Of women I have known who have been raped or sexually assaulted – and it’s chilling to write “women” in the plural – not a single one has reported the attack to the police. The reasons are complex. Fear of a protracted legal process in a country with a shockingly low rape conviction rate. Not wanting to re-live the experience, or face the attacker ever again. But there is also something else – perhaps the most disturbing reason of all: a sense of shame, of guilt, of somehow inviting the violence perpetrated against them, and that they were not therefore raped at all.
And that’s why former Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross’s reappearance from obscurity to reveal himself as an ill-informed victim-blaming buffoon is so unwelcome. In extracts from his book published by the Mail on Sunday today, Ross compares some rape survivors to “foolish” people who have laptops stolen after leaving them on the back seat of their cars. “We would laugh at a bank that stored sacks of cash by the front door,” he writes. “Half of all women who have penetrative sex unwillingly do not think they were raped,” and that was particularly true when they were drunk or on drugs.
When this sort of dangerous nonsense gets sprayed into the mainstream, it’s important that we hear from women above all else, and particularly those who feel able to talk about their own experiences of rape. But other men have to speak out, too: not only to show that not all men think like Ross, but also to help undermine the culture that makes rape as horribly pervasive as it still is.
Let’s be clear about this. Rape is rape. There are no mitigating circumstances or shades of grey. Either someone has sex with another person’s consent, or they have sex without their consent. It does not matter how many or few clothes a woman chooses to wear, or if she has downed eight cocktails, or smoked a few joints, or snorted lines of coke. It is irrelevant whether a woman is apparently flirtatious, or has gone on a date with a man, or has snogged them. Being married is no excuse either, something the law only recognised in 1991. “No means no,” and that really is that.
I don’t use the word flippantly when I describe interventions like Ross’s as dangerous. They help discourage women who have been raped from coming forward, allowing perpetrators to escape justice. They stop women who do report rape from being taken seriously. They help promote feelings of guilt and shame among rape survivors. And they help normalise rape among men: to give a rationale to the idea that women are somehow fair game in certain circumstances.
This poison gets aired too often. Last year, West Mercia Police published a poster in support of its “Safe Night Out” campaign that suggested that rape survivors were responsible if they drunk too much. It showed a woman smiling in a nightclub, and then lying, dishevelled on the floor, with the warning “Don’t leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape. Drink sensibly and get home safely.” The problem isn’t, apparently, men who rape. Instead, women have to change their behaviour to stop tempting them. Even some who regard themselves as progressive-minded fatally compromise themselves on rape. Last year, I met with cries of betrayal after suggesting Julian Assange should face accusations of rape. A few of his supporters suggested I was an MI5 agent; but many of them indulged in attempts to smear the accusers and belittle the allegations.
All of these attitudes are the legacy of thousands of years of male domination. It’s only in the last century that this domination has faced a systematic assault and dismantling: after all, a century ago women were still battling for just the right to vote. “Trying to level the genders is purely idiotic,” director Roman Polanksi – a man who raped a 13-year-old child – said at the Cannes Film Festival at the weekend. It is happening, however “idiotic” he thinks it is. It’s not just women who have been changed by feminism: men have been transformed too.
What it is to be a man isn’t static: it changes through the ages. Men in Britain are now less likely to treat women as subordinates, let alone as their chattel. Many have close female friends. They spend more time with their children. They do more housework. They talk about their feelings more. They tend to their appearance more, blurring old gender stereotypes.
There’s still a long way to go, of course. Statistics about rape and domestic violence are evidence of an often brutal male domination that continues. It is estimated that a million women face domestic violence a year; 400,000 women are sexually assaulted, and 80,000 women are raped. The objectification of women – from the Sun’s Page 3 to sexist jokes – help promote the idea that women exist for men’s sexual gratification.
When the likes of Ross make these idiotic pronouncements, it’s tempting to dismiss them as just that and move on. But the possible consequences are genuinely damaging. I hope men will join women in condemning them, too. We have to challenge a culture that allows some men to think they can get away with rape. That means standing with women – and speaking out as loudly as we can.