19 May 2011

Ken Clarkes Comments Do Indict Victims of Rape But Not As You Thought

Ken Clarke's blusterings on rape this week have been a fixation of the liberal (sometimes) intelligentsia in the new media.

Ken Clarke's comments came under scrutiny because he allegedly stated that some offences of rape was less serious than others. In fact, my learned friend @neilmonnery put up a rather good blog article on the reactionary responses to headline news. In short, the reaction was an overreaction which failed to take into account the legal, legislative and sentencing details of the offence of rape and varying degrees in which it can occur.

I would like to point out that here I'm not in any way justifying rapists or mitigating situation that lead to such offences.

Wider Context

However, while we can examine the current legislative state for rape, the statistics appear to only tell a small amount of the story. As Baroness Stern's review of rape in February 2010 identified;

It is estimated that only 10% of rapes are actually reported.

Of these, a defendant enters a guilty plea at an early enough stage will result in a plea to bargain which reduces the offence to sexual assault.

Therefore, there is a significantly distressing wider context in which Ken Clarke's comments can be applied.

If indeed Clarke's comments seek to persuade people to plead guilty, then the offender has a significant chance of any charge of rape being reduced by the Crown Prosecution Service to a charge of sexual assault, a lesser offence which carries a subsequent lesser sentence and therefore would, in theory allow the offender to go out and commit the same offence again. This is of course whether he is raping a man or a woman.

This is a far more distressing issue for victims and potential victims of rape and one that should be taken into serious consideration when examining Ken Clarke's statements.

While, and as Neil Monnery states, a judge has the discretion to decide the length of sentence based on the merits of the case, therefore if the man pleads guilty committed aggravated rape with a weapon, he is still likely to receive a substantial punitive sentence; An offender that does not get before a judge prior to the offence being committed is unlikely to receive a similarly punitive sentence.

At what point did we warrant Crown Prosecution Service lawyers the right to decide whether or not someone should be tried for rape on the basis of meeting their targets systems?

Especially, when one takes into account that only 10% of rapes are ever reported. We are therefore in theory potentially allowing this public service body to reduce the amount of prosecutions and therefore reduce the amount of "reported" rapes to less than 7%.

Sociocultural Issues

As a final thought, there needs to be a significant shift in cultural and social approaches to rape. It was a bone of contention when studying feminism and law, and many people examine jury's responses, normally along the lines of a Melanie Phillips response to women that "asking for it", and the subsequent vindication of a victim by finding a defendant not guilty.

This is largely what the "Slut Walk" is attempting to combat, albeit in unconventional and inappropriate manner. One can only hope that as generations mature there will be a significant cultural shift in acceptability of female and male behaviour that does not concede victimisation.

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