The grave danger of turning rape into a racial issue

My views on what should be done with rapists run to the seriously, painfully surgical

I AM A husband and the father of two girls. I grew up in a household of women, and learnt to respect, treasure and fear women early in life. I owe much of my career to the favour of women, and their recognition of what talents I have. So my attitude to the issue of rape is coloured by my history, and is neither rational nor intelligent.

It is vindictive, vengeful and punitive, and generally speaking, what my great aunts would call "niggerish", which means that my views on what should be done with rapists run to the seriously, painfully, surgical. Therefore it would not concern me in the slightest to have rapists, especially gang rapists, exposed, shamed and generally crucified on TV. It does not matter to me what colour or race they are - they are all marked "exterminate" in my book.

There is no excuse for this crime in the culture from which I come. It may be that some rapists see their violence as an exercise in power; momentarily it may make them feel strong and manly. However, in the Caribbean, as any holidaymaker will testify, the common belief among black men is that anyone who needs to force himself on a woman is something less than a man; the test of your masculinity is all to do with women's desire for you, rather than your capacity to compel sexual compliance. To commit rape in front of other men would simply be an admission that you just can't manage to persuade any woman that you are a good prospect. In short, rape is not an assertion of manhood - it is an admission of inadequacy.

I have not seen the film yet, but it seems strange to hear of Channel 4's Dispatches documentary (to be screened tonight) which suggests that gang rape has in some way become an aspect of black teenage male culture. Bluntly speaking, the chic associated with being a young black man in most British cities is such that most black teenagers don't need to find sex this way. However, we know that rape is not really about sex, but about power.

The Laurel Productions team is led by an experienced producer, Chris Oxley. He is not an irresponsible person and would not make something out of nothing. He himself says that the problem is "tiny", though it involves 14 cases and 79 youths. He does not, in the film, attempt to make a connection between race and sexual assault; and he says that this is really a story about a small group of estates and a few vicious teenagers.

If this were all it was, then it would be a valuable, interesting piece of journalism, but not world-shaking. I might mention that, less than a year ago, I wrote in these pages about the activities of a group of black kids who called themselves the 28 Posse. They had been excluded from school and roamed the streets of South London causing mayhem. Most people in the local community recognised this particular problem years ago, arising as it does from the poor performance of local schools, and the alienation caused by chronic youth unemployment. Channel 4 does not need to tell black people that they need to agonise over the problems with black boys; many tears have been spilt already.

But however much Oxley would like us to think otherwise, and himself want it to be otherwise, the investigation has created a sensation for one reason only - because it has been turned into a racial issue. It may indeed be one, but then the programme makers should have the courage of their convictions and say explicitly that in their book it is indeed a racial crime, carried out by one racial grouping only.

There are perfectly respectable ways in which they might make this argument. To start, with Laurel says that it was unable to find similar crimes being carried out by groups of young white men. If it is true that the only gang rapes being carried out in this country are led and executed by black boys, that is indeed sensational in the best sense of the word. However, it is less than 10 years since we were all persuaded by both the police and the then government that all muggers were black boys (and that most black boys were muggers). We now know this to have been fiction of the worst possible kind, exploiting an essentially local problem for unrelated political advantage. Many fine journalists went along with this and set back the cause of crime fighting a decade.

This kind of history does give one pause for thought. I don't know if anyone in the Channel 4 documentary asks whether the crimes are being reported by white victims in the same way as they are by black victims; or whether in cases which involve young white men it is being treated as a criminal matter at all. I gather that the programme makers did not go down this road, but I think we should know.

There is, of course some evidence that the kind of behaviour we are seeing described in this programme is not particular to blacks. Anyone who has watched the series of programmes dealing with young holidaymakers in Ibiza and Greece will conclude that if anything, the young women, mainly white, are more sexually voracious than the men; but little is heard of the incidents off-camera, where things go a little too far, and groups of drunken young men decide that "no" actually means "yes".

The principal source of information for the sample of crimes - 14 in total, remember - is the police and courts. After months of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, does anyone seriously regard these sources as reliable in the case of crimes involving black men?

But the fundamental question here is not about whether Laurel's facts are right or wrong. It is about what they might mean. I have no objection to Channel 4, or anyone else, exposing a wrong, or even asking an awkward question; that is the reporter's job, after all. But it must be a real question. The problem here is that we don't know if we have found a local phenomenon or something larger.

Channel 4, for all its protestations that it does not want to racialise the issue, made its own view clear by following the programme with a panel discussion in which everyone is black - the implication being that this is an exclusively black crime, arising out of black culture, and for black people to solve. Well, sorry guys, you have to go some to get me to plead guilty on that one.

And the cost of asking the wrong question is much greater than anything that the programme makers imagine it might be: it is when people start running away from you in the street because you are black that we see the results of getting it wrong.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick