By Daniel Margrain
As recently as fifty years ago, the courts in Britain didn’t recognize marital rape. In other words, during that time it was legal for married men to have sex with their wives without their consent. A recent rape case in Manchester presided over by a female judge appeared to suggest there is still a long way to go before attitudes to the crime of rape perpetuated against women are satisfactorily addressed.
Judge Lindsey Kushner’s claim that women are at greater risk of being raped if they get drunk, was rightly condemned by Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird. In her final line in her final criminal trial, Kushner said:
“I don’t think it’s wrong for a judge to beg women to take actions to protect themselves. That must not put responsibility on them rather than the perpetrator. How I see it is burglars are out there and nobody says burglars are OK but we do say: Please don’t leave your back door open at night, take steps to protect yourselves.”
However, this analogy falls apart because it fails to recognize there is a history in Britain of blaming women for sexual assaults committed against them rather than putting the blame where it belongs – on the attackers. The same line of reasoning is not applicable to drunk men who, for instance, happen to get mugged in the street. In such cases, judges will rarely place the onus for such attacks on the male victim.
In jailing the rapist in Manchester, Kushner said there was “absolutely no excuse” for sex attacks. But she contradicted herself moments later after adding the caveat, “Men gravitate towards vulnerable women.” She insisted that while women were entitled to “drink themselves into the ground”, their “disinhibited behaviour” could put them in danger and they were “less likely to be believed” than a sober victim.
The implication that women can do as they please with their own bodies by drinking themselves silly, but that this scenario means they are more likely to get raped, effectively shifts the onus for the crime from the perpetrator to the victim and will almost certainly prevent the latter from coming forward in the future.
Despite judge Kushner’s contradictory comments that appear to be more suited to 1967 than 2017, there have been no shortage of men and women who have come to her defence. Others, that include a victim of rape, seem at best confused about the issue, perhaps understandably given the trauma involved. Nevertheless, it’s inexcusable how anybody else in the sober light of day (excuse the pun) could regard the judge’s comments as anything other than outrageous.
The fact that the controversy was not regarded as being worthy of prominent coverage on mainstream TV news channels is indicative of how societal attitudes regarding such matters seem to be in reverse. Thankfully, the issue was covered in some length by LBC broadcaster, Maajid Nawaz, whose clarity of thought was a welcome counterbalance to the illogical and contradictory points made by some of the callers to his show.
Nawaz’s opening salvo was lucid and convincing. Exposing Kushner’s false burglary-rape analogy, the LBC presenter remarked:
“There isn’t a history of hundreds and perhaps thousands of years of homeowners being blamed for burglary. But there is a history of hundreds and perhaps thousands of years of women being blamed for rape.”
“The problems I have with the kind of remarks uttered by the judge in public, is that victim-blaming is part of a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? Do we say if a woman’s skirt is too short, should she also bear a level of responsibility for a man (or woman) sexually abusing her? Where does this stop? Where is behaviour ever acceptable for somebody to say, ‘well you shouldn’t of done that'”?
The LBC presenter added:
“For me, this comes down to the following question: What sort of country do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country where women have to take increasing measures to stop being sexually attacked, or do we want to live in the kind of country that encourages women to wear, eat and drink what they like, and don’t expect to be attacked for doing so?
The alternative is the slippery slope [towards fascism and religious extremism]. In other words, why stop with being drunk? Should women be prevented from wearing short skirts and, if they resist and are subsequently raped, are they to be held responsible? Why stop there?
Why not insist that women wear their hair in a bun or be prevented from wearing make-up and lipstick on some spurious basis that rapists might find it attractive? Why stop there? Isn’t it possible that rapists will justify their predatory actions on the basis they find women’s faces to be attractive and therefore they should be forced to cover them up with a veil like the women who are under the control of the Taliban? “
In other words, the corollary of the illogical line of reasoning of judge Kushner is that the right of women to be able to go about their everyday business should be restricted in order to prevent them from being raped. The attitudes of judges, both male and female, to sexual assaults on women, continue in 2017 to belong in the dark ages.
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