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Tuesday 24 May 2011
The real rape statistics
David Lamming (letters, 20 May) rightly criticises David Cameron for his populist statement that, "The real need is to change the fact that 94 per cent of rapists are walking the streets free because they have not been convicted".
Mr Cameron should read the Stern report which explains this point in some detail to see that the 6 per cent often quoted is a flawed statistic. In fact, of every 100 reported to the police, 15 are retracted or withdrawn very quickly. A further 20 accusations are withdrawn by the individual at a later date. A further 23 are deemed not to have sufficient evidence to make proceeding viable (rape is in many cases very difficult to prove).
A further 14 do not proceed for other reasons. Of the initial 100, 26 result in a criminal charge but in seven cases prosecution does not proceed. Eventually, 19 reach court, resulting in 12 convictions for rape or sexual assault.
Sweden, which is frequently held up as an example of best practice in handling these matters, has four different offences for rape and the equivalent complaint-to-conviction ratio is about 10 per cent.
If we are to have any hope of having an intelligent debate on this serious and controversial matter it would help if our leading politicians were properly informed before they joined the media screamfest.
I agree that to perpetuate beliefs of women as victims is productive for neither women nor society, but Mary Dejevsky's take on Ken Clarke's statement on rape is slightly worrying (Comment, 20 May; letters, 21 May).
To agree or not to agree to have sex is a basic human right; whether in marriage or outside of it. To have sex with someone else without their consent contravenes article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". Where this right has been infringed then there is certainly a victim and concomittantly, a perpetrator.
The inference that the feminist movement is appropriating female trafficking and war rape, as a means to perpetrate the idea of women as victims, fails to acknowledge the cultural and political contexts within which these acts happen, seeming to assume that somehow in these modern cases, women are more effectively equipped to resist.
Truth is rarely black and white, but if as Ms Dejevsky suggests, we should rely on common sense to define when someone has been raped and when they have not, then the whole process of defining rape becomes arbitrary, based on the act itself rather than the terrible mental consequences of being violated. These consequences apply to both male and female victims, whether they are raped by a partner or spouse or as a result of an act of war.
Victimhood is not something that would naturally be embraced by anyone, but to deny victimhood in this context is to fail to acknowledge violation of a basic human right; feminists have sons too, you know.
Like John Wells (letters, 21 May), I was relieved to read the articles by Christina Patterson and Steve Richards, though they are apparently in the wilderness in their defence of Ken Clarke.
Freedom of speech in this country sems now to run on the lines of "say what you like as long as it doesn't offend". This is so woolly that the definition of "offensive" is that if someone finds it offensive then it is offensive. This makes any sort of debate impossible, as Mr Clarke found out.
Another example: in the extensive interviews given by the McCanns last week, no one asked whether it was a wise thing to leave three small children unattended even for half an hour; certainly the McCanns have suffered enough but does that mean the question cannot be raised, although the movements of the Portuguese police are analysed with forensic detail?
Nobody wants to intentionally upset victims of any crime but this fear of offending is muddying the waters of rational debate; that Ken Clarke should be asked to resign is ludicrous.
I'm sure Kenneth Clarke can look after himself and doesn't need my support, but I feel bound to say his contention that some forms of rape are more iniquitous than others was quite justified. There are degrees of murder, there are degrees of rape. This cannot need elaboration.
The curious case of Strauss-Kahn
I am amazed The Independent, along with other newspapers, is not raising serious questions about the Strauss-Kahn case. As a long-time US resident, it appeared to me from the start that there was something very wrong with the whole situation. Accusations of sexual wrongdoing are standard practice in American politics (particularly by the right wing) to destroy a political opponent, politely called "negative campaigning". One example is the Gary Hart and Donna Rice scandal which finished his presidential campaign in 24 hours. A similar tactic was tried with Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers but he was strong enough to overcome that, although it was followed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
What is really going on?
It appears that Mr Strauss-Kahn has been found guilty and convicted of a crime without a trial. That he may have coerced women into submitting to his charm and power is really none of anybody's business, other than that of his wife and the woman concerned.
