So, Ken Clarke hamfistedly but correctly says there are degrees of seriousness in rape and the law reflects this – and causes great outrage. Not just from the avowedly feminist Guardian either. The Sun says he’s a danger to women, no less.
Interestingly, both the the Guardian’s and the Sun’s commenters seem to take a more nuanced view than their respective papers. As they should. Clarke was attempting to make a valid distinction. Sure, he messed it up, particularly when he appeared to confuse date rape and statutory rape, but of course there are degrees of seriousness in rape as in any other crime. To say that is not to say that any form of rape is trivial. Whoopi Goldberg’s much derided comment that Roman Polanksi was not guilty of “rape rape” was not outrageous because she attempted to distinguish between statutory and actual rape, but because Polanski had committed rape rape.
It distresses me that so many of those who seek to help to rape victims seem to act all the time as if they were a politician on the radio. By this I mean that they have always ready in their heads one idea, one sound bite, that they must express. Nothing must detract from that message; no ifs, no buts, no side issues. I agree entirely with the One Idea in this case: all rape is serious. But when one sees what trouble a real politician on the radio got into for merely touching upon the reasons for a sliding scale of sentences one also sees why most politicians try so hard to stick with the pre-prepared One Idea. Meanwhile Lara Williams in the Guardian (linked to above), a woman whose real-life experience of helping rape victims would lead one to hope that her views were rooted in observation, comes out with the sort of mindlessly simplified slogans that have given politicians a bad name:
Through distinguishing “serious” and “less serious” rape, Clarke assumed a perverse gradient of suffering, a warped taxonomy of perceived victimisation.
No one actually believes that. If called upon in court to state what impact a particular rape had had on a particular victim, I have no doubt that this writer would recoil in horror from saying, “Oh, the usual. All rapes have the same impact. All rapes are equally bad.” Yet that is the logical implication of what she has written. She is not the only such commenter. It is sad to see obviously intelligent and compassionate people with so little faith in the public that they make themselves believe that the only way to put forward a true idea – all rape is bad – is to coarsen it into falsehood.