Joan Smith: There are no grey areas in rape

Share

Few subjects are as contentious, or as poorly understood, as rape. Blaming the victim is common, as is endlessly finding excuses to "explain" why some men brutalise women. Three months ago, people used social networking sites to abuse – and name – a 19-year-old woman raped by the professional footballer Ched Evans, who had just been sent to prison for five years. Last week, at Cambridge Crown Court, a schoolboy was spared a custodial sentence for raping a five-year-old girl after he blamed his "hormones" and the judge blamed "the world and society".

Most rape cases are horrible, this one particularly so. The boy, 14 at the time, was known by the girl's parents who asked him to babysit while they went to watch an older child in a school play. On their return, they paid him £10 and he went; it wasn't until the little girl was getting ready for bed that she told her father what had happened. On Monday, the judge imposed a three-year community sentence with a supervision requirement on the boy, leaving the victim's parents to worry about the possibility that she will bump into him on the street. The girl's mother said the sentence sent the "wrong message" about rape, and could deter other victims from coming forward.

She is right. Counsellors and campaigners talk about "myths" which blur the definition of rape and encourage misconceptions, such as the idea that attackers are "provoked" by the victim's clothing or behaviour. Both the courts and the media repeatedly look away from the individual assailant, whose responsibility for the crime gets lost in a welter of excuses. Anyone who rapes a five-year-old is by definition a danger to girls and women, who are entitled to expect protection from the criminal justice system.

The judge mentioned the boy's use of internet pornography, claiming his exposure at a young age had ended in "tragedy" – a strange choice of word for a vicious assault – but a 14-year-old boy is old enough to know that forcing someone to have sex is a crime. If he goes ahead and does it anyway, he belongs in a subset of sexual predators who will have violent relationships with women when they grow up.

The case underlines the need for education about sexual violence, both to protect potential victims and to identify boys with aggressive attitudes to sex. Parents and teachers need to be on the outlook for such young men, and challenge their behaviour at an early stage.

It doesn't happen often enough. Everyone thinks rape is a bad thing in theory, but real-life cases are very different. Total strangers rush to excuse rapists on Twitter, while no one believed the victims of the black-cab rapist, John Worboys, leaving him free to drug and rape more than a hundred women in London over a period of years. We should worry about lenient sentences and ambivalent public attitudes, which mean rapists aren't sufficiently afraid of being condemned and punished.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Brand Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you wish to be part of an exciting journey ...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The dress can be seen in different colours  

White and gold or blue and black - why has this dress captured our collective imaginations?

Victoria Richards
 

Daily catch-up: the battle of the election videos, and a robot sarcasm detector

John Rentoul
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