Lawyer Claims Rapist “Misread the Situation”

In Scotland, a man was convicted of raping a woman who fell asleep on his couch. She was unconscious throughout the assault, and woke to find herself partially undressed. Craig Byars admitted to the rape and has been sentenced to four years in jail.

But in spite of that confession, his lawyer is still making excuses — assuring us of what a good guy Byars really is, and that raping a sleeping woman is the kind of thing that can happen to the best of us!

Defence counsel Shahid Latif said Byars apologised for the consequences of his actions on the victim.

He said: “I have to stress that what happened was a gross error of judgement on his part. He misread the situation.”

He misread the situation.

The tendency for defenses of a rapist to continue even after he has been convicted or has confessed is something that gets under my skin at the best of times. There is seemingly a compulsive desire by every rapist and those close to him to ensure that the world knows he’s actually a good person. First of all, whether or not he’s a “good person” is incredibly irrelevant to the subject of whether or not he raped someone. Secondly, as we live in a world where only bad, bad men, evil, slimy subhuman creatures, are considered to be capable of raping, the insistence that raping someone was out of character for this particular rapist, a simple mistake, an error in judgment, seems to me to be the same thing as saying “yes, so he raped a woman this one time! But that doesn’t make him a real rapist.”

But this specific defense strikes me as a particularly awful and apologist way of making an already awful and apologist argument.

See, here’s the thing: it’s impossible for one to “misread a situation” to the point of raping someone. If one does not ensure that they have consent from a person prior to engaging in sexual contact, or ignores an explicit lack of consent from that person, they have not misread anything. They have intentionally failed to read the situation at all. Not even attempting to read a situation, or reading it and disregarding what it says, is not the same as misreading. Misreading a situation is asking your date, “Would you like to go back to my place?” and feeling surprised when they say “no.” It’s not purposely dragging them there once they have said no. And it’s not taking them there without telling them where you were going first.

What makes the statement particularly egregious in the context where it was made is the fact that Craig Byars’ victim was asleep. One cannot consent to sex, or to anything else for that matter, when they are asleep. Period. And so, there is absolutely nothing to “misread.” Unless, of course, you’re the kind of person who tends to read unconscious women as perfect sexual assault targets.

What Latif’s statement up above suggests is that one can, in fact, consent while they are asleep. That Byars’ decision to rape an unconscious woman was a little bit understandable, because certainly there are cases where “having sex” with a sleeping woman is okay. It suggests that complete and total lack of consent is a gray area rather than clear bright line. Saying that Byars misread the situation is the same thing as saying that on some level, he had good reason to believe that what he was doing was not rape. It fully reinforces the idea that women exist in a permanent state of sexual consent until that default consent is withdrawn.

This is what happens when we live in a world where many people still fully believe that when a woman says no, she doesn’t really mean it. Right now, we’re still, after decades, fighting an uphill battle to get people to accept the basic notion that no means no, that you don’t get to decide under which circumstances another person’s no is valid and worth accepting, and that your personal opinion of what a person “really meant” doesn’t have the right to overrule what they actually said. We’re still living in a world where certain women are perceived as unrapeable, and where their no’s are seen as counting for absolutely nothing. And we’re living in a culture that tells men that when a woman pushes you away, that’s just reason for you to try harder.

How, in the kind of society that has just that little regard for women, where their actual words do not matter, can we be surprised to see people dismissing their lack of words as also meaningless? How can we expect that a sleeping woman’s right to not be assaulted will be recognized and respected as obvious and inherent when the right of an actively protesting woman to not be assaulted is still seen as up for contention? If no doesn’t even really mean no to so many people, how can they possibly think to wait for a yes? Thinking that no doesn’t mean no is the very definition of believing that women exist in a permanent state of sexual consent. So of course, if this is your belief, one can potentially misread a sleeping woman as existing purely for his sexual use, and as saying “I’m here, so you might as well remove my pants and have sex with me.”

This view of women and consent is epitomized in one particularly chilling quote that Byars gave to police when they asked him if he had raped the victim:

Byars, 34, later claimed to police that he had consensual sex with the woman at his then flat above the Ghillies Lair pub, in Great Southern Road, in Aberdeen.

But when asked if the woman could have been sleeping or dozing when he had sex with her he replied: “Yes she could have been and I’ve never clicked.”

I hope, I really, really hope, that Byars was simply giving the most pathetic and ill-considered lie possible to police in response to that question. Because if he was being honest, if he pays so little attention to the women he is sexually touching that he doesn’t even notice when they are unconscious, I truly dread to think of just what else he has failed to notice, and how many women he has raped while they were awake.

0 thoughts on “Lawyer Claims Rapist “Misread the Situation”

  1. Jennifer Drew

    I firmly believe Byars like so many men does not even consider women have bodily autonomy instead they all consider it is their right to have sexual access to any woman as and when they wish. Byars like so many men who claim ‘but I didn’t rape her’ does not view women as autonomous beings but instead are simply masturbatory objects, which is why raping a sleeping woman becomes just ‘a misunderstanding.’

    The UK’s legal system presumes all women are in a constant state of ‘consent’ because women rape survivors always have to prove 110% they did not ‘consent’ to man/men raping them. This is why the focus is always on the actions/clothing/sexual history etc. of female rape survivor never the predatory male. Even better of course would be for a female rape survivor to have three independent male witnesses who were present when a male(s) raped her in order to confirm woman is not an innate liar or seeking to take revenge against ‘an innocent respectable man.’

