The rape debate
Posted on May 23, 2011
I’m not going to dwell too much on what Ken Clarke had to say about rape last week, mainly because, let’s face it, that analysis has already been pretty much done to death.
All I will say is that although his comments were offensive, clumsy, outrageous and so on, and more so as they came from the Justice Secretary, someone who really should know better (and who should certainly have a better understanding of the current law than he displayed during the Victoria Derbyshire interview), I genuinely don’t think his bumbling attempts to explain why some rapists receive lengthier sentences than others warrant the calls for his sacking that have since ensued.
In fact I’ll go one further, and state for the record now that I think this kind of cynical, exploitative, bandwagon jumping (and this – and yes, that is me in the comments telling Harriet Harman exactly what I think of her record as far as “protecting rape crisis centres” goes) is not only unhelpful to the debate, it’s positively counter-fucking-productive.
What I would like to talk about though is the “rape debate” that Clarke’s comments have kicked off. A debate that, thanks to the wilful ignorance of some of those who have rushed to defend him, is not actually the debate Clarke ever intended his initial radio interview to provoke. Indeed, I think the Justice Secretary made it clear in his Question Time appearance that his intention all along had been to discuss the issue of an increased reduction in sentence for those who plead guilty at an early stage (from the current one third reduction to up to a half – a proposal which I’m opposed to incidentally, for those accused of rape and other violent crimes); and that’s still a discussion that needs to be had.
Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the proposals to reduce sentences, what’s happened instead is that an unpleasant and distasteful debate has now developed around whether or not some rapes are indeed “more serious” than others; one that has involved a significant proportion of Clarke’s so-called defenders trotting out some hoary old long-discredited rape myths.
Here for example, is Roger Helmer, the Conservative MEP for the East Midlands, writing on his blog on why “Ken on rape” was “badly phrased, but bascially right“and engaging in some charming victim blaming in the process:
“In the same way, let’s consider two rape scenarios.
The first is the classic “stranger-rape”, where a masked individual emerges from the bushes, hits his victim over the head with a blunt instrument, drags her into the undergrowth and rapes her, and the leaves her unconscious, careless whether she lives or dies.
The second is “date rape”. Imagine that a woman voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naïvely expecting merely a cuddle. But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says “Stop!”. The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on.
In both cases an offence has been committed, and the perpetrators deserve to be convicted and punished. But whereas in the first case, I’d again be quite happy to hang the guy, I think that most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence in the second case. Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.
My two scenarios also give the lie to one of the popular over-simplifications trotted out by the feminist tendency in these cases: “Rape is always about power and control and domination, never about sex”. In the first case, that may well be true. In the second case, it is clearly not true.
Let me make another point which will certainly get me vilified, but which I think is important to make: while in the first case, the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.”
And here’s Richard Littlejohn writing in the Daily Mail, revealing his complete ignorance of what actually constitutes rape:
“I’ve no doubt that the victims of the most violent attacks, such as the poor woman who upbraided Ken Clarke on the wireless this week, carry their trauma with them for the rest of their days.
But, equally, many women who have had a brief sexual encounter of which they are ashamed simply shrug it off and get on with their lives. They don’t scream ‘rape’, they chalk it up to experience and vow to go easy on the chardonnay in future.“
For more on that piece read Angry Mob’s post – Richard Littlejohn on rape
And here’s Peter Hitchens bravely saying what no one else has allegedly been brave enough to say (as if!) – Some rapes ARE worse than others….there, I’ve said it:
“I am sick of the censorship that surrounds the issue of rape.
So I shall defy it. Of course all rapes are bad. But some rapes are worse than others.
The extension of rape, to cover any situation where a woman says she has been raped, is a huge difficulty for a fair legal system that relies on actual evidence before deciding guilt.
Even for saying this, I know quite well that I will get raging, lying abuse….
