The Justice Secretary’s views on “serious rape”
I want to say a few words about Ken Clarke’s views on rape and rape law but I’m struggling to know where to begin.
So what did he say that was wrong? In case you missed the furore today, I’ll briefly recap. Kenneth Clarke was asked about plea bargaining plans on Radio 5 Live this morning. In the course of the interview, in a discussion about sentencing and tariffs, the Justice Secretary shared his rather troubling views on rape. He said:
“[Rape] includes date rape and 17 year-olds having intercourse. Serious rape, I don’t think many judges give five years for a forcible rape, frankly, the tariff is longer for that and a serious rape where there’s violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff’s much longer than that.”
In fact, the hapless Mr Clarke has, in his attempts to extricate himself from this mess today, made many other objectionable and questionable statements on the subject of rape. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on the quote above.
Let’s start at the beginning.
- Rape does include date rape. Women are in fact most likely to be sexually attacked by men they know in some way, most often partners or acquaintances. This in no way diminishes the seriousness of the crime or the devastating effect that it can have on the victim’s life.
- Rape does not, as far as I know, include consensual sex between teenagers over the age of 17. I should qualify this by saying that I’m not a lawyer (worryingly, Kenneth Clarke is) but from what I can glean from the Sex Offences Act of 2003, I understand that although this might constitute an offence under the Act, it does not constitute rape unless it is non-consensual or one party is under the age of 13.
- Rape is serious. There is no category of “serious rape” as opposed to some less “serious”, unimportant type of rape.
- By definition rape involves “an unwilling woman”. The act itself is violent. The degree of physical violence and assault may vary but there is no such thing as rape with a willing woman. I believe that’s what’s known in common parlance as “sex“.
To hear someone in a position of power perpetuating such cliched and harmful old rape myths is worrying in itself. The fact that the person in question is the Justice Secretary is truly alarming.
Liz Kelly of End Violence Against Women summed it up nicely when she said today:
“The Justice Secretary’s comments appear to trivialise the seriousness of rape and are in conflict with the Government’s own Violence Against Women Strategy which seeks to tackle attitudes that condone sexual violence, and to improve the criminal justice system’s response to rape. “The facts are that around 60,000 women are raped in Britain every year – the majority by partners or men they know – and only a tiny fraction, around one in ten, report it to the police. Of these few cases, less than 7% result in conviction. “We want to see more perpetrators brought to justice and convicted and better treatment of rape survivors. However we are very concerned that the Justice Secretary’s comments reinforce common myths and stereotypes about what rape really is, he seems to be relying on an outdated understanding that only rape of strangers is ‘real rape’ and harmful.”
I was hoping that by the end of the day I would be able to blog that Kenneth Clarke has now realised the error of his ways – or has been sufficiently chastised and berated by the Prime Minister – and has apologised. Sadly he has not. He has admitted this evening that his comments were a “mistake” but when asked by the BBC whether he was apologising he said “I haven’t apologised, as far as I’m aware.”