No room for compromise in debate over 'date rape': Mary Braid looks at the arguments that have polarised public opinion

SINCE Mary Koss, an American psychologist, coined 'date rape' to describe a social phenomena in 1985, the debate over rape has become even more polarised.

Her wider definition of rape, to include verbal coercion - some say old-fashioned persuasion - and the presence of drugs and drink in sexual encounters, has led to claims in the United States that more than one in four female students have been victims of rape.

Ms Koss is credited with kicking off some ludicrously mechanical attempts to regulate sexual encounters on politically correct campuses throughout the US.

When it comes to discussing date rape, it is as if to concede any shades of grey when it comes to consent is to lose the argument.

Last night Siwan Hayward, founder of the national No Means No anti-rape campaign, said that, despite the verdict in favour of Austen Donnellan, she still believed his accuser. 'Women don't lie about rape,' she said.

Groups such as Women Against Rape insist that if a woman feels she has been raped, then she has been - apparently dispensing with the need for any courtroom examination.

In the US there is already a backlash against the Koss camp. Its opponents include female academics, who consider themselves feminists.

American academics such as Katie Roiphe claim the definition of rape has been widened so much that it now devalues its true horror and meaning. She argues that the trend is essentially anti-feminist because it portrays women as weak and powerless, always at the mercy of more intelligent men.

Jayne Aldridge, co-ordinator of the No Means No campaign at London University, believes such criticism betrays the cause.

'There is a backlash at the moment against rape. It is being widely suggested that women are now calling rape after sexual experiences they consented to, but did not particularly enjoy. That is simply rubbish.'

No Means No was founded after Judge Raymond Dean's comment that, when a woman says 'no', she does not always mean 'no'. Ms Aldridge said yesterday that judging by some recent comments by male students concerning the Donnellan case 'we have a lot more work to do'.

Ms Aldridge believes the treatment Mr Donnellan's accuser received in court will deter women from coming forward. She believes there was too much concentration on her sexual behaviour and character. The only point, she insisted, was whether the woman gave consent.

Last year, No Means No questioned 1,700 female students throughout Britain using the definition of rape in British law, which relies on consent. Ms Aldridge said it found that 10 per cent of women reported being victims of rape. A further 10 per cent said they had been victims of attempted rape. Of those who claimed they had been raped, 84 per cent said the rapist had been someone they knew. Fewer than 2 per cent had reported the incidents to the police.

Ms Aldridge insisted that confidentiality and fair treatment were crucial if women were to come forward with complaints. 'It all depends on what the woman wants. She may not want to go to court and have her view trashed. The rate of conviction for rape is appalling. Many women say going to court is like being raped all over again.'

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