The real meaning of rape

Years ago, in the early Eighties, I underwent what would now be considered a date rape
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The Independent Culture
THE OLD Bailey trial of Richard Baker, the disc jockey denying four rapes, two indecent assaults and one attempted indecent assault, is disturbing in many ways, but one of the most striking aspects of this man's testimony is his use of "the Clinton defence". He claims that he did not rape his four accusers because, he says, his sexual attacks did not involve penetrative sex, rather in the manner that Clinton denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

He does admit to stalking the four women, attacking them, terrorising them, intimidating them and indecently assaulting them. But their rape, he denies. Anyway, he considers rape to be "battering you black and blue and leaving you for dead". Others may consider this to be a little closer to a definition of murder, but at least it has the dubious merit of being entirely distinguishable from "date rape", or from what some people, more than likely the President of the United States among them, prefer to call "bad sex".

Baker's trial is not yet over, but because of the "chilling confessions" he has made in court he has already been labelled a "sex monster". Although it would be comforting to be able to write off Baker's ideas about rape as outlandish, the truth is that many young men foster beliefs about rape and violence against women that are as reprehensible as Baker's.

In a poll conducted last year by the Zero Tolerance Trust, it was found that one in five men thought it acceptable to rape his wife; one in seven believed that raping a girlfriend was OK if they'd been going out for a long time; one in ten believed rape was fine if the man was "so turned on, he can't stop"; and nearly half of the sample of 2,000 young people in Manchester, Glasgow and Fife considered that violence or abuse against women was sometimes excusable.

It's depressing stuff, and all the more depressing because it could be said that these attitudes, in some respects, represent a kind of ghastly progress. While we all know that until recently it was legally impossible to rape your wife, at least these young men appear to recognise that all sex without consent is rape. That "rape is rape is rape is rape is rape" has long been a feminist mantra, which is why Fay Weldon got into such hot water with the sisters when she declared that "worse things than rape can happen to a woman".

But, in some respects, the Baker case affirms her view. For what we are hearing about from the Old Bailey is pretty wild: that under the law the occurrence of penetration is what makes a man a rapist, and that under the law the sexual ordeal his victims have undergone would somehow be diminished if they had experienced every physical manifestation of his misogyny except the intrusion of his penis into their vaginas. For, again drawing a Clintonesque distinction, Baker has admitted to forcing a 15- year-old, Miss E, to perform oral sex on him, but denies her allegation that he had sex with her in three positions.

This certainly worries me, and confirms my view that in sex-crime cases there is too much attention paid to what the penis is doing, and too little paid to what is the aim of the consciousness attached to the penis. My misgivings about blanket definitions of rape began a few years ago when two British "date rape" cases provoked a heated debate.

In one, a woman has sex with a man, Austin Donnellan, whom she says she didn't want to have sex with, and he walks free. The other undergoes nothing more than a baroque pass, but sees its perpetrator, Angus Diggle, sentenced to prison for three years as a sex offender. Apart from this, the main difference between the cases is that the lesser accusation had a witness.

These two cases made an awful precedent and, since then, the trouble with date- rape accusations and the difficulties of bringing them to court have increased. Although such accusations are reported to the police far more often than rape by a stranger (less than one in ten reported rapes falls into the latter category, while in Scotland one in three teenagers claims to have undergone date rape) they hardly ever go to trial and convictions are virtually non-existent. So, while rape is rape is rape is rape is rape, the fact is that, in the vast majority of rape cases, the law cannot protect us at all.

Years ago, in the early-Eighties, I myself underwent what would certainly be considered a date rape. I met a man who seemed nice in a pub, discovered that the flat I was staying in while visiting friends was a few doors away from his, and accepted his invitation to go to his flat "for a smoke". After I'd been there for a short time he made sexual advances which I turned down. He then violently raped me. I left his flat after he'd finally fallen asleep and returned home, telling no one about what had happened.

Years later, I moved to the city I'd been staying in when this event occurred and was visited by a friend who'd just moved there too. She told me that she was going out on a first date with a guy she liked that night, who she'd met recently. Then she told me his name.

Since this was the then uncommon name of the man who had raped me, I freaked out and told her the whole story. She should not, I begged her, meet this man. While she was sympathetic to what had happened to me, she felt certain that it wasn't the same guy. My rapist had been into motorbikes, but this man wasn't.

She phoned me the next day. She'd gone out with the man and had a lovely evening. He'd offered to walk her home, and during the walk he'd pointed out a biker bar and said that in his wild young days he'd drunk there all the time. Suddenly, she told me, she had felt as certain as I did that this was the same man as the one I'd told her about. She asked him if he knew someone called Deborah Orr, and he went white.

She laid all I'd told her before him, and he admitted to all of it. He said it had been the most shameful thing he had done in his life, and that he'd changed completely since that time. He asked her to convey to me his sorrow and regret. She said that none the less she found it all incredibly hard to believe, for he still seemed like a decent bloke. I agreed with her that even under the circumstances it was possible that he was. My boyfriend of the time, who'd listened to my confession of the night before, and was also listening to the call, kicked me hard in the back as the words fell from my lips, and I sprawled to the ground.

What did I learn from this astonishing series of events? Some cheering things, such as that even if a man had not been brought to justice for rape, he could recognise his guilt and change his ways. And other, less cheering things, too, such as that the man who says he loves you can still be violently jealous of someone who has raped you. But, most important, I learnt neither to go to the homes of men whose sexual intentions I could not be certain of, nor to invite them to mine.

The phrase "date rape" didn't putter over the Atlantic until years after my own experience. But when it arrived I realised that it was a worthless, even dangerous, distinction when it came to sexual violence against women. I still don't believe that anything would have happened if I had reported that man to the police. It would have been his word against mine. But I do wish that I'd told everyone I knew what had happened to me and warned them against falling into the trap that I had.

I do believe that there are different kinds of rape and sexual violation, and that the distinctions are all to do with the kind of kick a man is after when he forces any kind of sexual advance on another person. The law should reflect that, because at the moment our definition of rape is both too broad and too narrow to protect us. We need to rethink our definitions of rape so that men cannot stand in a dock making petty physical distinctions that they claim stop them from being rapists, and so that ordinary young men stop believing that sometimes rape is not an unforgivable violation. Most of all we must find a way of making it clear that men rape women with their minds as well as with their sexual organs.

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