Don't excuse the date rapist - some men just don't like women

The problem is, `date rape' sounds just a little bit cosy - not like gang rape, not quite so brutal
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DATE RAPE is one of those clever American popular encapsulations (like spin doctor) which takes an under-reported or half-understood phenomenon, and propels it on to front pages and into feature articles. It refers to rape by someone other than a stranger, someone the victim knows. Often someone the victim thought she liked. The problem with the phrase is that it sounds just a little bit cosy - not like gang rape, or alley rape, but more like dance rape or armchair rape; not quite so brutal or violating.

Let us deal with whether there really is a new, kinder, cuddly form of rape later.

The fact that we have to contend with for the moment, as laid out in a Home Office study and reported on the front page of this newspaper yesterday, is that the incidence of date rape has risen sharply. In 1985 the percentage of rape attacks that were carried out by close acquaintances was just over a third. By 1996 the percentage (of a much higher total figure) was half.

And, precisely because many of these involve a "his word against mine" situation, in which the victim and perpetrator might have had previous consensual contact, the conviction rate has dropped from one-in-four, to one-in-10. In other words, either an incredible number of women lie about being raped, or the vast majority of rapists get away with it. And I know which one I believe.

But why is this happening? It could, of course, be because more women are reporting. This is quite likely to be a factor. There is a greater awareness of the fact of date rape; women feel more empowered to relate their experiences than once they did; they are actively encouraged by friends to report what happened to the police; the police are more sympathetic than once they were - and so on.

Once upon a time this whole area would have been the subject of well- funded research projects in British universities, paid for by the Social Science Research Council. But Mrs Thatcher did not care to spend money on finding out what was going on and why, because - for the most part - she already knew. So today, as every social affairs journalist is aware, it is incredibly hard to answer even basic questions such as "is there more rape?" accurately.

Even so there are some popular reasons for thinking that there is more date rape: the first of which is the huge change in sexual etiquette in the last couple of decades. This has helped, or so the argument goes, to confuse young men and, sometimes, to transform the insensitive dolt into the borderline rapist.

In this scenario (which is a close parallel to a famous case of five years ago) the rapist is to be regarded as a victim himself. Dick and Dora have been drinking and dancing together. Dora invites Dick in for coffee. They kiss. He has missed the last bus, so she lets him sleep in her bed, even undressing in front of him. They kiss some more, before she turns over. He gets very excited, and presses his attentions upon her. Dora says: "Don't", but does she really mind? Dick wakes up with a sore head and a room full of the Old Bill.

Put this way, it seems to be the latest variation of the old problem of pursuit and capture; of seduction and evasion. It is the woman's job to attract, and the man's job to bring things to fruition. She slyly points out the apple, he impetuously plucks it. If she really doesn't want sex with him, then why dress provocatively, why invite him in, why kiss, why get into bed?

If you are a dolt, then all this could be a problem. Years ago, in my student days, something very similar happened to me. She was gorgeous and I was slim then. We snogged up hill and down dale, and every now and again she would come and stay for a night, and sleep with me in my bed. There was more kissing and above-the-waist fondling and nothing more. She made it clear, without my having to ask out loud, that she wanted what we already had, and no more.

Was it a tease? It didn't and doesn't matter. The problem is that the act of intercourse itself is necessarily invasive. It's not like kissing or fondling. So for men there is only one sure way to avoid being a violator, and that is to interpret everything that isn't a wholehearted "yes" as being a definite "no". Or, to coin a phrase, "when in doubt, leave it out". If you are wrong, then she can always put you straight. But what is hard to figure out is why some men - no matter how old or experienced they might be - seem to find such a concept hard to understand.

So we ought to examine a second factor that seems to have changed things: the extraordinary sexualisation of our popular culture.

However much we may or may not be having it off, all around us, off it is being had. On telly, in movies and in newspapers and - most potent of all - in advertising, there is a world in a constant state of tumescence and display. Look at Liz Hurley's knickers and John Major's future daughter- in-law's bare bosoms! Hey, take the Calvin Klein undies off and cover each other in a well-known brand of ice cream! "What exactly is sex addiction?" "Vicar in four-in-a-bed romp!" "Viagra man runs off with lover!"

Just how does a boy who reads Loaded or FHM (and believes it) interpret the world about him? He must - like the rest of us - see a land of writhing couples while he alone is locked in the bathroom with his magazine. Surely he's owed his fair share? After all, everyone else is getting it. And no-one who opens up this month's edition of Loaded, and is rewarded with his very own tasteful, arty black-and-white full size pick of some naked woman called Brenda Schad, could ever believe that women aren't just as much on for it as the lads.

But before we get too sorry for Mr Raging Hormones, we can also reflect on one particular development that provides him with some shelter from sexual bombardment.

Sexual and personal morality have never been so much discussed as they are today. Once, not long ago, the "dos"and "don'ts" were still inscribed on tablets of stone, handed down from parents to children without debate. Whether you obeyed them was another thing, but at least you knew exactly what they were.

Today, from Neighbours to Sugar magazine, individuals constantly talk ethics and choices. Should I have sex with him now, or wait? Should I tell her that her boyfriend's cheating on her?

So men do have choices. Depressingly, therefore, we have to retreat back to an ancient analysis of some male behaviour. There are men who do not really like women and are too lazy and stupid to try and understand what it might be like to be a woman. They are the football hooligans of sex, and I'm afraid no will ever figure out to do with them.