The male victims of date rape: Men are bewildered by the feminists' rules of sex, says Geoffrey Wheatcroft

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The Independent Online
LAST Monday Mike Tyson went back to prison in Indiana after a judge refused to quash his sentence for rape. Two weeks earlier Angus Diggle returned to his prison cell here, after the Court of Appeal cut his sentence for attempted rape from three years to two.

Neither man is cast in the mould of a martyr, and neither is precisely the victim of a miscarriage of justice. But both might be called victims of society. They didn't understand the changing rules of the game. Does anyone?

Diggle took out a fellow lawyer. They went back to a borrowed flat, both very drunk. She undressed in front of him and got into bed; he followed, but desisted when she remonstrated. By her account, the whole episode lasted less than 15 seconds. Tyson rang a young woman he had just met and summoned her to his hotel room in the middle of the night. She went. He and she agree that intercourse took place; the question was consent.

Here, then, are two cases of what is now called 'date rape', involving a woman and a man whom she knows. Some feminists say that this, with its betrayal of trust, is as serious as any other form of rape. But the trouble is that while date rape is a product of permissive society and sexual revolution, it is also a contradiction of them. Not surprisingly, the law doesn't know how to cope.

It has long been a principle of English law that an unchaste as well as a chaste woman may be raped. It has never been a defence to say that a woman was of loose character. But this legal principle went with a prevailing social assumption that a respectable woman was chaste: virginal before marriage, faithful within it.

This assumption was often false, but it made the law of rape easier. There was a presumption to believe a woman who said that she had been unwilling. When rape was a capital offence there must have been occasions when a girl sent her lover to the gallows to protect her own name.

In general, law and society took a dim view of female sexual licence and an exalted view of female virtue. Under the law of slander, for example, the imputation of unchastity in a woman was (and in theory still is) one of the few exceptions to the rule that defamatory speech must be shown to have caused material damage. Censure was tempered only by pity:

When lovely woman stoops to folly

And finds too late that men betray

What charm can soothe her melancholy,

What art can wash her guilt away?

Then came the sexual revolution. Women were free for the first time to lead sexually active lives without fear of social disgrace or, more to the point, of pregnancy. But this brought a new problem for women: how to deal with unwanted advances.

So then came another revolution. American feminists discovered 'acquaintance rape', usually when both people had been drinking, and when the woman thought better of it, either at the time or subsequently. Nowadays, when lovely woman stoops to folly, she calls it date rape.

Brutish male cynicism? But it isn't only men who are perturbed. More than one woman columnist has said that Diggle could scarcely be blamed for misunderstanding his companion's intentions. After another case, involving two students, Nigella Lawson of the London Evening Standard wrote: 'To wake up and find yourself in bed with someone whom sober you wouldn't touch with a bargepole is not such a big deal. We've all been there, honey. It's called student life.' Mary-Kay Wilmers, in the London Review of Books, said that every woman she knows had at one time or another gone to bed with a man she shouldn't have: 'a married man, someone else's man, or just the wrong man'. Even in America, younger writers such as Naomi Wolf and Katie Roiphe have turned on their elder sisters, arguing that 'victim-feminism' is not only neurotic but absurd.

The victim-feminists take a positively Victorian view of woman as feeble and pathetic, unable to look after herself - or even to make up her mind - and thus a perennial prey to the wiles of men. But our society is not like Victorian society - and the contradiction is not new. In 1947, Charlie Chaplin was hounded out of Hollywood on a pretext of sexual misconduct (in reality for his political opinions). Evelyn Waugh observed that 'a community whose morals are those of caged monkeys professes to be shocked by his domestic irregularities'. What was true of Hollywood then is now true of Western society as a whole.

The shelves of suburban shops groan with skin mags and 'adult' videos, schoolboys play pornographic computer games. Then they are expected to grow up like Boy Scouts, who never forgot that every girl is another chap's sister.

Diggle and Tyson both did forget. Neither man, I repeat, is a victim of outrageous injustice. But there is a disturbing whiff of political gesturing about the two cases. Diggle was told by Lord Justice Evans that his sentence could not be reduced because he had refused to plead guilty, Tyson was reproved by Judge Patricia Gifford for not admitting that his conduct 'was inexcusable' even if he wasn't guilty of rape.

This is more appropriate to Moscow show trials or Maoist ritual self-criticism than to Anglo-Saxon law courts, where it should never be a hazard for defendants who believe themselves innocent to plead not guilty.

There is a worse danger. Waking up with someone you wouldn't have touched sober, or with 'the wrong man', may be regrettable. Victim-feminists claim that it is not only regrettable but as bad as rape by a stranger at knife-point. Apart from wondering what a Bosnian woman gang-raped by enemy soldiers would say to this, I can't help thinking that its long-term consequence will be that violent rape itself is taken less seriously. Do we want that?

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