Seriously, WTF? Volume I: A minister of justice and the hierarchy of rape

So it’s only Wednesday and there has already been enough aggravating nonsense for one month. I am going to take two of the main topics and deal with them in turn.

First up: A minister of justice and the hierarchy of rapes

In the UK, the justice secretary (minister of justice) got himself into hot water for comments implying that some kinds of rape were less serious than others. These comments were first made in the context of a discussion on changes to the sentencing for crimes if people were to plead guilty to the crimes they are accused of early in the stages of prosecution. In talking about this idea, he compared statutory rape and date rape to violent rapes to illustrate the difference in seriousness of crimes that would be considered in ranking offences. The basic point was that stranger rape (i.e. where someone jumps out of the bushes and attacks a person, raping him or her – more commonly her – in the process) is more serious than date or acquaintance rape (where the perpetrator is someone the victim knows and perhaps trusts socially).

At first there was confusion over whether he was merely mixing up terms by saying date rape when he actually meant statutory rape but when challenged, he dug his heels in and made a bunch of other comments that can only lead one to conclude that he said exactly what he meant. By tonight, he had issued an apology if his words upset people or left them with the impression that he does not think rape is a serious crime. However, his statement does not indicate that he understands what was wrong in the first place with his comments and that is where the problem really lies. If a minister of justice has a faulty conception of what constitutes rape, how on earth are juries or other members of the general public expected to fare any better?

I’ve never written about rape on this blog before but this incident really pushed me to. From reading comments about this it’s clear that many people think that stranger rape is more ‘violent’ and therefore more serious than date rape. The way I see it though, this is a misconception that is only possible if people fail to realise that the very act of rape itself is violent. The wrong that makes the crime of rape deserving of punishment is not the use of force or a weapon in obtaining sex from a person.

The wrong lies in the fact that one human being chose to use another human being’s body in a way that was against their will (in this instance, for sex). The means by which this was achieved is irrelevant to the question of whether rape was committed so that weapons were not used cannot make the crime less serious. Whether the victim knew or did not know the perpetrator is also irrelevant to the point. Why should the fact that they might have had dinner together before make the act any less worse? Why should the perpetrator’s abuse of the victim’s trust reduce the gravity of the punishment that follows?

I don’t know whether the minister will end up getting sacked over this matter. I don’t know that it would do any good if he does only to get replaced by someone else who has the same mindset but is careful not to make silly statements in interviews and then go on to pig-headedly defend them. The whole thing did not have to turn into this big drama in the first place if he had only taken a step back to clarify or deeply consider the meaning of what he was saying. What would be really good to see is something showing that Mr Clarke actually understands why he was wrong. Judging by his non-apology though, he still does not get it.



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