This week, it would appear that members of the Tory party are scrambling to imitate apocryphal lemming behaviour, seemingly running at full pelt towards the edge of a cliff. Lansley and his unpopular attempt to murder the NHS aside, this week has been mostly all about rape.
First, the wild-eyed fundie Nadine Dorries excelled herself. Talking on TV about her jawdroppingly sexist plans for abstinence education for girls, Dorries managed to dig the hole even further:
“A lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don’t realise until later that that was a wrong thing to do … Society is so over-sexualised that I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.”
On Planet Dorries, sex abuse is caused by girls not saying no.
There is a curious logical somersault here, the idea that rape can be prevented entirely by saying “no”, although it plays in perfect harmony with the popular notion that rape is only rape when the victim (always a woman, apparently) says “no”. No no, no rape. Dorries has taken this to its logical extreme: that uttering the n-word will magically vanquish all rape.
Dorries fails to provide any evidence for her assertion. No meta-analysis, not even one measly cross-sectional cohort study. A cynic may doubt such evidence exists. A person with the ability to think may doubt such evidence exists.
The second Tory to say something stupid about rape was Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. Clarke floated a policy which would halve the sentences of convicted rapists who entered an early guilty plea. This idea was met with some outrage, and Clarke defended the policy by distinguishing “serious rape” from “date rape”, declaring that a “serious rape” would never end with a 15-month jail sentence. Clarke also seemed to misunderstand the nature of statutory rape.
First of all, it is highly worrying that the person who is in charge of justice in this country seems to misunderstand a serious crime: legally, a “date rape” is a rape, as is statutory rape. Secondly, it is utterly offensive that a person who is in charge of justice in this country repeats the tired old line than only some rapes are serious. It smacks of Whoopi Goldberg’s infamous comment about “rape-rape” regarding Polanski. It smacks of Assange’s lawyer using the term “sex by surprise”. It smacks of rape culture.
Rape culture is the system of beliefs which perpetuates rape. Dorries and Clarke demonstrate many facets of rape culture in their remarks.
Dorries’s assertion, that teaching girls to keep their legs shut will prevent abuse, engages in a hefty chunk of victim blaming, as this post from a survivor highlights:
Now, thanks to Dorries comments I have to contend with the idea that somehow I provoked my attacker. Was it the neon pink board shorts I wore non-stop that summer? Maybe it was the provocative way my hair frizzed in the heat? What did I do to make myself a sexual being that I could have changed? Why did I allow myself to be abused?
Furthermore, Dorries perpetuates the myth that rape and abuse are things that happen exclusively to girls. Abstinence education for girls would have no effect on stopping the systematic abuse of young boys in by their priests, even if saying “no” could magically stop a young girl from being raped.
Clarke feeds into the myth that some rapes are less serious than others, buying into the notion that “serious rape” is that stranger in a balaclava who leaps out of a bush, despite the fact that this accounts for relatively few rapes. The more common kinds of rape, those by friends, acquaintances, partners, are, according to Clarke and many other proponents of rape culture, less serious, less like rape.
The reaction to Clarke’s comments focused largely, from much of the right-wing press and commentators, not on his comments but on an authoritarian ideal: that 15 months in prison is not enough for “sickos” or “monsters”. The othering of these “sickos”, of course, tends to refer to those who perpetrate Clarke’s “serious” rapes. They are not normal, apparently. They are different from the “normal” guys who engage in boys-will-be-boys behaviour.
The Conservative Party has been doing very little conserving of late, instead focusing on systematically violently dismantling the welfare state in a series of radical policies. It is hardly surprising, then, that the thing they choose to conserve is rape culture.