When the news broke last weekend that Britain’s Nick Ross, of "Crimewatch" fame, made some controversial statements about rape, I assumed we were seeing a return to the debate last raised by Ken Clarke when he was justice secretary, as to whether society should recognize in law that there are varying levels of severity with rape.
There are few crimes more severe than rape, as beyond the act itself, the perpetrator is submitting the victim to a lifetime of mental anguish that can often, sadly, lead to a lifetime of depression and self-loathing.
I have always agreed with the controversial view, however, that some cases of rape are more severe than others. If someone is loitering in the bushes of a park with the intent to find any victim to assault and rape, and if they then do so, with the use of physical violence and weaponry, that would be a more severe form of rape than, say, when two parties are both drunk and unable to make clear rational decisions, and one goes too far, without premeditation.
Both forms, and all forms, should carry among the most severe punishments available to the law, and no form of rape should be free from considerable punishment. The delicate pursuit of justice toward rape must, however, also be balanced against the consideration of the damage wrongful and blanket accusations of rape can to do a person’s character, and the anguish caused to all parties in the investigation of a crime of this nature.
It is an incredibly delicate issue in which the level of a society’s civilization is tested to the brink. As someone with an interest in society and justice, I therefore welcome considered and thoughtful debate around the issue, as to how we can build a society in which rape is dealt with to the correct degree of both delicacy and justice.
The excerpts from Ross’ book initially raised issues around how rape should be dealt with and categorized, which I found to be welcome. But sadly, the released excerpts then descend into little other than a bizarre rant that seemingly places the blame for rape on scantily clad women -- comparing them to “a laptop left on the backseat of a car.” This completely destroyed the opportunity to have a rational and thoughtful debate, and discredited the arguments as laid out above, some of which may have had some validity.
It became the subject of a call-in show the other night with Iain Dale, who it was revealed was the publisher of the book (via Biteback Publishing). Dale said Ross “has a point,” and then took to haplessly defending its stance -- which prompted a tirade of righteous disagreement and indignation from callers.
The exchange, thankfully, served to make a mockery of his and Ross’ position but sadly shut down the debate, no doubt meaning it will not be explored again for some time.
Nigel Evans MP, the deputy speaker of the House of Commons, is currently suspended on suspicion of raping two men, an accusation he seemingly dismissed initially with an unusual degree of calm. This underlines that rape is not simply a male-female crime and is extremely serious whatever form it takes, and it should spur a greater urgency for sensible debate and exploration of rape in British society.
The inappropriate sexual behaviour of those in Westminster and public life is now a matter of heaving public record, following a catalogue of public scandals and Operation Yewtree -- the investigation into the alleged sexual abuse of, chiefly, children.
Perhaps we should expect little better from Britain’s late-night talk show hosts, but with media personalities like Iain Dale and Nick Ross, and Parliamentarians who are seen (rightly or wrongly) by many in Britain to be complicit in indiscretion and cover-up, it seems we have reached an unfortunate situation whereby those mature and considered enough to debate these issues in a public forum have left the field.
It has been left to hack “shock jocks” like Dale, in search of personal material gain, and those with perceived vested interests to stymie and frustrate the debate. We are left as a society with a situation in which serious debates around rape are taboo, and where rape, even when prosecuted, remains as damaging to the victim and the wrongly accused as it is to the perpetrator.
Sam Thomas is a freelance journalist and third-year student at Cambridge University.