Tuesday, August 21. 2012
For a variety of reasons rape is back in the news again. First, of course, we've got Julian Assange. He still defies my automatic reaction that rapists are guilty and I don't know why. Reading back over earlier blog posts I find I still think it's a very conveniently timed story and I don't know why the Swedish authorities want to keep him incommunicado (although I'm not sure they still do, that seems to have gone away, at least in the reportage). As an aside, the UK government threatening to strip the Ecuadorian embassy's status to arrest him just reinforces that sense that there's something else going on here. I think the world was surprised to find the British government had given itself such powers - but might accept it if people in the embassy were shooting out, launching missiles or similar. To arrest and deport a suspected rapist - it is massive overkill. While I'm sure Sweden is offended by Ecuador's suggestion that their justice system denies prisoners their human rights, I'm also pretty sure they're not going to support a call to break the international treaties protecting embassies to get Assange. They're shouting at Ecuador, not the UK. So why is the government of the UK so hung-ho about overthrowing the Treaty of Vienna?
My attitude to whether or not it's rape if he's guilty of what he's accused of doing remains unchanged: if the women involved said no, it's rape. I know legally there are extra twiddles (you could just gag someone so they never said no to avoid it for example) but as a baseline that's my gut reaction. I still find myself wondering how on earth you prove this one though. And I still find it a useful smear.
On the other side of the coin we have Todd Akin talking utter crap about "legitimate rape" and mysterious defences that women have to prevent pregnancy. Apparently he sits on the senate committee on science, space and technology. I find myself wondering if he understands any science. Like this Scientific American piece maybe. TL;DR - about 5% of victims of rape end up pregnant. About the same proportion of the general population do overall without being raped. Clearly there's no mysterious protective force. The Onion wrote up a translation of what he said into what he meant. They say it much better than I do.
It might be time for a grown-up, national and international debate on rape. Not high-powered politicians telling us what's going on, but real numbers, real information presented and if necessary explained. As the Scientific American piece points out 1 in 6 women in the US experience rape or attempted rape - and many more experience sexual assault. The British Crime Survey says that 1 in 24 women in the UK will experience rape or attempted rape. To put that in context, in 2008 that was 13,093 reported cases - and the Stern Report (PDF download) into rape suggests this is only 10% of the actual number of cases (along with a lot of other stuff in an extensive review). I was rather shocked the numbers are that big I must admit - especially if that means there are actually more than 125,000 rapes and attempted rapes in the UK each year.
And although Lady Stern suggests the "only 6% of reported rapes lead to conviction" statistic is not useful (58% of cases bought to trial result in convictions, but that means only about 10% of reported cases get to trial) it might give us some time to consider all the processes involved. Why do only 10% of reported cases get to trial? How does this compare to other major crimes? And while Akin's comments are beyond misguided if they prompt a debate and a discussion about it all, just maybe him being a complete idiot will help us all.
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