Johann Hari: We must not cover up this epidemic of rape

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The Independent Online

In Britain today, rape is on the brink of being an unpunished crime. Any man reading this can go out tonight, pick out a woman, force her into sex, and be almost certain he will walk free. This isn't hyperbole; it's a plain reading of the statistics. The Home Office figures show that just 5.6 per cent of the rapes reported to the police in this country end in conviction. Good odds for a rapist? It gets better: only a quarter of rape victims are brave enough to stagger into a criminal justice system they know will interrogate, bully and eventually fail them. So a man has to rape more than 50 women before it becomes statistically probable he will go to prison.

Naturally, this problem is being blamed not on the men who choose to rape, nor the failings of the police and the courts, but on those dirty bitches who choose to walk about being women. They, you see, are behaving in a way that virtually incites rape. You thought we had moved beyond the "They wear revealing clothes! They get drunk! What do they expect?" argument?

One right-wing journalist wrote recently, "Part of the problem is the new promiscuity, the new ladette culture, where some young women have more sexual partners on a week's holiday in Ibiza than most women have in a lifetime. The same young women feel it is their right to get paralytically drunk and have sex with a stranger hours after meeting, but draw a huge distinction with getting paralytically drunk and being forced to have sex with a stranger hours after meeting."

Fancy that! Those dozy bints draw a distinction between meeting somebody, finding them attractive, and choosing to have sex with them, and rape! But this writer is not a lone lunatic - a recent survey revealed that such they-had-it-coming views are disturbingly wide-spread. The poll found that 34 per cent of people believe a woman is "partially or totally responsible" for being raped if she has "behaved in a flirtatious manner," and 26 per cent blame her if she was wearing "sexy or revealing clothing." Imagine if there was an epidemic across Britain of heterosexual men being raped anally. Does anybody imagine we would hear the same arguments? Men shouldn't wear those sexy, tight tank-tops if they don't want to be raped. Men shouldn't get so hammered on a Saturday night that they can barely walk straight unless they want a hairy bloke to drag them into an alleyway. These are arguments nobody would ever make - but what's the difference?

Yesterday, the Government finally announced some small measures to stem the flow of this poisonous drunk-women-are-asking-for-it argument into rape-trial juries. It will now be standard at rape trials for experts in post-rape trauma to be called to testify, to explain to juries to juries why so many women wait a weeping week or month to report their rape to the police.

The Government is also trying to stop a vicious trend: judges are routinely tossing rape cases out of court before they reach a jury, simply because the victim was drunk when the attack occurred and therefore can't be "absolutely certain" that the attack happened. (Somebody should ask these judges: if you were anally raped after a few bottles of port, would you be capable of remembering it with certainty the next morning? I suspect so). This judicial tendency sends a very clear signal: drunk women are fair game. Rape away. Rapists are getting the message: Home Office research has found that gangs of rapists now deliberately prey on drunk women.

It is only through a blizzard of measures such as these - place "drunk evidence" before juries, provide more cash for rape referral centres, erode public prejudices - that we can establish a basic right.

Any human being has the right to stagger around the streets of this country in revealing clothes after a night's drinking without being raped. Full stop.

Has Alan Milburn no shame?

Is there a more foolish figure in British politics than Alan Milburn? Whenever Gordon Brown makes an announcement, Milburn, right, is there in the TV studios, ventriloquising Tory myths - that Brown is a roadblock to reform, that he taxes too much, and on and on. Commenting on last week's Budget, he bemoaned the slender new tax Brown has imposed on those hulking great gifts to global warming, SUVs. Why?

He has, he said with a chuckle, just bought a "great big one" himself - presumably with the money he made flogging off his "experience" of the NHS to private companies after he left office. Ho ho.

And now Milburn is savaging Brown's redistributive tax credits programme - the greatest domestic achievement of the current government - for "penalising hard work and endeavour". Does Milburn have no shame?

Every time Tony Blair gave him a job he hurtled over a political cliff, and Brown had to come to the rescue. Stick to the SUV drivers, Alan, they're about your intellectual level.

* Even as he lies in his long slumber on a hospital bed in Jerusalem, Ariel Sharon has won a last, lingering victory. I wish I could share the pensive optimism washing across Israel following the victory of his Kadima Party. Isn't there a clear plan for more withdrawals from occupied Palestinian land? Isn't this progress-by-inches? But the reality is much darker. Ehud Olmert is committed to withdrawing from a few useless over-populated scraps of Palestinian land, and illegally annexing the rest to Israel forever. This is not a plan for peace but a plan for permanent theft of territory acquired (and forcibly settled) by war. It consigns the only real route to peace - a return to the 1967 borders, and compensation for the Palestinian refugees - to the dustbin of history. Rest in pieces, Palestine.

j.hari@independent.co.uk

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