Rape is rape

This is a piece that I posted on Liberal Democrat Voice originally.

In recent days, on both sides of the Atlantic, there have been not one, but two expressions of the kind of attitudes on rape you had hoped died with the Dark Ages.

First, a US Republican Senate Candidate, Todd Akin, suggested that most women do not become pregnant after being raped as their body can, and I quote, ‘shut that whole thing down’.

Then Britain’s own George Galloway, while offering his opinions on the Julian Assange case, took it upon himself to assert that certain acts of sexual violence are nothing more than ‘bad manners’, and that having sex with a woman who is asleep, and therefore unable to give her consent, could not be considered rape ‘by anyone with any sense’.

On one level, these comments are so self evidently ridiculous we could reasonably roll our eyes, whisper to ourselves ‘what an idiot’ and click on the next ‘most read’ story on our news website of choice.

The wall of disgust which has blown up online and in the media points to how unacceptable and marginalised comments like these have thankfully become.

But as marginal and unacceptable as they are, they have an effect.

The backward, misinformed myths propelled by comments like these do real damage.

They matter because these men hold, or might hold, public office which means they are not just expressing an opinion but are attempting to convince others of their views. These men seek to be law makers, and yet they proclaim as truth factual, legal and biological inaccuracies about rape.

They matter because of the chilling effect it has on vulnerable, often shell-shocked victims of sexual violence, who fail to report rape because they are scared they will be mocked, smeared or dismissed by people such as Mr Galloway.

And they matter because of the signal they send to perpetrators. What signal does this send to them? That it’s not rape as long as it’s in warm bed as opposed to down a dark alleyway? That some rapes are less serious than others, and that even after the event women have coping mechanisms to get on with it?

We will rightly dismiss them both as fools, but their comments matter because they infiltrate the debate on sexual violence. They reinforce outdated prejudices. They allow the reopening of a debate that should long ago have been won: there is no difference between ‘sex without consent’ and ‘rape’ and that is that. And ultimately they give legitimacy to those who would wilfully see violence against women swept under the carpet. Talking about rape in a manner that is both casual and callous only hampers the fight against it.

Luckily, I know that Mr Galloway is in a tiny minority inside and outside parliament in this country, and that Mr Atkin’s comments will in all likelihood cost him his election.

That we must continue to fight these falsehoods in 2012 is saddening but emboldening. I am glad that the backlash is as loud and as damning as it is. Long may it continue, because the biggest risk we run is thinking it’s no longer needed.

3 thoughts on “Rape is rape

  1. At a meeting the other week and heard that the London Metropolitan Police do not routinely ask the gender identity or sexuality of survivors of rape and sexual assault as part of their investigation. Is this the same in all police forces in the UK?

  2. I’m sorry, Lynne, but I’m going to go against you on this. If you say, “rape is rape” then we have to also say, “Well , OK, but is it rape?”

    I’m going to leave Pat Ryan out of this. I have made my opinion about his statement clear on Lib Dem voice.

    The Galloway statement is made in the context of the A case. George Galloway says in the recording I have listened to on the web that he thinks the case is a “set up”. That means that he thinks the statements of the “victims” are either not true or that they are true but that the victims did not at the time seriously object to A’s behaviour. That colours his view on the “rape”.

    Lets leave any question of motive for charging aside and look at the accusations as if they were true. Does A’s behaviour constitute rape?

    Its clear from the statements as quoted in the record of the appeal that both complainants consented to sex with A several times. The accusations against A are that the consent was conditional on him using a condom. In the first case he is accused of physically breaking the condom during the third sexual episode. In the second case he is accused of deliberately initiating sex while the complainant was half-asleep so as to have sex without a condom- the complainant realised he was not wearing a condom after penetration but consented to sexual activity continuing until ejaculation.

    In English law as it currently stands, rape depends on consent to having sex, (without deliberate drugging, the victim being unconscious or asleep, deception as to the nature of the act or deception regarding the persons participating) . Any other factors (such as whether one participant will pay the other, or the HIV status of either of the participants) have to be taken separately.

    The European directive on which the extradition was based lays down that rape is an offence for which the accused must always be extradited. But it doesn’t define rape. In some countries of the EU rape depends purely on lack of consent but in others some force or threat must be involved.

    The appeal court allowed A’s extradition on the grounds that the Swedish appeal court had decided that the offence as laid out in the complainants’ statements could be rape in Swedish law and that that was enough. They also said that the complainants’ statements were sufficient to establish a case of rape in English law but with the greatest respect, in my opinion they were wrong. Its important to remember that we havent heard from A and we don’t know what he has to say about the accusations apart from denying them. All argument so far has been on the basis that the accusations are true.

    I am not happy with the appeal court’s decision on extradition. I think that submitting to a directive where extradition is mandatory for undefined offences is a serious breach of individual rights. I also think its arguable that with a case I perceive to be weak, extradition is disproportionate.

    But I also realise that with any offence (including theft, assault, manslaughter and murder) there will be cases where the situation is borderline. I am not in favour of rape. In fact I would like to import the concept of “duty of care” into English criminal law so that, for example, when an inebriated person is specifically put into a person’s care that person can be guilty of rape even if the victim consents or cannot remember objecting.

    What I would assert is that it is arguable that A’s case cannot be rape; and it is perfectly legitimate to argue that it is not rape, and that he should not be extradited for it; and that those who do so argue are not anti-women and do not live in the dark ages. And I suggest that this would be true even if A was not liable, were he to be imprisoned, to be extradited for a completely separate offence to a country where the rule of law has been in part abandoned and where he would be first tortured and then executed.

  3. “And ultimately they give legitimacy to those who would wilfully see violence against women swept under the carpet.”

    The phrase “violence against women” is one invented and used by privileged middle class feminists who seek to sweep violence against men under the carpet. The phrase became fashionable once feminists myths about women suffering more violence than men were thoroughly debunked and it is misused to attempt to frame issues such as domestic violence as gender issues and to attempt to deny help to men. By constantly using this phrase Lynne is doing exactly what she accuses others of.

    Lynne too is a “fool” who reinforces “outdated prejudices”, but unlike those more conservative types guilty of the same, there isn’t yet enough of an outcry nor enough people in government challenging sexist man-haters such as Lynne.

    We still have “dark ages” type laws and disgusting attitudes to male vicitms of rape, including in the very departments in government supposed to be helping such people! We’re so backwards in this country that female rapists still are not defined as such in law, but not a single word from Lynne on this, nevermind the promise to do something about it.

    Lynne when are your government going to sort out something as fundamental as the very definition of rape to stop protecting female perpetrators and trivialising the crimes they commit? Why won’t your government even refer to the most terrible female child rapist as such, even after their guilt has been proved beyond any doubt? Such thinking is just as backward as anything highlighted in the above article.

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