Wednesday, 18 May 2011

No means No

On January 24th of this year, a Toronto police officer, constable Michael Sanguinetti was talking to a group of university students at a safety forum and allegedly gave out this piece of advice; "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." He later apologised for the comment but it's unlikely he imagined the scale of response his statement has triggered.

Born out of that safety meeting was the concept of 'Slutwalks'; A series of protest marches, predominantly made up of students but expanding to a greater range of people as they grow and spread to other cities from their original location in Toronto. The aim of the walk is to make the general public aware of the degree to which some people in Canada appear to believe that rape victims were in some way to blame for the attacks on them, in many cases defending or excusing to some extent the perpetrator.
The marches have spread across America and events are planned for the UK; the reason they've caught on from a march protesting a very specific statement to a wider ranging protest about attitudes towards rape cases is that it's an issue that is a major concern in many Western nations.

Also in Canada, during a rape case in February of this year a judge handed out a sentence of two years probation rather than prison time for a man found guilty of rape because the victim was wearing "provocative attire" and makeup and had been drinking. He described the reason for the leniency of the sentence as being that the defendant hadn't seemed threatening just "insensitive to the fact (she) was not a willing participant". This man raped the woman, yet doesn't even serve any time in prison for the act because the woman was at a party and the man didn't notice that she didn't want to have sex with him?

Warning women to be careful in today's hyper-sexualised world and giving them tips as to how to help them stay safe is an important task and one that has to be carried out constantly but that message of caution should never stray into claiming that victims are in any way to blame for the violent act towards them.

Rape is a violent act that occurs all over the world, it happens on mass scale in countries as diverse as Uganda, the U.S and Pakistan, countries with very different attitudes to sex, women and traditional clothing. It happens to women wearing full length robes and burqas, so laying the blame for rape on a woman's choice of clothing is an incredibly short sighted way of looking at the situation. Sadly it's a view that is far too commonly held and allows people to make excuses for the actions of men who should have no defence for their choice.

I'd been meaning to write about the 'Slutwalks' for a week or so now, but Conservative Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's comments yesterday and today forced my hand into writing something now.
Yesterday he announced that he plans to increase the maximum discount for an early guilty plea for rapists to 50% from the current 33%. This move was already coming in for a lot of criticism as many people believe the law is already more than lenient enough when it comes to rape cases.

However it was his interviews today with BBC 5 live and Sky news that have led to calls from Labour leader Ed Milliband for Clarke to resign his post. While trying to defend the new discount plan he argued that no one convicted of a "serious rape" would be released as quickly as those guilty of some "date rapes".

It was an incredibly misjudged comment and one that seems to almost trivialise the incredibly serious crime of date rape. Now i'd like to think it was merely a mistake on Clarke's part, a slip born out of desperately trying to defend an unpopular policy rather than one stemming from his actual opinion.

There is a difference between how different kinds of rape should be punished; consensual sex between a 17 year old and a 15 year old is considered statutory rape and should obviously be punished less severely than violent non-consensual rape. But Clarke should not have used 'Date Rape' as an example of a less serious crime, abusing a woman in such a way is an incredibly serious offence and for the nations Justice Secretary to refer to it in the terms he did was either incredibly unwise or highly worrying.

But debates over the sentencing of rape only deal with a small part of the problem; what has to be of more concern is the fact that in the UK only 6% of rapes reported to police stations result in conviction and why an estimated 75% of rape victims never actually approach the police. They're worrying statistics and suggest an attitude in this country that isn't conducive to rape victims getting the justice they deserve.

There are some incredibly sickening commonly held beliefs when it comes to rape cases that i find both depressing and baffling. The idea that how a woman dresses, the make up she wears or her previous sexual history could in any way, to any degree, justify or excuse a sexual assault or rape just doesn't make any sense to me. As far as i'm concerned the responsibility in a rape case rests solely with the man; it is his decision and his actions and no matter how short a skirt the girl may be wearing it doesn't change the fact that 'No means No'.

Rape is a brutal and traumatising attack and the fact that a victim will have to face questions of whether they were in some way "asking for it" only makes it that much harder for victims to come forward in the first place and endure the lengthy trial process.

At the end of this slightly rambling but well meant post i'll end this section with a statement that i believe to be absolutely true.

In cases of rape the blame is always, without fail, with the rapist and never with the victim.

The song today is one of my favourite cover versions at the moment on Youtube. The singer, Ortopilot has an extensive collection of covers and original songs on his channel and he's well worth checking out.

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