Earlier this week, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the home minister responsible for law and order – one Babulal Gaur – publicly uttered his horrific opinion that the crime of rape is only committed if it is reported to the police: “This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.”
Rape, and sexual violence generally, is a highly controversial subject around the world.
On the one hand, there appears to be a general acceptance in Britain that the number of successful convictions for rape (about 6%?) bears no resemblance at all to the number of rapes that actually take place. Women’s groups, social networks and others are constantly demanding or suggesting ways in which the conviction rate for rape can be improved.
Nobody could possibly argue against the proposition that a man who has sexual intercourse with a woman who has not given her consent should be brought to proper account.
On the other hand, some worry that efforts to tinker with the inviolable right of every accused person to be regarded as innocent until proved guilty under the laws of England and Wales – or indeed the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ in criminal cases – would be wrong and indeed the thin end of a very troubling wedge.
It seems to me that one of the problems with the vexed subject of sexual consent is its inherent opaqueness. It might seem inappropriate to sail close to the old adage ‘One man’s meat is another’s poison’, but sometimes – perhaps – one woman’s consent would constitute another’s lack of consent (or should that be the other way around?).
One woman can have go through slightly ‘iffy’ set of circumstances – whether that be through excessive drinking on her part, or in finally agreeing to have sex, perhaps after setting out for the evening with this the last thing on her mind, or indeed after what amounts to a prolonged campaign of virtual coercion – only afterwards to ‘dust herself down’ and get on with her life, regarding them as no more than an experience hopefully not to be repeated.
However, another undergoing a similar situation might emerge with a such sense of revulsion and violation that it causes her distress and trauma for years afterwards.
In a perfect world, of course, ‘consent’ would be something which is black and white.
However, trying to police a line between a situation where lack of consent is clearly what it says on the tin and one where (whilst not being a ‘yes’) it is still perhaps a ‘maybe’ or even ‘not at the moment’ (to some men, implying ‘try me again later’) – or even where it began as a ‘yes’ and then the woman concerned later changed her mind – is fraught with complexities, if not impossible, in terms of devising suitable words to reduce it into a clause, or set of clauses, in an Act of Parliament and/or set of guidelines to be issued to the judiciary.
There are few women I know who haven’t at some stage borne the brunt of sexist remarks, crude sexual advances and/or behaviour ranging from ‘wandering hands’ to blatant groping.
By the same token, I know men who have openly admitted to ‘trying their luck’ in a direct fashion, either on the basis of ‘faint heart never won fair lady’ and/or an attitude that could be styled “Of course, I get knocked back four times out of five – but, frankly, a strike rate of 20% is good enough for me!”
I don’t have a solution or particular insights to offer on this subject. However, as a man of senior years in a world in which women now express their sexuality with greater assertiveness than ever before, I’m rather glad that these days I’m virtually retired from the ‘relationships’ game. Faced with a combination of greater female sexual confidence on one hand and equal greater awareness of the ‘consent/lack of consent’ issue on the other, I’m sure I’d be pretty confused about how to proceed!
Here’s a related story, published today of the website of The Guardian, about a suggestion that ‘sexual consent’ classes should become compulsory at university – see here – THE GUARDIAN