Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Serious, proper rape"

It's time to start tearing your hair out when your own Justice Secretary - a former lawyer - reinforces the rape myths and dangerous stereotypes that contribute to the UK's woeful failures to convict rapists for their crimes.

The Conservative minister, Ken Clarke was outlining possible proposals to halve prison sentences for criminals who plead guilty early, including rapists. In an interview on BBC Five Live, it was put to him that many rapists would therefore be out of jail in 15 months as the average sentence in the UK for rape is five years.

Clarke insisted that figure "includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15 year olds... A serious rape with violence and an unwilling woman - the tariff is longer than that."

That even the Justice Secretary believes "date rape" is somehow less serious than "stranger rape" depressingly underlines just how ingrained misconceived attitudes towards rape are.

And incidentally, the sentencing average does not include teenagers involved in underage sexual activity. That is not regarded as rape by UK law.

So once again the image of the knife-wielding stranger brutally dragging a passing woman into a dark alley to violate her is held up as being the "classic" rape. When in fact, it is the rarest type of rape.

Is it also fair to say stranger rape is more horrifying than that carried out on a woman by someone she has already met? No. All rape is horrifying and has an appalling effect on the victim, however it was carried out and by whom.

So, should a rapist's sentence be halved if he is "considerate" enough to confess so his victim doesn't need to participate in his trial? No. Since when did an admission of guilt make the crime less serious for the victim? Instead, how about sentences being doubled for rapists who insist on pleading not guilty and are then convicted? That would be far more fair.

As for the issue of violence - some rapes being seen as less "serious" because the victim wasn't left with visible cuts and bruises - then the Justice Secretary and anyone else involved in the legal system should consider this:

1. The very act of penetrating an unwilling victim is an act of violence.

2. If violence in addition to penetration is carried out against the victim, it would make more sense to add Actual Bodily Harm or Grievous Bodily Harm to the charge sheet, rather than consider a rape perpetrated without extra violence as being somehow less "serious".

After a media outcry, Clarke later claimed he had been misinterpreted, saying "all rape is a serious crime".

But before that, in an interview on Sky News, Clarke complained: "Rape has been singled out as an example [of the proposals under discussion] mainly to add a bit of sexual excitement to the headlines."

That the Justice Secretary equates rape with sexual excitement is breathtakingly crass. His remark that talk of rape was being used as a means to spice up a news story is beneath contempt. And underlines once more his ignorant assumptions about the reality of rape.

I only pray any proposal to allow rapists to have discounted sentences in return for an early guilty plea will be well and truly scotched. I leave the last words on that subject to a rape victim herself:

I will still have to live with the fact my rapist is laughing at me, live with the memories etc. It is in effect a long sentence followed by life on parole. I am the victim not the culprit, I would have to be the culprit to have rights. That is the society we live in, that is what our legal system gives us.

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