Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Redwood and rape

It's still a bit early to see whether the, perhaps slightly manufactured outrage about John Redwood's comments on the role of consent in rape is going to go anywhere. For the record, given that the vast majority of commentators are quoting only one line of this, here is what Redwood said.
They [Labour] decided to set date rape alongside stranger rape. Again, none of us want men to rape women, but there is a difference between a man using unreasonable force to assault a woman on the street, and a disagreement between two lovers over whether there was consent on one particular occasion when the two were spending an evening or night together. Labour’s doctrine of equivalence has led to jury scepticism about many rape claims, in situations where it is the man’s word against the woman’s and where they had agreed to spend the evening or night together. Young men do not want to have to take a consent form and a lawyer on a date, just as young women have every right to go on a date and to say “No”, having it respected.
Inevitably this has been presented, as here by Marcel Berlins, as Date rape, he asserts in his blog, should be regarded as a "disagreement between two lovers" and not be treated as seriously as rape by a stranger. Berlins argues that rape is rape is rape, and that the emotional damage caused by the betrayal of trust when raped by a friend or lover can be even worse than 'stranger rape'. He goes on to say that In other words, men are being wrongly acquitted because some jurors are taking the Redwood approach. Somehow, juries need to be told firmly that a rape is a rape, whoever commits it.
But the problem, as has been said again and again, and as Redwood is also saying, is that given that the offence of rape is entirely one of consent, in situations where there is, literally, a disagreement between people, both of whom acknowledge that sex took place, and may even be lovers, the evidence for such consent, or the lack of it, is vanishingly hard to discover. Redwood's words are not dismissive of, or trivialising rape. An allegation of rape that is defended is either a disagreement about whether sex happened (which is usually the case with 'stranger rape), or a disagreement about the status of consent. That's not a dinosaur-like attitude, that's an accurate description of the legal process. If Berlins thinks he can second-guess juries (because how can someone be 'wrongly acquitted') that's for him. I'd rather rely on trial by jury, than trial by columnist.

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