Faced with the sober truth, is it really rape?

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The Independent Online
THIS MAY be the most controversial column I've written, and I would be grateful if readers could pay attention, so as not to pillory me for something I am not saying.

OK then, here we go. I have some sympathy with Angus Diggle, the lawyer found guilty last week of trying to rape a young woman after the St Andrew's Ball. When he protested, 'Well, I have been out with her. I spent pounds 200 on her, why can't I do what I did to her?' he articulated a view held by very many young men: yes, even today.

He believed that spending money on his apparently compliant guest entitled him to sex. Why? Because a lot of young women agree. The alliance between female sexual attraction and male wealth and power is as old as the hills. The one is traded in return for the other: though not always as brazenly as this young solicitor assumed.

It is easier for a man to persuade women to go out with him if he has money to spend on entertaining them, and a racy car or stylish clothes. It is much more exciting and glamorous to be taken to a sophisticated restaurant before going on to an exclusive night-club than it is to go Dutch over pasta or a hamburger before sharing a double seat on the bus and walking the last half-mile home. (Though that can be fun, too.)

The psycho-babble justification would be that women are seeking good providers to father their children, but I am sick of psycho-babble.

Conversely, most young men like to be seen out with very good-looking young women. (A great many older and supposedly wiser men do, too.) Many women spend time and money on their clothes, hair and cosmetics so as to conform to this male ideal. They may also do it to please themselves or their female friends, but most do it to attract an eligible man.

I defer to no one in my feminist credentials, but it is futile to pretend that this is not the way the world turns. I dare say men and women should be influenced only by one another's high moral character or suitability as a potential child rearer and soul mate; but the fact is that baser considerations prevail.

Now, I am not saying - please get this clear - I am not saying that a man who has spent pounds 200 on a woman is entitled to her body. On the contrary: I believe that if he wants to spend pounds 200 in return for sex, he should go to a prostitute. But I am saying, to this particular and any other nave young woman, that if she has no intention of going to bed with a man, she should say so, clearly. 'It's awfully generous of you to buy me all this champagne, but I have to tell you I never sleep with men on the first date' will do, or 'My boyfriend is abroad and we have promised to be faithful'. There are all kinds of age-old lies with which she can spell out her intentions.

After the ball, at which they shared several hours of dancing, boozing and snogging, Angus Diggle was obviously drunk and his guest was not stone-cold sober herself. But at 25 she was old enough to know that it is foolhardy to invite a man, made amorous by alcohol and whose inhibitions and sensitivity are lowered, back to a flat and expect him to fall chastely asleep.

Real rape - violent, brutal and utterly unprovoked rape - is so appalling that 'date rape', or whatever we are to call Mr Diggle's crass and drunken lunge, should not be spoken of in the same breath. He obviously left the young woman bitter, angry and tearful, sullied by the memory of his brutish and repellent attack; but there was help at hand, she did beat him off, and the incident should not ruin her sex life, haunt her for years or leave her feeling foully violated. Not if she has a sense of proportion, anyway.

Leaving that case aside, I think it needs saying that women often regret having had sex the previous night, but that does not make it rape. How you behave when tired and pissed may not do much for your self- respect in the cold light of day, but it is vindictive, cowardly or immature to blame it entirely on the man. Grown-ups take responsibility for their actions; and feminism is all about being grown-up.