Why can’t men discuss rape without falling down a well? Kenneth Clarke, who is usually one of the more human seeming Tories, stumbled last week when he suggested that date rape is not as serious as what he might call ‘normal rape’ or ‘serious rape’.
Men still have the fantasy, it seems, that a rapist is a hooded man in an alley with a knife – a bogeyman from a childish nightmare. But the truth is duller and more terrifying than that. Most women are likely to be raped by men they know. Date rape is normal rape. The aberrant monster in the alley is most often a fantasy; Clarke’s decision, as Justice Secretary, to close 23 courts that deal specially with rape and domestic violence, shows that his understanding of the issue is still in the hooded bogeyman phase.
I once asked Jill Saward, the victim of the Ealing Vicarage rape of 1986, why rape isn’t taken seriously and why victims are commonly disbelieved when they do bring an accusation; only 6% of the 15,000 rapes reported annually result in a conviction and the vast majority are not even reported. She says we are a culture in denial; that we are simply unwilling to compute the fact that our brothers, fathers, husbands, sons are capable of such a crime. ‘We want to believe that we live in a civilised society,’ she told me. And how to stoke the denial? Blame the women.
Recently, in Toronto, Michael Sanguinetti, a policeman who was giving a personal security class at a law school, told the women present that if they didn’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t dress, ‘like sluts’. Well, quite. As we all know, rapists never rape anyone unless they are wearing small skirts and skimpy tops, ideally in colours that match.
Understandably the women were enraged and went on to found SlutWalk, a movement where they basically go on a walk, dressed as sluts, or not, in the company of supportive men, or not, and make a big fuss about what Sanguinetti really meant, which is women are responsible for violence towards themselves. The woman has the power, you see. She can bring rape to her, and she can send it away; it’s like old-fashioned courting, but violent.
I am for SlutWalk; I am for any movement that sees women stand up, and even walk, for themselves
The SlutWalk has been widely covered in the media and the walk is being repeated in cities across the globe. The London SlutWalk is in June, and I will be on it. Because it is not women who cause rape; it is men. Rape is the only violent crime where the victim is routinely found guilty and from the mouth of a policeman the ‘advice’ was particularly shocking. It made me wonder how many raped women have gone to the police for justice and seen in their eyes the message – ‘your fault’. No wonder I have interviewed women who told me how they paced outside police stations after a rape, willing themselves to report it but finding they just couldn’t because they didn’t think that they would be believed. It is worth mentioning that one in four British women will be the victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes; in the Congo, there are 48 rapes an hour.
So I am for SlutWalk; I am for any movement that sees women stand up, and even walk, for themselves. Not that SlutWalk hasn’t been analysed. It has had a mixed reception from women, who are ever collaborators in their own degradation. I have read thousands of words on the history, etymology and use of the word ‘slut’. I could write a Slut Thesis for you with my Slut Pen. Some fret particularly that the word actually means ‘dirty’, and who would want to be dirty?
But, in truth, most of the anti-SlutWalk women dislike the movement because it is too angry – not feminine, not fragile, not polite. But I am glad it is angry; you can’t just politely ask for justice and expect to be given it as a gift, as if we were all guests at some fabulous criminal justice cocktail party. The SlutWalk has a splash of jolly irony and it is a modern, media-savvy shout for justice in a world where women are ever held responsible for male violence. It also suggests that not every woman with a feminist agenda should wear a black sack and weep all the time. Better to SlutWalk than sleepwalk; and I hope to see Kenneth Clarke there too.
Picture credit: Getty Images