Today, the Daily Telegraph carried a piece about male rape and wondered why the crime was so poorly reported and why victims were so badly supported. The only UK charity specifically designed to help victims, "Survivors UK" has had its funding cut completely.
Rape is an appalling abuse of power, but to cite it as an abuse "against women and girls" solely (as a recent government document published this May did) is a misnomer. Of course, we need the government to raise the awareness of sexual attacks and ensure the better allocation of funds to combat the appalling incidence of domestic violence and attacks against women, but we also need to deal sensitively with attacks against men, including those of domestic violence. Gender should never be a barrier to support.
We need a campaign, with urgency that is as vital as the "call it out" campaign that was recently so successful in drawing attention to violence against women. We do not even need to change the message- "Abuse is abuse" but the world needs to know that the unspeakable crime of male rape is happening more and more - and it is a crime that aims to stifle, or silence the victim. #Society, in my experience, conspires in that silence and it should be ashamed of that.
A review of rape laws
Rape keeps turning up in the news and while there is a general understanding of it, the specifics are rarely looked at. When they are, they cause problems. Part of this is historical - in common law there were two sexual offences. The first was rape and the second sodomy, both capital offences. Anything that did not involve a vagina was automatically sodomy. The death penalty for rape was abolished in 1841 and the gender-specific definition of rape dates from the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the sexual offences amendment act of 1976. It is only in 1994 that it is clearly specified that "It is an offence for a man to rape a woman or another man". Andrews Richards was the first to be convicted of male rape in 1995.
Kenneth Clarke's efforts
Kenneth Clarke famously landed himself in a mess by speaking about the subject a few years ago, and he did serious harm to proposals that were actually quite sensible. Two legal factors stick out. The first is that the British definition of rape begins with an assumption that, wherever it is put, it is done by a penis. Much of the legal debate that follows is about the consent of the recipient.
But the second factor is the legal approach to conviction and sentencing which was exactly what Clarke was trying to address and his mess probably set the debate back by about 20 years. What Clarke was trying to do was to get the rapist behind bars while sparing the victim the misery of cross examination and a protracted legal process but what he actually said suggests he did not take rape seriously. How much worse then if the offence can also be dismissed by the court on a linguistic technicality as something less than a rape in the first case. Because I worry that the definition of rape begins with an assumption that a penis is involved. The assumption should surely simply involve a "penetrative act". The present legal definition of rape pretty well assumes the gender of both aggressor and victim. That is wrong.