Should a jury find him guilty, then so be it. But, should he be found innocent (and here the case of OJ Simpson rears its ugly head), then how will the damage to his person, his reputation and his finances ever be made good? And if so by whom?
The mainstream coverage of the top job at the IMF seems to be couched just in terms of whether a European or someone from one of the "emerging economies" should be appointed following the departure of Strauss-Kahn.
There doesn't appear to be even a pretence of a more democratic choice, say, someone who has personal experience of the sharp end of IMF policies. There's lots of rhetoric about democracy; let's press for some now.
Judgment on social care
The Birmingham judgment on social care (report, 19 May) has far-reaching implications, both for legislators and for local councils. In recent years, governments have been anxious to enshrine many rights into law and while we applaud this because it gives protection to vulnerable people, there is also a commensurate responsibility upon governments to resource their aspirations.
Social-care departments are some of the biggest areas of discretionary spend within a local authority budget and as the financial position worsens it is often to cuts in social care that councils turn to balance their budgets.
This situation places both service users and councils in a difficult position. The time may now be right to place the social-care budget in a ring-fenced pot similar to that of education to ensure that the money allocated for care gets to vulnerable people.
Chief Executive: English Community Care Association, London E1
We all pay for Britain's roads
Mark Steel (Comment, 18 May) makes a very good point about road rage in a fresh and hilarious way. But he neglected to mention that road tax, or vehicle excise duty as it is properly known, has not been used to fund the road network since 1937. This change in the law followed the publication of the Salter Report in 1932 which recommended that roads be funded by general income tax to prevent road haulage having an unfair competitive advantage over rail haulage.
Winston Churchill reputedly said that this was also necessary to prevent motorists developing the opinion that they somehow owned the road because they paid road tax, but this may be apocryphal. Unfortunately for cyclists and pedestrians, most drivers seem to think they own the roads anyway.
As an avid cyclist and part-time heavy-goods driver, I appreciated Mark Steel's robust appraisal of road rage. Having recently changed my car to a new model, I am delighted to find myself paying an annual £30 instead of the previous £155.
Of course, this is now seen as a tax on carbon emissions rather than money to maintain the road network. Therefore there can no longer be any logic at all in motorists getting vexed over cyclists having free use of the highway. After all, in their rage, they probably emit as much carbon dioxide as I do when puffing and panting up the hills on two wheels.
Rev Peter Sharp
Jobcentres get powers to fine
The Welfare Reform Bill is reaching the end of its line-by-line examination by a committee of Members of Parliament. It has been a chilling experience to listen to from the public gallery. It could be described as a Bill for the imposition of unmanageable debt on benefit claimants.
Thousands of decision-makers in Jobcentres throughout the UK are being given unprecedented discretion to impose sanctions, penalties and overpayments, on top of the rent arrears created by the housing-benefit caps, on unemployment incomes. They have far greater powers to fine unemployed citizens and taxpayers than in the magistrates' courts, without the legal advice available through the clerks and the proviso that fines should be proportionate to income, expenditure and debts.
The damage done by debt to the mental and physical health of benefit claimants reported by the Government Office for Science, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Mind is the blind spot in the Treasury and DWP thinking; it creates substantial costs in the NHS.
A remarkable example of that is Clause 111 of the Bill which permits Jobcentres to fine claimants £50 for making an innocent error on their application forms. The present unemployment benefit of someone aged between 18 and 25 is £53.45 a week, which will also be repaying any overpayment arising from their errors.
Jobcentres never volunteer the information that they are not legally allowed to enforce repayment of overpayments arising from their own £2.2bn of innocent errors in 2009-10, excluding HMRC and council tax delivered in error.
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, London SW1
Pay gap is really a reality gap
Sean O'Grady reveals that about 20 per cent of our youngsters aged 16 to 24 are unemployed (Business, 19 May). In another article, Sean Farrell informs us that the senior management of Lloyds Banking Group, despite their appalling performance, are quite happy to pay themselves bonuses of up to 300 per cent on already substantial salaries.
