Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Kenneth Clarke: Not a Complete Idiot.

One needs to be careful when discussing rape. I have been wrestling with the proper way to express my own views on 'Slutwalk' for the last couple of days, which I see as intrinsically linked to how society treats claims of rape and talks about prevention (as this is what sparked the movement).

Then I see on Yahoo news this story: It describes how Kenneth Clarke was being targeted by Ed Milliband for comments he made that, it was reported, caused outrage . The line that caught my attention was this:

"Mr Clarke sparked calls for his sacking after appearing to say that some rapes were less serious than others during a BBC Radio 5 Live interview."

Of course, this could mean a range of things. The reporting made it sound like he was drawing a distinction between cases of withdrawn consent and those of forced sex.

However, he was not. He was drawing a distinction between statutory rape and other forms. Here is the important quote, from the BBC:

"When BBC interviewer Victoria Derbyshire interrupted to say "Rape is rape, with respect", Mr Clarke replied: "No it's not, if an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she's perfectly willing, that is rape. Because she is under age, she can't consent... What you and I are talking about is we are talking about a man forcibly having sex with a woman and she doesn't want to - a serious crime.""

As a Q.C., Clarke knows that cases of statutory rape and forcible rape can be treated differently in court, with statutory rape being open to being treated as a lesser crime where the age gap is insubstantial.

Where it is a case of 'consensual' sex between a 14 year old and a 35 year old, it is a very serious offence. Where it is a17 or 18 year old having consensual sex with a 15 year old it can be (not always) treated as a lesser crime.

That is not an opinion, that is a fact. Courts are allowed to interpret the law with a modicum of common sense. To point this out does not reflect on Kenneth Clarke and his views about rape or women in any way.

As a former teenager, I know that stuff like this goes on all the time and to call it as serious an offence as forcible rape is ludicrous.

Where one person is older by a matter of months than the other, the letter of the law says it is rape, but often it is nothing so sordid: it could be an expression of love between high school sweethearts who go on to have a long relationship, or who grow tired of each other over time. Either way, they might not be demeaned or scarred for life by it.

For that to be treated the same in statistics and in language as being brutally restrained and forced to be violated in a demeaning and scarring fashion is quite absurd.

The opportunistic attacks by Milliband and by shrill commentators are detrimental to having a grown-up discussion about these issues.

I sent a long, rambling message to a friend about my views on Slutwalk in which I used some quite clumsy language, which she kindly pointed out.

At some point I will publish a better expression of these views. It will be thanks to my friend's patience and intelligence in seeing that I'm not some kind of entrenched chauvinist, but someone genuinely engaging with the subject.

It is through that discourse that I understand both her views and my own better.

If public figures are chastised and attacked and lose their jobs for saying only what is demonstrably the case about different kinds of rape then our public discourse suffers.

Men with questions and thoughts on the subject will feel it necessary to keep quiet and not express them publicly.

If a man has chauvinistic views, they will never be exposed, picked apart and corrected if they cannot first be aired. If he can speak without shame and then have the meaning of his words explained to him, maybe he'll consider his views and maybe change them.

Shrill, unthinking attacks, by opportunistic politicians and others, create a taboo around an area that is to the detriment of actually dealing with the problem in the first place.

Take this gem as an example of the sort of (poorly written) diatribe that gets spat at the man:

"Kenneth Clarke the convicts (sic) friend and champion, he blames the victims for being victims,a total disgrace as an MP in a shamed and out of touch profession. Politicians are totally untrustworthy and incompetent and have no intention doing what they promised in order to get elected."

So, for saying only the most common sense thing possible about the subject in careful language, Kenneth Clarke has shamed his whole profession.

If we can't talk about something as serious and as widespread as rape without saying only that it is awful and must be stopped - in all forms, everywhere, castration is the only answer! - we are denying ourselves cultural evolution.

Discourse is how we grow. Presenting one view and then being opposed is not the same: that creates intractable disagreement. Actual discourse is considered and patient and promotes mutual understanding.

We don't learn anything by shouting the same inoffensive, reactionary, absolutist shit over and over again.

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