Appalling comments on rape

From former Conservative cabinet member John Redwood: 

Former Tory cabinet minister John Redwood was condemned by victim support groups last night after he said the government was wrong to regard “date rape” as seriously as assaults by strangers.
Redwood said that Labour’s “doctrine of equivalence” had “led to jury scepticism about many rape claims” and added: “Young men do not want to have to take a consent form and a lawyer on a date.”

It will be very interesting to see the reaction of Redwood’s party leader, David Cameron, who has been rather more impressive on the issue. (Thanks for letting us know about this, Ross!)

11 thoughts on “Appalling comments on rape

  1. Good grief, it just beggars belief doesn’t it? Does he think if you’ve agreed to go on a date with someone you’ve automatically agreed to sex with them aswell?

    It will indeed be interesting to see what David Cameron has to say…

  2. I saw Redwood was saying something like “None of us wants to rape…” and thought really he’s part of the “we’re all just decent chaps,” school of denial. In addition to his using “we” to mean “we chaps in charge,” since he is so far from being able to entertain a woman’s perspective that … well, that he’d think women on dates are consenting to sex.

  3. I’ve calmed down enough to say something about this now. I think many people do have an initial intuition that ‘stranger’ rape is worse than ‘date’ rape. But it seems that the intuition is plausibly diagnosable without resorting to saying that being raped by a stranger is worse than being raped by an acquaintance. If someone imagined a case of ‘stranger’ rape and a case of ‘date’ rape they’d probably be imagining the former but not the latter to involve non-sexual violence as well as sexual violence (the latter of which both involve, ex hypothesi). Well – that’s pro tanto worse isn’t it? Other things being equal, an event gets worse by adding more wrong things to it. A case of rape and murder is worse than a case of rape without murder (otbe). But, crucially, the act of rape is no worse in the rape+murder case than it is in the non-murder case – the event is worse not because the rape is worse but because there are other things accompanying it. Likewise, there is nothing worse about the act of rape in a case of ‘stranger’ rape than in the case of ‘date’ rape. But our initial intuitions may lead us to be confused on this point because we may be thinking of the former event as worse because it involves additional wrongs that the latter doesn’t involve.

    The comment about men not wanting to take lawyers on dates is just dispicable and utterly morally repugnant. No-one has ever, ever, been in a position of doubt as to whether someone has consented to have sex with them. There are plenty of areas of life where we have become too litigation-happy and too eager to regulate actions, and these comments from Redwood seem to be trying to tarnish the fight against ‘date’ rape by painting it as of a kind with these cases that people legitimately react against.

  4. The term ‘date rape’ just has to be gotten rid of. For one, using a different word for the two cases probably encourages people to think of them as not being of a kind. But also, the ‘date’ probably just encourages people to think (wholly inexcusably, of course) that the woman has already signed up to sex. Names matter: just as we shouldn’t let the anti-choice crowd get away with calling themselves ‘pro-lifers’, perhaps there should be a feminist movement against the term ‘date rape’.

  5. (1) I always try to say ‘acquaintance rape’ instead of ‘date rape’, which is maybe a bit of an improvement.
    (2) Interesting thoughts about why acquaintance rape (AR) may wrongly seem less bad than stranger rape. I’ve always assumed it was because of false views about what sorts of things count as AR. That is, people like Redwood think the term ‘AR’ is used for perfectly consensual sex that is later regretted (obviously no kind of rape at all); or cases in which one party falsely but genuinely believes there to be consent. Ross doesn’t think the latter sort of case occurs. But, interestingly, plenty of feminist theorists do think that it does– e.g. MacKinnon or Langton arguing that pornography causes men to genuinely believe that ‘no’ is just another way of saying ‘yes’, or that all women always consent. I’m really unsure what to think about whether this sort of case occurs. But I guess if there are cases like this, then there is a difference in degree or kind of culpability between cases where the rapist thinks there is consent and those where the rapist doesn’t think there’s consent. Which is part of the reason FP blogger Edna was worrying about the MacKinnon/Langton line a few months back.

  6. “But I guess if there are cases like this, then there is a difference in degree or kind of culpability between cases where the rapist thinks there is consent and those where the rapist doesn’t think there’s consent.”

    Not necessarily. A lot of ignorance is culpable ignorance: if the rapist is culpable for his ignorance as to whether is consent has been given then it’s not obvious that he’s less culpable for the rape than someone who knew consent wasn’t given but didn’t care.

    Maybe I was too quick to say that there are no cases where someone believes consent was given (to them) when it wasn’t. The ‘pornography as silencing’ case may well be one. But that case is one where the perpetrator most definitely is culpable for his ignorance. And I strongly suspect that in these types of cases the perpetrator is simply not letting themselves realise that consent isn’t given. When I say that no one ever gets it wrong, I guess I really mean that I don’t believe anyone has ever made a simple mistake as to whether consent is given – a mistake they’re not culpable for making in the first place. But it’s an empirical claim, of course, and I’m conjecturing.

  7. Two things:

    (1) Ross- I guess I think culpable ignorance is a different kind of culpability from that involved in knowing someone doesn’t consent and forcing sex on them anyway. But I, too, doubt that there are many instances of this sort of ignorance.

    (2) The fabulous Chattering Monkey has some excellent thoughts on this topic here:

  8. I think culpability is much more vague than we like to give it credit and even if it was not the ability of the legal system to discover the truth makes it more vague. For example where various degrees of power structures between the two, legal drugs, or third parties influenced the giving of consent etc, all of which might be used with various levels of intent. And on the other side – various aspects of the powers of police, defense and prosecution and the nature of advice given to juries, and the use of juries themselves (which I expect favors rapists).

    While this might be an argument usually used to muddy the waters at least amongst constructive company one would not need to outright reject vagueness – although in the wider comunity it might be politically savvy to do so.

    The point being that from Cameron’s comments “as many as one in two young men believe there are some circumstances when it’s okay to force a woman to have sex” and “England and Wales have the lowest conviction rate – 5.7% – among leading European countries” then the implication is that the current position is actually too close to what I presume is Redwood’s favored position.

  9. Categorically rating the seriousness of “date rape” against “stranger rape” results in institutionally minimizing date rape, which, if taken to its extreme, can lead as far as altering legislation or sentencing. It intrinsically implies that victims of date rape all share an element of “asking for it” to a degree, and that their effects of trauma are less severe. Its seriousness as a crime of violence is reduced.

    I also hate the term date rape, by the way. Thanks for posting this.

  10. […] I agree. Moreover, there is at least some recognition of this in feminism, for example here’s Ross Cameron: The term ‘date rape’ just has to be gotten rid of. For one, using a different word for the two […]

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