Rape: The real obscenity

Posted by Alexander Hay

Attitudes to rape are as barbarous as the crime

The aftermath of rape can be as horrible as the crime itself

Rape is a tricky subject, certainly for juries and definitely for lubberly politicians like Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke, who rather foolishly divided the crime up into ascending levels of nastiness, with date rape somewhat below the scale in comparison to 'serious rape'.

While he has been castigated for this and sentencing plans that grant absurd leniency to rapists in exchange for guilty pleas, it was hard to shake the feeling that he was the scapegoat for a broader range of sins.

To begin with, there are far more offensive and clueless things said about rape and they are, in fact, mainstream. There was no condemnation of the 3 in 4 women who believe that rape victims sometimes deserve what happened to them. Nor is there much call for challenging their lack of compassion for the victim – it seems men are kinder on both grounds.

That is because it's easier to blame a slightly gormless politician for having repellent, or unpolished, attitudes towards a serious crime than to admit we are perhaps more of a problem due to our attitudes and how they shape society's views in turn.

The flipside of this is that between eight and nine out of ten women wouldn't report a rape to the police. The shame, it seems, is more frightening than the attacker, who can proceed as before, safe in the knowledge that society will shun a rape victim as much as they will the rapists.

Slut Walks aside, the real issue is how rape is not entirely as stigmatised as it ought to be. The tone and nature of violence in all its forms, meanwhile, has become both more frequent and extreme.

Victim blaming is, of course, a big part of the British psyche, especially when bullies are involved, and there is no greater act of bullying than rape, nor demonstration of shallow physical power.

And as many conservatively dressed Congolese women, and not a few Congolese men, will tell you, rapists rape, and dress has little to do with the matter. Even more taboo is the issue of male rape, which again is under-reported and shrouded in shame and innuendo.

Where it is mentioned at all, it is in trivialising terms – the running joke of the male prisoner getting buggered in prison being a common trope.

It wouldn't be so funny if we knew that in the USA, the victims tend to be young, vulnerable minor offenders, or that their suicide rates are astronomical. In the UK, the crime is barely reported and often ignored or trivialised, yet many cases are said to happen each year.

The ultimate expression of this indifference, even malice, towards rape and its victims takes place in our courts. The fact remains that only 6% of rape cases lead to a conviction. Neither deterrence nor justice seem to enter the equation.

Naturally, it took a woman to really rub it in. Solicitor General Vera Baird claimed that 60% of those tried for rape were found guilty, which sounds impressive, until we remember that only 11% of rapes and attempted rapes are reported in the first place. Potentially, 94% of rapists get off scott free.

The reasons for this are manifold. The social stigma, rather inevitably, stops many from reporting what has happened. Police procedure remains both humiliating and callous.

The adversarial nature of the court system is also a factor – often it is the victim put on trial by the defence, effectively pilloried and shamed more than they already were. Entrenched attitudes also find themselves in the jury. Is it any wonder that so few women come forward? Meanwhile, dangerous sex offenders go free. Our attitudes are in fact endangering us.

Little wonder then that Ken Clarke is in trouble. Beyond announcing a potential privacy law, he has further earned the ire of the tabloid press for being 'soft on rape', even though many of its readers have, as it turns out, even more perverse attitudes to sexual violence than him. This hypocrisy not only renders us unseemly and corrupt, but does, in effect, mean we collude with rapists and further abuse their victims. We should be ashamed.

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Alexander Hay

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