a sister myself.’
The Daily Mail also reported that both his semen and DNA were found inside the young woman, but he said it was possible he had semen on his hands from having sex with the 24-year-old earlier that evening and the jury found him not guilty.
The paper also reported that during the trial, the judge took the rare step of allowing 20 minutes of Abdulaziz’s evidence to be heard in private, which is something the petition flags up as an issue. Giving evidence in private is a ‘special measure’ that’s usually reserved for vulnerable witnesses for their protection in cases involving sexual offences.
But what real change is an online petition going to affect in this instance? Change.org told us that they don’t comment on specific petitions, the Home Office said it does not fall under them (although one of their ministers is named directly) and the Ministry of Justice directed us to the Independent Judiciary and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The CPS declined to comment, but a spokesman for the The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office said:
‘The JCIO was set up to investigate the conduct of judicial office holders. It makes clear on its website that it can only investigate complaints about matters of personal conduct. It cannot consider complaints about the outcome of a trial, judicial decisions or judicial case management, which can only be challenged through the courts.’
Whether this petition means anything for the not guilty verdict of the case or not, we do have processes in place in this country for complaining about the conduct of a judge via the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office.
Change.org is an open platform where anybody can start a petition but, just like a mass protest in the street, it doesn’t necessarily affect change – it’s a show of support for a certain cause or concern about a certain issue. It’s difficult to know whether or not these online demonstrations, often called ‘clicktivism’ or ‘slacktivism’, are listened to by policy makers, decision makers or law makers.
We must assume Abdulaziz is innocent of all the charges brought against him – he’s been found not guilty by judge and jury. However, the implications of the conduct of this case and the questions it raises do extend far further. In particular, when it comes to the stigma that still surrounds rape and difficulties that many victims of rape face when reporting the crime.
Dr Fiona Vera Gray, Operations coordinator at the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre told us: ‘It is incredibly difficult to report any form of sexual violence that you have experienced to the police, particularly where the perpetrator is in a position of power. Survivors have to go through a lengthy process, often with a disappointing outcome.’
On the fact that this particular case has received so much attention and caused such public outcry she said, ‘What we are seeing now is that the public are starting to take a stand against the use of rape myths to defend or justify acts of violence, showing survivors that society is on their side.’
According to the most recent figures from the Crown Prosecution Servce, despite the fact that we saw a 25% increase in the number of reported rapes and the number of defendants charged in 2013-2014, the number of convictions – people found guilty of rape – actually fell.
Whether or not anyone’s listening, whether or not anything comes from today’s petition, two things are for sure: firstly, over 10,000 people think it should be looked into and secondly, regardless of the verdict of this particular case, the way we deal with rape and understand consent still leaves a lot to be desired.
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