'SECONDS out. Round one]' shouts the referee. Well, call this Round 23,465 in the battle between the sexes. In the blue corner: Man (call him Mike Tyson). In the pink corner: Woman (call her Desiree Washington). In the audience, blood lust and a celebrity cast, including Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, William Kennedy Smith and Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer who says 'date rape is the cutting edge of civil liberties for the Nineties', which is why he signed on as Tyson's lawyer in the boxer's appeal against his conviction for raping Washington. That and a cool million.

Also at the ringside are the fans, Jane and Joe Public, taunting each other with enough ideological certainty to fuel Sellafield. Me? I'm going out for beer and hot dogs because I'm on the ropes when it comes to Tyson and the whole date-rape business, which seems to lie at the blood-spattered junction of civil liberties, instant ideology, sexual politics and self-aggrandisement.

Watching date rape go 15 rounds, as the crowds roar for blood, I feel confused, dizzy, sucker-punched. I can just about see a couple of things clearly: that there is a difference between rape and date rape, between a man who jumps you with a gun and a man on a date who won't take no or takes no for yes, which makes him mean or dumb but not necessarily guilty; that you have to make a distinction about the degree of criminality. In many cases, Tyson's for instance, there isn't much evidence in the usual sense of forensics or witnesses.

But how do you distinguish date rape from rape? What are the rules in this brand new game? If all you've got are a man and a woman and she says he did it and he says he didn't, doesn't it kind of boil down to: who do you like? Who do you lay odds on? Or, in the case of the rich and infamous such as Tyson or William Kennedy Smith, whom does the media like or stereotype favour?

The fans face off. This is sport as politics, gender wars on the mat, attended by trainers and promoters and commentators and fans in the grip of fashion and passion. Screaming for Pink, feminists are enraged: 'Rape is rape and no means no.'

Backing Blue for a knock-out are men, variously the wannabe contenders, chanting 'the bitch wanted it and then she ruined him]', and middle- class Iron Johns who beat their breasts about broads who hit below the belt. It's a 'feminist witch-hunt' (out of Salem, by way of Joe McCarthy), they grunt.

'They're out to get us,' the men moan. Look at the those 'femi-Nazis' (and their wimpy boyfriends, the PC cops) going for Tyson because he's black and a boxer. Even the Sunday Telegraph frets over an America where marauding women, 'if they feel they have been harassed, now shriek about it in packs]' It's 'Hillary Clinton's America', God help us, the Telegraph adds, as if Mrs Clinton were some territorial fight promoter.

Suddenly in the Blue corner, like a high-priced handler, is Alan Dershowitz. For years, he's argued rape is so serious a crime that deliberately bringing a false accusation is as serious; women who do so should be held responsible. I think he's probably right.

'When it comes to rape, lots of men and women are rooting for the victim to be telling the truth. You can't root for a case . . . you have to have facts,' says Dershowitz.

Dershowitz did appeal Tyson's case on the 'facts' of judicial improprieties that may have abridged his civil liberties. Dershowitz is America's celebrity lawyer; his idea of victory is squeezing sleaze-bags through a civil liberties loophole. On a hundred chat shows, Dershowitz has trashed Desiree Washington as 'a calculating gold-digger . . . a groupie who knew the rules - you get 20 minutes of not very good sex and bragging rights - 'I slept with the champ'.'

As a result, he will have planted doubts about her in the minds of every potential juror in the US. Is this punishment by law or by lawyer?

Doesn't it leave women down there, out for the count, Washington and the rest? What about date-rape cases where truly abused women shut up rather than face a ravening Dershowitz clone in what is political trial by television? Isn't this where it began? Women silenced and humiliated by officials whose assumption was: 'She probably asked for it.'

'But what was she doing in Tyson's hotel room? What's any woman doing in a man's room at 2am?' With a huge fanfare, Camille Paglia, the feminist renegade, arrives with her entourage. Paglia, who makes Dershowitz look as modest as mouse turd, thinks female trouble comes from failing to face the realities of sex. Men are dark and sexy creatures, she says, who cannot be controlled, which women would know if they listened to the roar of the common crowd instead of the feminist harpy.

Men and women are different, there is always sex around when they're together. Women cannot do and wear anything they want without risk, Paglia says, not at 2am or any other time, and she's right. And if women don't take responsibility for themselves, we will end up victims who need the protection of . . . men.

So down there in the ring, Blue and Pink are in a clinch, dancing, jabbing, getting nowhere, the blood beginning to flow. The crowd's on its feet, each side in ecstatic certainty. And that's the really scary part. When it comes to date rape, ideology, which fights dirty, is the real bruiser. As for me, I'm giving it all up for ice-skating.

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