Every year there's outrage over the comments of "great radical men" who think rape is often consensual sex gone a bit wrong. Today it's George Galloway who's just been sacked from Holyrood Magazine. Last May it was English Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. Sadly the arguments don't change – here's my Scotsman column.
Debate around Ken Clarke's controversial remarks about rape last week has focussed on two related questions – are all rapes equally serious and (therefore) should all rapists get the same punishment? It strikes me this overlooks a more important question. What is the "classic" rape? Amidst the plethora of labels dragging Ken Clarke further and further into the mire during his radio interview, the Home Secretary's mention of "classic" rape was perhaps the most important. Never mind that "classic" is normally used of esteemed and valued things like classic cars, classic cigars and classic races. Let's focus on what Ken Clarke probably meant. The "classic" or "typical" rape conjures up a grown woman, out late at night, walking home alone, dragged behind bushes by an unknown assailant. Or -- given the amount of drink consumed by young men and women on a night out -- the "typical" rape might now seem to be "date rape" – often regarded even by liberal commentators as consensual sex gone wrong. Or -- given the early sexualisation of girls -- maybe the "typical" rape now appears to be a 17 year-old boy having sex with an underage girlfriend who cannot give consent because of her age. Is it one of these situations that springs to mind when the phrase "classic" rape is used? If it is then pity the girls being raped regularly over a period of years by family members or friends. That isn't "classic rape" is it? It's child abuse or sexual assault. It's horrible, un-thinkable – and yet it happens every day in Scotland. Those raped girls are unlikely to report because they are scared, feel somehow complicit and don't think they will be believed. Sadly, they may be right. Those looking for "classic" rapes are busy looking elsewhere. Pity also the wives and partners raped repeatedly within violent, dysfunctional relationships. The law was only changed to outlaw rape in marriage in 1982 (1991 in England). To put that bluntly (and maybe crassly) when Gloria Gaynor's "classic" survivors song reached the charts -- "I will survive" -- a wife was still viewed as the legal property of her husband in Britain. Of course most marriages are intimate loving partnerships where the law has never been needed to protect either party. But Scotland's domestic abuse statistics suggest many relationships do involve habitual violence, dominance, coercion – and rape. Why do bidie-ins, long-term partners and wives hesitate to report partners for rape?
"Non classic" rape victims sit alone and un-supported right now partly because politicians and commentators believe they know what constitutes a "real rape." Girls, wives, biddie-ins and trafficked sex-workers don't fit that definition. And they know it. So many turn to Women's Aid, Rape Crisis and groups who will believe them – groups whose funding is now being cut. Women see the priorities of our society all too clearly. A Reclaim the Night march in Edinburgh this Saturday (28th May) has been rescheduled because of "safety fears." What's the problem? Well the demonstration – highlighting women's right to walk the streets -- will pass pubs where men will be watching Champions League football and a rugby match. Peace-loving fans should be as outraged as women protesters by Edinburgh Council's decision. But then it's always easier to persuade women to change their plans than to get men to control themselves. Rape must be the only crime regularly categorised by the age/behaviour/relationship to the accused of the victim. There is no "classic murder" or "classic assault" because the public accepts the huge diversity of situations in which assaults occur. Rape is alone in having a few mythical "classic" occurrences. The un-challenged use of this phrase supports unhelpful and inaccurate stereotypes about rape which drive its most vulnerable "non-classic" victims further and further away from help.