Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Rape or "Rape Lite"?

There seems to be a rather odd debate going on in the press at the moment, stirred by two rather different events. The first was George Galloway's rather odd "podcast", claiming that Julian Assange was merely guilty of "sexual bad manners", in having sex with a woman without her consent. The second was the Republican Senator and best friend of Republican Vice President - Todd Akin, who claimed that women who experience "proper rape" don't get pregnant as the body shuts down the reproductive system.

The main issue Galloway seems to have is that Julian Assange was "set up". He seems to think that Sweden are a US client country and that Asssange has merely been arrested so the Swedes can deport him. This is a truly bizarre conclusion to draw. Sweden has a long and proud history of giving shelter to victims of political repression. It is also nominally neutral. Ask Gary MacKinnon where he'd rather be. The idea that the Swedes are more likely to deport Assange than us is quite franky bonkers. Unlike many people, I've lived in Sweden and I know for a fact that they take womens rights seriously. If Assange is in trouble, it is because he is accussed with a serious offence. The story that Galloway has trouble getting his head around is this. Assange had consensual sex with a woman using a condom. The next morning he had sex again, without a condom. She says that the consent was only granted to Assange as he was using a condom, therefore there was no consent. That makes it rape. When I consider such issues, I tend to draw on my own experiences. Back in the early 1980's I found myself in a position that was in some ways similar. I had split with my partner and met a female friend who was having problems with her relationship. We got drunk and ended up in bed. The next morning we woke up and after some heavy petting, were about to engage sex, when she said "sorry, I don't feel right about this". I was rather disappointed, but as far as I was concerned, that was her decision and the end of the matter. We are still friends, having made an agreement to forget about what happened. We only spoke about it once, a year after the event. She asked me "were you angry with me for saying "no". I was shocked by this. Her chief concern had been that I may have been insulted. She also said she was surprised that I'd stopped and accepted her decision without any argument. I said that as she was first and foremost a friend, I respected her decision.

I thought society had moved on a bit since the mid 1980's, where a woman would be more worried about how she was perceived than whether she should make decisions about her body and expect them to be respected. In the cold light of day, for various reasons, she had made the right decision then. Do men have a right to say "well, she was gagging for it, women always say no when they mean yes?" Of course not. I'm not perfect by any means, but it is pretty clear to me that if someone says "no" then you respect that.

Galloways argument seems to be that a violent rape by a stranger is more traumatic than a rape where consent was withdrawn. This clearly shows that Galloway doesn't understand human nature. A woman who is violently and traumatically raped by a stranger will clearly have a lot of issues to deal with. There is no way we can play this down. The issue is that a woman who withdraws consent and is then raped, whilst not having the same degree of shock, will perhaps have more issues with trust. In the long term, this could be just as damaging. Just imagine if a woman has trust issues following an event. This could colour every future relationship? The question will always be "can I really trust him". In effect, the question is along the lines of would you prefer to get cancer of have a heart attack. The two are different, but horrible in their own ways.

As to our friend, senator Akin. This is a far easier question to deal with. Presumably, Mr Akin has the scientific evidence to back up his claims, unlikely as they are? let him put his "evidence" of the reproductive evidence "shutting down" before the world. If it stacks up, whilst we may totally disagree with his view, at least he will be able to say "look, I wasn't spouting complete bollocks there is evidence". If as I suspect, there is no credible evidence whatsoever, then the voters should say "on your bike".

The bottom line with all of this is that whilst we have apologists for such behaviour, some people will see it as a green light to persist. Sadly many babies born as a consequence of rape are cases of  incestuous "in family" rapes. The statement by Senator Akin will convince some ill educated people, that rape does not produce babies. This is one green light that will have terrible consequences. We really should expect more from our civic leaders. Before they spout nonsense, they should think of what may actually happen.

In short, there is no such thing as a "friendly rape" or a "rape lite". It is all rape. It is down to the courts to decide what sentence is appropriate. I'd suggest that a heavy one is the safest outcome for all concerned. If Mr Assange has a credible defence, he will be OK. If he hasn't then he will get what he deserves

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