Monday, November 12, 2007

Cameron and the politics of rape

David Cameron has spoken about the low conviction rate and the relatively high incidence of unreported rape, in the context of the 'broken society' line that seems to be making headway. However, I think he's in danger of over-simplifying the issue. The reason that the conviction rate is so low is that the definition of rape has broadened to the extent that it is now primarily so-called date rape. In these cases, the fact of sexual intercourse is not denied - what is at issue is whether there was consent.
In the majority of these cases, the only evidence is the word of the protagonists - 'he said, she said'. In order for more of these cases to get a conviction, either the burden of proof must be reversed, or the weight of proof must be lowered. Neither would be just. Cameron calls further for longer sentences for rapists, and there can be little opposition to this. Except that the current length of sentence - life imprisonment being available to the judge - is one of the factors that make it less likely that a 'date rapist' will be convicted at all. Either the Conservatives have to push for a division between 'stranger rape' and 'date rape' - and there isn't much philosophical merit in that, both are a violation and a breach of trust - or accept that in cases where there is no solid evidence, juries are unlikely to convict.
At least you can reply on Labour to maintain their high standards of argument.
Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of Labour, said that Theresa May, the Conservatives’ spokesman for women, had voted against the minimum wage, which has benefited many working women, and that the Tories failed to support increased maternity leave.

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