Sexual freedom doesn't excuse sexual abuse

We should be less afraid of condemning sexual excesses, even when they could not be proved as crimes

Commentators are speculating on how the sordid details of footballers' sex lives may be no more than a intense version of more widespread misogynistic attitudes. But why bother with speculation? Look no further than the California gubernatorial election for confirmation of the theory.

I feel personally defiled by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger has won the race to become the Governor of California, wife and mother-in-law by his side, enthusiastic women among the cheering crowd. It is such an insult to all decent values that a man who admits to making serial assaults on women can be so decisively lionised.

Last Wednesday, the day before it ran an article detailing the sexual harassment six women had been subjected to at his hands, the Los Angeles Times published a poll suggesting that Mr Schwarzenegger was attracting 40 per cent of the vote. On polling day, after nine more women had come forward with similar complaints, he had increased his support to 48 per cent. Far from harming him, his "playful" attacks on women have burnished Mr Schwarzenegger's reputation.

As for the women who came forward, how can they be feeling now? Not only have their protests not been taken seriously, they have been distrusted and resented.

The accusations levelled at Mr Schwarzenegger appear only to have inspired sympathy and respect for him. The women in question, have been dismissed by many voters as hysterical, manipulative or simply mendacious, prompted not by moral outrage but instead political machination.

These women were not believed. Even if the truth of their testimony was not disputed, their motivation was. Even, indeed, when neither truth nor motivation were called into question, the seriousness of the allegations were. Mr Schwarzenegger's misdemeanours have been consistently referred to as "groping", as if he were an over-enthusiastic teenager taking his chances in the back row of a cinema.

No wonder the voters of California didn't take Mr Schwarzenegger's crimes seriously, when the entire tenor of the debate was framed in childish language, which invited sniggers instead of censure.

When the complaints of a group of women prove so marginal in selecting a man to represent and run a powerful American state, one can only despair at the chances of a teenager managing to make her voice heard when accusing people who are merely professional sportsmen of much more serious crimes. For one of the greatest frustrations, when attempting to negotiate the nightmarish maze that has to be followed in attempts to seek justice for sexual crimes against women, is that these attempts are either deemed not serious enough to have truly damaged the victim (as in Mr Schwarzenegger's case), or so serious that even being accused of the crimes is punishment enough for the perpetrator.

So it is that the controversy over what went on in a room at the Grosvenor House Hotel is centred on whether the girl who claims to have been gang-raped actually gave her consent. I'm afraid that a bunch of men whose idea of a good time is to have sex one after another with a teenager are guilty at least of extreme moral turpitude, even if consent was given in foot-high writing.

This, however, though a popular view, is not deemed to be a liberal one. In fact, the very idea that one should bridle at the idea of such gross sexual incontinence is sneered at as prudish and reactionary. The nation appears to have common sense enough to see that the England squad behaved badly when they threatened to refuse to represent their country in Turkey because Rio Ferdinand had been dropped for failing to attend a drugs test.

But I wonder whether a man whose idea of a good time is to film his chums having sex en masse on holiday, is fit to represent his country anyway. The proposition that all sexual behaviour is equally happy and healthy as long as all concerned are consenting adults, to me, is not correct.

I don't want to live in a society in which consenting adults can be criminalised for what they do to each other in private. But I do reserve the right to consider some sexual behaviour as degrading, or depraved, or dysfunctional, or perverse, or pathetic, or gross. And actually, I consider that seeing sex as something you do mob-handed with your mates, to a drunken stranger, is all of those things.

I do seem to be in a minority in suggesting that the men who indulge in this sort of behaviour are every bit as reprehensible as the women. We are told by the most cock-eyed of moralists that the men who indulge in such activities cannot really be blamed, that sexually available women are constantly throwing themselves at these poor lambs and that few men would be able to resist.

This sort of conclusion is the same one which has protected Mr Schwarzenegger so completely from the consequences of his own actions. The skewed logic is that so many women would have been flattered by Mr Schwarzenegger's attentions, and so willing to supply whatever he wanted sexually, that the poor chap can't be held to account when just occasionally he makes a pass at a woman who is not quite so responsive.

In other words, if women want to point the finger of blame for male sexual "excess", then they need look no further than their own sex, other women who might be a little more "up for it" than they are. The awful thing is, that is exactly what many women, including those who supported Mr Schwarzenegger, actually do.

It's quite a development, after something approaching half a century of "sexual revolution", to realise that the result has been that men are no longer expected to have to answer for any of their sexual behaviour (unless it involves children or visible violence), while all women have to bear the consequences of the overly promiscuous sexual behaviour of a few.

Women have long complained of the double standard that exists between sexually predatory men and sexually predatory women. Watching Sex And The City, it's possible to believe that such double standards are a thing of the past.

But in the real world, the double standard is stronger now than ever, with sexual freedom for women becoming sexual anarchy for men (though since most of this frenetic sexual activity seems to need alcohol to fuel it, it's debatable how "liberated" it really is).

In such depressing times, it is worth reminding ourselves that there are plenty of men and women who have adjusted well to the new freedoms that have developed since the Sixties, the pill and the slackening of sexual propriety that most people now enjoy. This is important because it is easy to fall into the same trap as the voters of California, and condemn an entire gender for the transgressions of a few - even though the vast majority do not deserve such harsh judgement.

There should be standards and norms in sexual behaviour that everyone, male and female, is expected to adhere to.

We should be less afraid of condemning sexual excesses, even when they could not be proved as crimes in a court. A good place to start would have been by letting men know that if their past is littered with offences against women, then they cannot be expected to win political office. Instead, in a massive slap in the face, women have been told the opposite.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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