Rape has been very much in the headlines this week. From Ken Clarke's ill-judged remarks that some rapes were "more serious" than others, to the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund charged with raping a member of staff at the hotel he was staying in.
Not surprisingly, media attention has also spilled over from straight reports of the situations to comment and editorial pieces. What some of those pieces have shown is how ill-informed members of the supposed intelligentsia can be when it comes to rape. Which is a kind description. But I would rather think they were ill-informed than assume they were simply peddling tired old misogynistic explanations of rape with no attempt at sympathy or understanding for those who have experienced it.
Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail declares "some rapes are worse than others" and later in the same piece says:
It means a dispute about consent, often between people who are already in a sexual relationship.
It means one person’s word against another’s, in highly unequal circumstances, with the accuser granted anonymity and the accused under the glare of publicity.
Reducing the definition of rape to "a dispute about consent" fails to recognise the act of sexual violence for what it is. Rape is violence, using sex as a means of delivering it. Rape is never a situation where the poor old rapist got a bit confused and thought his victim wanted to have sex with him when in fact, she didn't. That definition does a disservice to the many decent men who are not rapists. Decent men know when a woman isn't keen on the idea of having sex with them and they don't force the issue. Because they are not rapists. A rapist doesn't care whether his victim is willing or not.
Writing in his personal blog, the Conservative MEP, Roger Helmer decides Ken Clarke was right in making a comparison of seriousness for rape. Helmer then uses murder scenarios to illustrate his point. A hostage killed by his kidnapper and a man killed by a jealous husband after being found in bed with his wife.
In the first case, the murder is calculated, premeditated, deliberate and undertaken for money. In the second case, none of these comments applies. And according to Helmer, a more lenient sentence would be given to the jealous husband.
He then compares this with the "classic" stranger rape (you guessed it, the dark alley rapist) and a supposed "date rape" where a woman changes her mind at the last minute, but the young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on.
Helmer then trots out a "classic" rape myth:
...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.
Well, well, well - it's the victim's fault again. She led him on, the poor rapist simply couldn't help himself.
Utter, utter twaddle. And misogynistic twaddle at that. Not to mention being offensive to the many men who are not rapists and are perfectly able to restrain themselves, even when aflame with sexual desire.
Both Helmer and Hichens have also missed the point about the comparative "seriousness" of rapes.
ALL rapes are EQUALLY serious. But some rapes involve extra criminal activity beyond the basic violent act of coercion and enforced penetration, which characterises all rapes. AS WELL AS raping their victim, some rapists ALSO kidnap, imprison, torture or physically abuse the unfortunate recipient of their violence.
And by the way, those rapists may or may not have already met their victim. A "date rape" can involve as much extra violence as a "stranger rape". Conversely, a "stranger rape" may not involve extra violence beyond the rape act itself. What is serious in each case is how badly the victim will have been traumatised by what happened.
And even without any extra violence, is a "date rape" really less serious than a "stranger rape", Mr Helmer? As one of the commentators on his blog post put it: is this not like saying that a peadophile who abuses his own daughter is less culpable than one who abuses a stranger?
And with all this emphasis on the relative seriousness of different "types" of rape, one thing both pieces seriously lacked was any genuine compassion for the victims of these rapists. Most of whom get away with their crimes over and over again.