13 November 2007

Who's To Blame?

"Studies have shown that as many as one in two young men believe there are some circumstances when it's okay to force a woman to have sex. To my mind, this is an example of moral collapse. We need widespread cultural change, and addressing this moral failure represents a real challenge to British society: to families, schools, local communities and businesses."

When I heard Cameron's speech on rape yesterday, I thought it was all fairly straightforward and unobjectionable. Clearly I was wrong. The Guardian accuses him of invoking "the disaster of rape for a moralistic, collapse-of-civilisation-as-we know-it populist agenda that has nothing to do with contemporary culture or policing." On his pledge of tougher laws, it claims, "Explosive evidence from Scotland Yard - hitherto unpublished - shows the problem is not the law":

An independent team looked into all 677 rapes reported to the Met in two months of 2005. What they discovered challenged conventional wisdoms about victims and perpetrators. It found that men who like raping women target their victims and that these women cluster into the very groups least likely to attract police attention: those under 18; in present or past relationships with the perpetrators; living in domestically violent environments; under the influence of alcohol; suffering mental ill health. These groups constitute nearly 90% of reported rapes. Between half and a third of these reported rapes were not "crimed" - they don't appear in the books. It gets worse. In half of the not-crimed cases involving alcohol, for example, the suspects had not been investigated, despite having a history of sex offences.
At which point I find myself even more in agreement with Cameron. If police do not believe they are able to construct a sufficiently strong case to convince a jury that a someone who is drunk, under-aged, mentally-ill, and living in an abusive relationship is a victim of sexual violence, then the answer is not to lower the bar on the required burden of proof (which would set a terrible precedent, no doubt to be followed in other emotive areas, with inevitable miscarriages of justice) but to seek Cameron's "widespread cultural change".

For he did not merely talk about convictions and sentencing, but also about the need for improved victim support and a cultural change in attitudes towards women and sexual violence. Surely he is right that sex education should not be values-free and should include teaching young people about consent: that 'no' means 'no' — just as it should include teaching about the personal and social benefits of abstinence and marriage.

More than that, if 54% of rapes are committed by a partner or ex-partner of the victim (and just 17% by a stranger), then the principle issue is the nature of the relationship between the two individuals — and the nature of relationships that we, as society, have come to expect and encourage. A society in which a single mother cannot get the support she's after from the police or social services when her rebellious 14-year-old moves out, but wags its finger disapprovingly when three years later that teenager is pregnant, yet again. Can we truly lay all the blame on either the child or the mother, who has struggled for so long to do her best by her children, or are we willing to accept that we did not offer her the support she and her family needed? And what of the Church — are we not supposed to function as an alternative extended family to such widows and orphans?

The issue of violence against women (sexual or otherwise) is so much bigger than simply what goes on between two individuals when nobody else can see ... and we must all accept a portion of blame.


Anonymous said...

At least we are not (yet) a Muslim country - in Saudi Arabia, the 19-year-old "Qatif girl" raped by seven men has just been sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for being in a car with a man she was not related to just prior to the attack.