    The BBC report stated ‘Byars had sex with the 22 year old woman.’ This in itself implies rape did not occur. Correct terminology is Byars was charged with raping a sleeping woman and subsequently convicted of rape.

  2. gemma

    Um, Cara. Sorry, but everytime I send an email to you, another email is sent straight back to me saying that it couldn’t be delivered. I’m so sorry, but I need to post it down here. Is that okay?

    I recently read this short article in the mX, a free Austalian newspaper that is handed out at Central Station, and it has to do with the Polanski case.

    “Call for sex case closure

    The victim in the Roman Polanski sex case has filed a court motion calling for charges against the film director to be dismissed.
    Lawyers for Samantha Geimer, who was 13 when Polansi had sex with her in 1977, said Geimer had suffered health problems after being hounded by media since Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland last month.
    She now lives in Hawaii with her husband and children.
    “Between Samantha and her counsel, they have recieved close to 500 telephone calls from media around the world seeking a comment.” the filed motion read.”

    I was disgusted at how they used the word “sex” as though it was just that, sex. I want to write to them and tell them that this upset me very much but I don’t know how to phrase it. Can you please help me with this?

    -Gemma Lee

  3. Anna

    Ahh, yes. I forgot every time I fall asleep, I’m really saying ‘fuck me’.

    And so I live my life sleep-deprived and scared whenever I stay at a friends or go to a party or do anything that involves me being asleep round a male, because I am scared of things like this happening and then the bastard going ‘wasn’t my fault, I misread your signals!’

    I hate the world.

  4. Anna

    in fact, an amendment. I’m not scared of ‘things like this happening’, I’m scared of ‘people that do these things’, because it seems to be that if good people can have a ‘lapse of judgement’ and ‘misread the signals’ then people I am friends with are just as likely to do this to me as anyone else. Thanks Byars, thanks also to your filthy lawyer, who should probably be in prison with you.

  5. SunlessNick

    I’m scared of ‘people that do these things’, because it seems to be that if good people can have a ‘lapse of judgement’ and ‘misread the signals’ then people I am friends with are just as likely to do this to me as anyone else.

    Which is the flip side of the impression they’re trying to create: what they want is the idea that, as Cara said, it’s just an unfortunate choice, like it was bad luck for him that he committed rape, and thus kinda understandable, hell he’s all but the real victim here; but they can’t do that without claiming that any man could “be so unlucky.” Like the serial rapist, or serial killer, who says everyone’s really like them deep down – this guy is no different from that – the only difference is in how many men find comfort in the idea that it might be true.

  6. NoLongerSilent

    He DID misread the situation. He thought he had a right to her body because she was there and he wanted it. He thought the lack of her consent was unimportant. He thought that he could rape her without getting caught.

  7. M

    I read this article earlier today, and I have to say my favorite part is this lovely argument:

    “Lord Brailsford told Byars that he had admitted “a very serious matter” but had shown remorse and had saved the victim giving evidence by pleading guilty.”

    Really? He “saved” her giving evidence that she never should have had to give in the first place? I’m sure her testimony wouldn’t have put him in a bad light or anything. Good thing this guy is so generous and altruistic.

    I don’t think her not speaking in court is such a big gift that it cancels out a rape, but apparently some people do.

  8. gravyrug

    It upsets me that my initial reaction was relief that Byars actually got sentenced to any prison time at all. Too often this sort of case gets thrown out, or reduced to time served or community service.

    “Misread the situation” indeed.

  9. preying mantis

    About the only way you could conceivably “stress that what happened was a gross error of judgement on his part” and insist that “he misread the situation” and not be a complete waste of skin is if the case involved a woman who was, say, a sexsomniac and he didn’t know it and had no reason to suspect it. Given that the criminal justice system practically breaks an ankle in its haste to cut people in those situations loose, I somehow doubt that it’s the case here.

  10. Prudence

    Oh my god, it’s such a fanciful argument I wish I could believe that a court would not have given it the time of day, but I know from studying criminal law that judges/juries are still prejudiced in favour of the fact that men can’t help sowing their oats.

    How can having sex with someone who is asleep, when they were asleep to start off with be a “gross error of judgement”, what was it? One snore for yes and two snores for no??

    @NoLongSilent, you are spot on when you say “He thought that he could rape her without getting caught.” – that’s exactly it. That was his error of judgment, that he thought he could rape with impunity, surely?

    I suppose if to get rape treated the same as any other crime, we have to accept that there can be mitigating circumstances and we also have to accept that one crime does not make an out-and-out villain. Fair enough. But I think it’s the case that he knew he was committing a crime on the base line, but without the aggravating factors of violence or coercion. These considerations should be purely for the sentencing stage. Was a crime committed – yes or no? Yes. Then ask how serious it was. It’s like people lose the ability to think logically with rape because these two steps get mixed up. And really it’s the fact that consent, and indeed belief in consent, is a defence. But it has to be “reasonable” belief doesn’t it?!

  11. Acey

    My husband sexually assaulted me in my sleep four times. Twice with the baby in the bed. I pushed him away, hit him and told him “no” all four times. When I first met him, I told him how important consent was to me.

    But he still did it those four times. He even ignored my responses the other times. He admits that he even knew it was wrong and that I wouldn’t like it. And did it anyway.

    I try not to think too much about how he might have done it more than four times. That there may have been times when I did not wake up.

    Thank you for drawing attention to sleep assaults. There is almost nothing in Google, except for Marcella Chester’s abyss2hope write-up on me from last week.


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