Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rape in the headlines.

Girl, 13, dragged into bushes and raped as she walked home from school in broad daylight

This was the headline in the Daily Mail today. On the same day the Justice Secretary was in trouble for appearing to suggest that some rapes are not as serious as others, and suggesting that some rapists might have their prison sentence halved if they pleaded guilty and so avoided the trauma of a court appearance for the victim. At the same time news comes of the resignation of the head of the IMF following his unhappy predicament in New York.

We continue to see very low conviction rates for alleged rapists and indeed prison sentences for those who falsely cry rape. There is controversy over anonymity for alleged rape victims but none for alleged rapists.

In my view sex outside marriage is wrong, but one has to admit that it goes on. Around 20% of married men admit to having had an affair. Hardly anyone would admit to being a virgin when they married these days. Sex outside marriage is not unlawful nor is adultery. The law has great difficulty in proving that sex is rape and not consensual. The circumstance being what they are it is usually one person's word against another's. Unless there is evidence of violence the case is likely to be unprovable.

This is not to diminish the offence, simply to say that is difficult to prove an allegation in a court of law. Furthermore, the gathering of evidence is distasteful and often in the past the police have not been helpful, though I believe it is better these days. Many women do not want to go through the trauma of evidence collection.

The Justice Secretary has a reputation for being forthright and no doubt he spoke out of turn. What he should have said is that we have a problem with rape. It is an offence that is difficult to prove in many cases and a crime supercharged with emotion. For a man to force himself on a woman is a very great crime which should always attract a prison sentence. Some forms of rape are even more severe than this and might be regarded as aggravated rape. For example a man who breaks into a house as a burglar and rapes or someone who attacks a young girl walking home from school are especially severe forms of rape and should attract the most severe sentences up to ad including life-imprisonment. Another, vile practice is to make the rape-victim relive the whole assault again in a court of law. Rapists who do this should expect to be treated by the judge more severely than those who plead guilty and spare the woman this sort of trauma.

Speaking for myself now and not for the Justice secretary, it is clear to me that because of its nature rape will always attract those who like to read about murky goings on, but it is also a feminist issue about centuries of oppression of women by men. From a man's point of view, I have no doubt that the greater openness about sex since the 1960s has left men in a more confused position than before and many men are really not sure how to interpret signals from women.

That being so, men must learn to live in the new circumstances. Best to save sex for marriage as God intended.

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