No man has the right, ever

Understandably, women are often defensive about men entering the debate about rape
THE SCREEN goes dark. The cinema-goers look up, diverted from their popcorn. A thick, lyrical score starts up. We see images of a young man and woman laughing and dancing, filmed in soft chiaroscuro, intercut with titles: "Date", the first one says, and then they go on: "you meet"; "you drink"; "you flirt"; "you leave"; "you touch"; "you kiss". Then the music becomes more urgent, and the two characters, whose faces we can hardly see, begin to struggle. "She stops; you don't", say the titles. And then the bitter ending. "Rape," the screen says. "Two out of three rape victims know their attacker."

This short film is showing today in the Warner West End Cinema in London, and will go on showing there for two weeks. It aims to raise awareness of the issue of date rape; to show that date rape is real rape and that rape is not an extraordinary crime carried out by monsters once in a blue moon; that ordinary men rape ordinary women in ordinary situations.

Given the continuing rise in the reporting of acquaintance rape, and the continuing failure of our legal system to convict most rapists, this is a timely campaign. But you can imagine all sorts of criticisms that will be levelled at this well-intentioned little film. For a start, although it has been produced in co-operation with Women Against Rape, it was made by four men. They include Trevor Beattie, creative director of the advertising agency TBWA, which produced that popular advertisement with the slogan "Hello boys", featuring Eva Herzigova and a Wonderbra.

Four years ago, Trevor Beattie tried to enter the debate about date rape for the first time. He designed a series of campaigning advertisements with the slogan "This is not an invitation to rape", over pictures of women in various situations - in revealing clothes, on their wedding day, and so on.

At the time, the press had a field day in pitting some feminists' criticisms of Beattie, who had been indelibly associated with the Wonderbra advertisements, against the campaign. A spokesperson from the Campaign Against Pornography was quoted as saying, "It's like a property racketeer setting up a campaign to help the homeless."

It's understandable that women are often defensive about men entering the debate. It is a crime overwhelmingly committed by men, almost always on women's bodies, and for generations men have colluded with one another to stop women bringing men to justice for it. In particular, rape by boyfriends and husbands has traditionally been trivialised and denied.

Only when the feminism of the Seventies got going did women find themselves able to support one another in speaking out about their own experiences of rape, to show how prevalent it is, how women are so often blamed for men's violent behaviour and how rarely rapists are brought to justice. Pressure from women has led to changes in the behaviour of the police and in the laws of this country, as when rape in marriage was made a crime five years ago. Women have struggled for such changes over many years, and they have almost always done so alone. Even men who weren't explicitly hostile have usually ignored their demands. No wonder that it has often been hard for women to welcome men into the debate.

But if individual men are now ready to join campaigns and to work for reforms or changes in culture, many women are now ready to encourage them. Lisa Longstaff, of Women Against Rape, is keen to emphasise that the organisation is positive about the idea of being involved with a campaign with men. "I would welcome many more men getting involved in the campaign against sexual violence," she says. "Men who enter this arena should work in consultation with women, and be accountable to them - and men aren't used to that!

"But it's a sign of how far we've come that these men could make such a film; that they wanted to raise the issue in the minds of other men. Until now, men have wanted to distance themselves."

This is surely right. And the real issue is not whether or not women should be able to work with individual, well-intentioned men on campaigns against sexual violence, but how on earth the campaigns can reach out to other men, every man, all the men out there who aren't yet listening, who haven't yet heard and understood. It's telling that this short film for Women Against Rape really does address men, not women: "She stops; you don't," it says. "What are you doing?"

The importance of reaching out to young men in such campaigns can hardly be underestimated. Too many young men are just not listening. Look, for instance, at the survey undertaken last year by an independent Scottish charity, the Zero Tolerance Trust. After questioning 2,000 young men and women in Scotland and England, aged between 14 and 21, it discovered that one in two young men believed that under certain circumstances it would be acceptable to hit a woman or force a woman to have sex. One in two! Those circumstances include, for instance, cases when a man thinks he has been carried away by desire, or when he has spent a lot of money on his date.

On the back of that, the charity is about to launch a campaign called Respect which aims itself directly at young men as well as young women. As a spokesperson, Evelyn Gillan, says, work against sexual violence used to focus all its energy on women. "But women are not the problem. We have to look at men's attitudes and what men do, to engage with men and challenge them. We say that work against sexual violence has three sides: provision, protection, and also prevention." The campaign will launch on 1 October with widespread advertising in pubs, clubs, libraries, sports centres and campuses across Scotland. The messages on the posters and flyers are straightforward. Above all, they emphasise that young men must ensure that they have consent to sexual intercourse. "No man has the right," they say. "A kiss is just a kiss." "Give respect, ensure consent."

It is easy to mock such campaigns. Why should men take notice of cinema advertisements and posters, when they have ignored women's anger for so long? Certainly, we need to see changes in legislation. We need to see more rapists brought to justice. Currently only one in ten of the men whom women report for rape is convicted, and that encourages men to see coercion as a low-risk activity. But it is also time to see a real attempt made to encourage a culture of respect and consent among young men.

At the moment the educational establishment is not taking on any responsibility for challenging young boys' attitudes. Although Tony Blair and David Blunkett have suddenly become very excited about the idea of moral education in schools, current government proposals on sex education contain no explicit discussion about confronting young men's attitudes to coercion. But if sex education is to do anything to help young people, it must be about more than just loading more responsibility on to young girls to say no; it must also be about putting responsibility on to boys to respect girls if they do say no.

It's interesting that the Respect campaign also encompasses educational work. In pilots in Bristol and Edinburgh, groups of young people will join single-sex groups to discuss issues of consent, power and violence. If these programmes are successful in challenging young men's attitudes, why shouldn't they be imitated elsewhere?

No educational campaign will suddenly wipe out men's violent behaviour. We still need to work for changes in policy that will bring more rapists to justice and protect women from violence. But given what's at stake, it's worth having a go at challenging the entrenched acceptance of violence among many young men.

As Michael Massey, the director of the short film about date rape, said last week, "If it changes the attitude of just one man, then it will have been worth it."