It seems that many of the senior managers in the financial sector have no concept whatsoever of social cohesion. Apparently, neither do they possess any genuine leadership qualities. Contrary to the rose-tinted view being widely propounded, Britain's economy is in dire straits and we face potentially serious social upheaval ahead.
The Centre for Policy Studies estimates that we are in total debt of more than £3,600bn, or about £140,000 per household. What we desperately need are leaders who recognise these problems and can lead by example. We have learnt little from the 2008 economic meltdown.
Can you trust your GP?
Over the past three months, four members of my family, attending three GPs, have been mis-prescribed drugs which proved to conflict with other existing medication prescribed by the same GP. In one case, this led to a major haemorrhage requiring a week in hospital.
Is this level of mis-prescribing common? Leaving aside the pain and distress caused, this must represent an enormous waste of NHS resources. Are these the people we are asked to believe can take over the entire NHS?
Irish neutrality aided the Allies
I have never met a fellow-Irish person who is proud of the ill-considered action of De Valera in visiting the German legation in Dublin to deliver condolences on Hitler's death.
As to the Irish neutrality during the Second World War, Mr Oxenham (letters, 20 May) might consult the memorandum submitted to the War Cabinet in February 1944 by Lord Cranborne, listing 14 ways in which the Irish government's conduct of neutrality aided the British and Allied war effort.
Revd Eamonn Rodgers
Your reporter ("End of the world is very nigh indeed", 21 May) describes the evangelical preacher, Harold Camping, who predicted the end of the world for 6pm on 21 May, as "89 and uses hearing-aids in both ears". What is added by this reference? Is it to imply that it confirms his idiocy? Mr Camping may indeed be an elderly idiot, but wearing two hearing-aids is irrelevant.
Tail wags ...
The most interesting aspect of the publicity for Israel's territorial ambitions was the sight of the most powerful man in the world setting out his demands, and President Obama just having to sit there and accept the humiliation.
Keighley, west Yorkshire
Perspectives on university fee 'sales'
Plan is threat to education
In response to your article "The great university clearance sale" (12 May), I am very concerned with the reported comments made by the Minister for Universities, David Willetts, which suggest that universities could offer reduced fees on courses to "sell" during clearing. Such claims will only result in an unfair higher-education system which discredits the very foundations on which this sector was built.
Our higher-education system is not a high-street retailer and academic courses should not be "sold on the cheap" if courses are not fully subscribed.
Higher education is one of this country's greatest success stories; it is one of our strongest exports. Our reputation and success are built on the quality and standards of our system. The prospect of Institutions "selling-off" places on their courses undermines the sector.
After 2015, thousands of students will be leaving education with unprecedented levels of debt. It would be extremely demotivating for these students if their colleagues, studying the same course at the same university, were paying less than they were.
Vice-Chancellor, University of Central Lancashire
A strike against creative thinking
Your interview with David Willetts gave this reader at least the impression of a man making up policy on the fly. The suggestion that cut-price university places might be offered in clearing is a good example of the unthinking application of a retail business model (the Summer Sales) to a service which is essentially non-commercial.
Much more alarming was the prediction that, "You will see delivery of higher education by packing studies into two years in some cases, delivered in an ex-office block with students studying 40 hours a week".
This is not higher education as it has been understood in this country for the past 150 years. It is a suggestion that the rate of participation in higher education can be maintained by putting some students through a second-class system of information factories, staffed by people who will not have time to undertake any research. This can only worsen social divisions.
It is high time the Government admitted that the funding model based on normative fees of £6,000 is broken, and that the whole subject needs reconsideration, perhaps via a public enquiry.
While universities must be run in an efficient manner, we are in danger of losing sight of some of the key purposes of higher education: the encouragement of independent, critical thinking and the sparking of creativity by having students taught by people engaged in cutting-edge research.
That's a good basis for producing the creative problem-solvers that business and society need. Or is this Government afraid of independent, critical thinking?
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