Saturday 28 June 2008
Deborah Orr: In the weird world of these embittered men, rape is a crime that doesn't exist
Jill Saward, who gave up her right to anonymity in order publicly to discuss her experience of rape and its aftermath, is standing against David Davis in his diverting civil-liberties by-election. She will have done the nation a service even if she manages only to get across to people what "anonymity" in rape trials actually is.
Since the law lords last week ruled that the recent use of "witness anonymity" blocks a defendant's right to a fair trial, chaps who feel hard done by have been spluttering indignantly anywhere they can about how nobody cared about witness anonymity when the only "beneficiaries" were those pampered women who claimed that they'd been raped.
But the "anonymity" in rape trials is quite a different beast from the anonymity that troubles the law lords. The former refers only to reporting restrictions that prohibit the naming of people reporting rape in the media. The latter demands that the defendant is not given any information that might lead to his identification of the person giving evidence against him. Clearly that does not happen in rape trials.
Certainly it would explain perfectly why rape convictions run at 6 per cent of those reported, if defendants really were asked whether they pleaded guilty or not guilty to raping a woman who must remain nameless, at a location that must remain nameless, at a time that must remain nameless. Tricky, indeed, to get a conviction there.
Yet the plain absurdity of such a situation has not stopped the pressure group Fathers4Justice from "demanding" this week that anonymity in rape trials is extended so that it applies equally to the suspected criminal and the suspected victim. Their claim is that the law as it stands discriminates against men. It does not, of course. A male victim of rape is subject to the same protections as a female one, just as a female perpetrator is not. Anyway, superheroes, anonymity did apply to both suspect and victim when it was first brought in. However, it was quickly discovered that this hampered the police very greatly when they had to appeal to the public for help in apprehending dangerous suspects who were on the run.
No doubt, armed with the information they might have been expected to uncover themselves in their efforts to be viewed as a serious campaigning organisation, Fathers4Justice will soon be demanding that anonymity for victims in rape trials is also lifted, so that the police can get on with the job of scouring the nation for all those dangerous women who live only to destroy the reputations of as many men as they can.
In the world of the meni-nazis, rape is a crime that barely exists, while false accusation of rape is an endemic and unspeakable commonplace. This assessment, they believe, is borne out by the poor conviction rate. It illustrates only, they argue, that 94 per cent of people reporting rape make their stories up. More sensible suggestions, such as the one which contends that rape – as a usually unwitnessed assault that involves the forced enactment of an exchange that is normal when conducted among consenting adults and might perhaps be hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt – are condemned as "special pleading" by wimmin for wimmin.
It is even suggested by some extremists that women, after the trials in which they have given rejected evidence, should be charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, as an example to others who might like to try their luck in the courts. Rape has only just been declared by the UN a "weapon of war". No doubt, in the name of equality for men (which I support, of course, as the happy counterpoint to equality for women), false accusation of rape will shortly have to be declared a weapon of war as well.
They lived amicably ever after
I've been labouring for many years under a misapprehension. Like an idiot, I thought that the word "amicable" was a synonym for "friendly". Lately I've begun to question whether that can be right. First Matt Lucas was said to be "amicably" splitting from his civil partner Kevin McGee, both pictured. Then Madonna was described as seeking a divorce from her husband, Guy Ritchie, also "amicably".
Yet in the first of these amicable partings, Lucas is reported as having hired the glossily combative divorce specialist Mishcon de Reya, representative recently of one Heather Mills, to speak softly and reasonably for him. In the second, Madonna is said already to have hired Fiona Shackleton, Paul McCartney's divorce lawyer, to handle her warm and placid disengagement.
I do understand that in both of these cases, there is more at stake than who gets saddled with the bread-maker. But surely, if they are still getting on so nicely, they could just come to a general agreement all by themselves, then hire any old somebody between them to sort out the small print if that's necessary. Why the amicable lunge for the adversarial option?
Divorce lawyers or, even worse, the dreaded family courts, should have to be resorted to only if at least one half of a formerly happy couple is a hate-filled vengeance-seeker of the first water. Bring 'em in, and you can be assured that if, your break-up is amicable for the present, then pretty soon it won't be.
Gay? They don't even make their own mayo
I don't know which group is more up itself – the 200 or so people who complained that a man took a peck at another man in an advertisement for mayonnaise, or the Stonewall gay rights group, which is threatening a boycott of the food giant's products after the film was withdrawn.
The outraged consumers say that they would feel uncomfortable if their children asked them questions about the embrace, which they were prurient enough to view as sexual rather than affectionate. If my parenting skills were so poor that I was unable to explain "Ha, ha, ha! The manufacturers are claiming that if I started using their product, Daddy and you would start thinking I was really a big burly New Yorker who makes delicious sandwiches professionally! Ha, ha, ha!" then I'd want to keep it quiet for fear that social services came round.
But the 200 aren't the only ones displaying sense-of-humour-and-proportion failure. Stonewall says that Heinz was being "homophobic" in withdrawing the ad. Heinz might have been guilty of failing to understand that the mildly sophisticated liberalism of the campaign would not go down well with its more touchy-conservative-parent customers, and moving rather too snappily to assuage them.
But in suggesting that every show of affection between men is necessarily sexual, Stonewall is making exactly the same mistake as the people it says Heinz should have ignored. Still, the old gay-rights humour has come on in recent times. In the 1980s I worked for a magazine that advertised its gay food and drink guide with a poster displaying a plate flanked by a knife and a bent fork. We were forced to withdraw this stab at knowing humour, because homosexual rights groups themselves found it outrageously offensive. At least they've now learnt to wait for others to start complaining first.
* Our struggling government – which we are unable to place on "special measures" – is finding a little time to congratulate itself again. An Ofsted report on the training of primary teachers, which finds it is not likely to enlighten them too much about how to teach a child how to write, is "very encouraging". Indeed, so. The modern way, I've observed, is not for children to be schooled in setting down letters correctly, but for them to be given the creative elbow room to block out the shapes of words in whatever freestyle manner they like. Tempted as more old-fashioned parents might be to persist in the foolish notion that there is a "proper" way to form letters, I feel that it might be easier all round to abolish the whole writing thing and move over instead to "word drawing" from here on in.
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