Tom Sutcliffe: Rape should not just be an issue for women

Related Topics

I wonder whether the Haven rape centres will feel that they got value for money with the online opinion poll they commissioned to mark the 10th anniversary of the support service they offer for rape victims? On the one hand, "Wake Up To Rape", the report that resulted from the survey, did get quite a lot of coverage in the media – which is always part of the point of such operations. On the other hand, the findings appeared to suggest that social attitudes to rape remain hopelessly confused, despite decades of campaigning on the issue.

The headline figures were these: more than 50 per cent of the female respondents believed that rape victims should take some responsibility for what had happened to them, and more women than men (71 per cent as opposed to 57 per cent of men) believed that getting into bed with someone counted as a kind of contributory negligence. What was perhaps more significant was that these findings came from a survey of 18- to 50-year-olds; in other words, they excluded what you might characterise as the "old-fashioned" views of an older generation. This is, if the survey is at all accurate, a "new-fashioned" attitude to the crime – and one that seems to suggest that "she was asking for it", that long-standing apologia for rapists, remains depressingly inextinguishable.

It may not be as bad as it looks, of course, and it's certainly not as bad as some overexcited headlines have made it look. "Rape? It's the fault of the victims, say 50% of women" read one on one website. Well, not quite, actually. Quite a few women felt that some victims should take some responsibility for what happened, which may be a very long way indeed from saying that any kind of behaviour is a green light for violent sexual assault.

You'd have to look at the exact wording of the questions. I have a feeling that if you asked a question such as, "Are there circumstances in which it is reasonable to force a woman to have sex against her will?", you would find very little equivocation in the responses. And there is another possible explanation for the apparent hardening of attitudes towards victims which would see it as a direct consequence of women's increased equality, rather than a failure of such ideas to take root.

Crudely speaking, the argument would run like this. Until about 50 years ago, sex was something done to women by men. Now it is something they do themselves with men. And while the old formulation was never actually true to the reality of individual sexual encounters – it was a kind of legal fiction that society maintained, and which made it easier to think of women as victims pure and simple. In owning some degree of responsibility for how sexual encounters play out, younger women may not be stigmatising themselves through false consciousness (as the rhetoric would once have it). They may just be assuming they move through a complicated world as responsible adults – on a level with men.

Which still leaves a problem. How do you prevent this more complex and more honest approach to the complexities of sexual engagement from being distorted into a licence for male sexual predation? The only real way I would have thought is by concentrating not on women's attitudes and behaviour but on men's – and in pressing home to them the fact that rape is always wrong and always a humiliation, not just for the victim but for the perpetrator too.

Women are entitled to take the view, in the abstract, that their behaviour might contribute to tip an evening the wrong way. Men, I would suggest, are not. The next time such a survey comes round, the figures we should be concentrating on are not those for female respondents but male ones – and we should be hoping, in this respect at least, that the gap between the sexes has opened up even further.

What about the person next to Kevin Smith?

Film director Kevin Smith's angry tweets about being bumped off an airline because he was too fat provoked a flurry of supportive responses from heavy-set travellers. "Don't let them muzzle you," read one. "Time to make them burn for all the fatties out there without a voice." Others pointed out, with some justice, that Southwestern Airlines would hardly be falling over themselves to apologise if the big bones in question had belonged to a less celebrated traveller. Yet another suggested that Smith should start an airline catering exclusively for the broad-beamed (good luck raising the finance for that).

The unheard voice I was interested in, though, was the poor person who'd been allocated the seat next to him. Interestingly, Smith's podcast about the affair (an interminable, self-regarding ramble that could lose a bit of weight itself) did record her one contribution. "Are you squished?" he'd asked the woman next to him after he was asked to get off the plane. "It's only an hour flight," she replied. In other words: "Yes, actually ... but I'm too polite to say it to your face."

Quite often, in these circumstances, there's a thinnie without a voice, too – mutely surrendering any hope that they'll be able to let air get at their armpits for the duration of the flight. Perhaps they should weigh passenger and baggage as a job lot and charge by the kilogram – to cover the costs of a couple of rows of wide-load seating somewhere around the balance point.

And now for my theory about Francis Bacon

The problem: you are an academic at a minor university whose public profile is not quite what you'd want. The solution: come up with an outlandish theory about a dead celebrity. You may remember that the method was effectively deployed a while ago when two German academics surmised – on next to no evidence at all – that Gaugin had sliced off Van Gogh's ear in a street brawl, the crime subsequently being covered up with the story of self-mutilation. But that scholarly bit of grand guignol has been put in the shade by the suggestion, from an academic at the University of Erlangen, that Descartes was murdered by a Catholic priest to prevent him from infecting Queen Christina of Sweden with unsound theological ideas.

"It is very likely that he saw in Descartes an obstacle to the Queen's conversion to the Catholic faith," Theodore Ebert says. What's a tiny bit less likely – I venture to suggest – is that this defender of the faith should decide to do Descartes in by means of an arsenic-poisoned communion wafer, a method that doesn't seem to sit well with a reverent defence of the dogma of transubstantiation. Again, the evidence advanced is so flimsy that you couldn't even dignify it with the word "circumstantial" – but it's a great story and will no doubt provide a lot of media citations for the CV.

I offer as still available to the publicity-hungry academic the true story of Francis Bacon's death – which had nothing to do with experiments with frozen chickens and everything to do with the need to cover up a gay affair with King James I. Not a jot of proof for this theory, of course, but that shouldn't limit the headlines.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Analyst - London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Server Reporting Analyst (Busine...

Ashdown Group: Microsoft Dynamics Consultant - Watford - £65,000 + Bonus.

£50000 - £65000 per annum + bonus and benefits: Ashdown Group: Dynamics Expert...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - London - up to £48,000

£38000 - £48000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Senior ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The UK’s train service is rubbish — it needs a woman's touch

Alice Jones

The small Irish town of Athenry has a special place in my heart. What might the arrival of Apple do to it?

John Walsh
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower