Angela Lambert: What gives a woman the right to rape a man?

It is driven by power: the female's biological power to take a man's sperm and give birth to his child
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The latest Home Office statistics show that the figures for reported rape (of women by men) went up by 26 per cent last year; though whether this means more women are reporting the crime or that its actual incidence has increased, remains as problematical as ever. In any case, most rapes are never reported, and of those that are, few reach the courts, and few rapists are found guilty.

Yet there is another form of rape that is never reported and doesn't even count as rape. It is not a crime, attracts no trial or prison sentence, hardly even opprobrium - yet it is as damaging and disgraceful as the rape of a woman by her partner, a relative or acquaintance, or a stranger. Society tolerates it and the rapist has no sense of guilt.

I mean the deliberate sexual use of a man by a woman, without his having agreed to the consequence, in order to conceive a child. Put more simply, she steals his sperm.

Sometimes the woman targets a man who seems suitable father-material, although she doesn't intend him to play any part in her child's life. She picks him for an apparently desirable combination of intelligence, good health and good looks. She may already know him well; or he may have been chosen almost at random. Often the reason is that she fears she is coming to the end of her reproductive "window" and can't afford to be scrupulous about whether he agrees to have a child or if they have a future together.

She may pick a man to father her child because she is obsessed with him and although the relationship is running out of steam, she's determined to bear and bring up a living souvenir and replica, his genes finally under her control. She may conceive despite knowing that a partnership is already doomed, or as punishment for a man's leaving or having left her.

If the man never knows about the resulting pregnancy he won't suffer, though his child certainly will. But if he - let's call him the involuntary father, since that's the role imposed on him - does find out, he will be angry and resentful at first; then bitter and unforgiving. He may suffer for years, knowing that a woman who cheated him is the mother and custodian of his child, whom he may never see, in whose upbringing he is allowed no part. (Unless, of course, she claims child support, thereby adding insult to injury.)

I would define this sequence of events as male rape: an act of sexual and emotional theft motivated by gender and greed, that can scar the victim for the rest of his life. It is often said that the rape of women is not about sex or violence; it's about power. In the same way, male rape is also driven by power: the female's biological power to take a man's sperm and eventually give birth to his child - whether he agrees or not.

The notion that a woman has absolute rights over her own body has been central to feminism and a major plank in the pro-abortion arguments. If she doesn't want to carry a child to term, the argument runs, why should she? If having a baby doesn't suit her, she has the right to abort it and nobody should force her to continue the pregnancy.

That was the first step. The second step is its opposite: if a woman wants to have a baby, why shouldn't she? Motherhood is her right. If the man doesn't agree - tough. The fact that she doesn't use physical violence - not least because it would be counter-productive - doesn't make it any less an act of rape.

A man who rapes a woman, or for that matter another man, imposes sex upon an unwilling partner because he too believes he has the right to choose what he does with his body. The emotional consequences of this selfishness can be devastating. The woman feels humiliated, violated, disgusted, ashamed. The autonomy of her body and her right to give or withhold consent to sex has been contemptuously ignored. It can take months or years before abhorrence of the rapist and even of herself begins to fade, and she can start to resume ordinary happy physical relationships.

But how different is that to the effect upon a man of becoming an involuntary father? Forcing a man to engender a son or daughter without his knowledge and agreement destroys his peace of mind, his self-esteem, his faith in women, his enjoyment of sex and denies him the pleasures and responsibilities of fatherhood. It leaves him in the position of one man I know, who scrutinises the face of every young man of roughly the right age, asking himself: could you be my son?

And what about the child? The offspring of this one-sided parenthood is born with a family history, a genetic inheritance, of which it knows nothing. The story of its grandparents and other ancestors is a closed book. Is the child musical because its father was? Did an aunt or grandparent share its gift for engineering, or languages, or football? Does it risk certain diseases or medical conditions? What is the "family face"? Where are the photo albums showing Daddy as a baby, a toddler, a schoolboy?

These things are not trivial - they matter. When my son's first son was born, his wife asked me to dig out pictures of him as a baby, so that she could scrutinise the newborn's face and compare it with his father's. None of us is born in isolation; we are all part of a chain that stretches back dozens of generations and helps to make us who and what we are. The child of an involuntary father is denied one half of that ... and it's a heavy deprivation, for which he or she may come to resent its mother bitterly.

I will be accused of being anti-feminist, or a Catholic. I am neither. For 40 years I have earned my living, brought up my children and paid their way and my own, on the most equal terms available ... which has rarely meant absolute equality. I have never received money except by working for it - neither inherited nor in return for sexual favours. I campaigned for equal rights before today's beneficiaries were born. If that's not being a feminist, all else is poppycock.

But if women do claim equality with men, they must take into account the fact that a child is not something they deserve or are entitled to by right, simply because they possess the biological capacity to conceive. A child needs two parents - apart from anything the workload for one is exceptionally heavy - and two families. To deny a child that duality deprives it of its birthright. It needs both a female and a male example of what it means to be human. It needs one parent to be comforting when the other is angry; one to be firm when the other is about to give in from sheer exhaustion.

Either both sexes have the right to use their specific sexual functions in whatever way they like, or neither has. The rape of a woman by a man is now recognised as a serious crime. It is high time women accepted that deliberately stealing a man's sperm in order to experience motherhood, without the help or burden of a father, is an equal crime.