…Revolutionary feminism, which regards all men as predators and sees the married family as a sordid prison, has scared most politicians, most judges, most journalists, most civil servants – and most people – into accepting its nasty dogmas.
Oddly enough, Mr Clarke would normally be an ally of this cause. But ultra-feminist zealotry is bitterly intolerant of any disagreement, however gentle or thoughtful. Nothing short of total submission will do…..
…But in this case rape does not usually mean what most people think it means – the forcible abduction and violation of a woman by a stranger. It means a dispute about consent, often between people who are already in a sexual relationship.”
No Hitchens, it really fucking doesn’t. Rape, whether by a stranger or by a person known to the victim, is not just simply a “a dispute about consent“: it’s a violation, of bodily autonomy, and of trust. And as Rape Crisis point out: “There is the belief that being raped by a known man is not as traumatic as being raped by a stranger.
Our experience shows us that this is most often not the case. Women invest a lot of trust into the relationships they form with men and if this trust is abused it can leave the woman doubting all relationships, past, present and future.”
Mind you, considering Hitchens is the one who argued only a few years ago that “a rape victim who was drunk deserves less sympathy“, we really shouldn’t be surprised by the continuing wankery he comes out with on this subject.
The most disturbing comment I’ve seen so far though since Clarke’s disastrous radio performance last week, is this piece from the Inspector Gadget blog. Bear in mind when reading this that this is a blog written by, and commented on by, serving police officers:
“As a serving policeman, there are several things I am not allowed to talk about.
There are plenty of operational secrets we cannot discuss, but I’m not referring to those. I’m talking about the taboo subjects. The ‘detection’ rate for rape is one of these.
It’s very frustrating to sit and listen to pundits talking about the low number of rape convictions in Court, when as police officers we all know what lies behind these poor numbers.
For example, I couldn’t possibly tell you that out of every ten rapes which are reported in Ruraltown, at least eight turn out to be nonsense. To be fair, eight out of ten of everything reported at Ruraltown police station is nonsense, why should rape be any different?
I couldn’t tell you that of the remaining two, an existing alcohol-fuelled chaotic drug-based relationship is a factor in at least one of these, and ‘consent’ is probably present in the other to some degree. In my whole service I can only recall three stranger rapes and a half a dozen where consent was withdrawn at the time and he carried on. But I can’t tell you that.
I can’t tell you that most of the adult rapes reported in Ruraltown represent either the latest in a series of allegations designed to score points against an ‘ex, lies designed to fend off an angry parent when a curfew has been missed or a defence mechanism when a jilted ‘partner’ discovers an infidelity
A rape once reported, even if withdrawn later, is in the system and a failure to bring someone to justice, even if it never happened, shows up in the ‘detection’ rate. The ‘detection rate’ is low because the number of rapes which actually happen is low. I couldn’t possibly say that though.”
Seriously, when you see attitudes like these, is it really any wonder that so few women report the sex crimes perpetrated against them to the police? (for a more balanced view from a serving police officer, read PC Bloggs’s Shh – it’s the R Word)
What all of these pieces (and others) reveal is a complete ignorance of the impact rape can have on its victims, or to be more precise, of the different ways that survivors respond to rape. Because these responses (see here for wikipedia article on rape trauma syndrome for example) are not dependent on the presence of violence beyond the violence of the rape itself, and can affect the victims of so-called “date rape” just as ‘seriously’ as they can the victims of so-called stranger rape (and equally, it should be pointed out that neither are these responses necessarily universally experienced by all rape survivors).
And that’s why I would never attempt to argue that any form of rape is more ‘serious’ than another, because no one can say for sure how any individual is going to respond to being the victim of a rape. Some people, like Suzanne Moore, may well be able to say “What happened defines me less than many other events in my life“, but as she also acknowledges: “That’s a choice, perhaps, that not everyone can make.”
Indeed it’s not.
The Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline is open from 12-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm every day of the year: you can call them on 0808 802 9999