Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It breaks my heart to say it, but Ken Clarke should go

Way back in February, Scottish Tory Justice Spokesman Bill Aitken asked a reporter if a Glasgow rape victim had been a prostitute and made some other really awful victim blaming comments that showed that he really didn't have a clue about the issues surrounding this awful crime.

At that time I said Aitken should resign and I think I was right to. Ultimately, he did resign as Convener of the Holyrood Justice Committee but remained a Tory frontbench spokesman.

If I'm going to be consistent, I have to say that Ken Clarke should resign for the comments he made today, implying that some categories of rape are less serious than others.

Now, I think it's perfectly legitimate to have the debate he's talking about, around allowing more time off for a guilty plea. Go ahead. It's just not on to suggest that one type of rapist is less harmful than another. If a woman has been raped, her trauma will be acute whether the perpetrator was the extremely rare stranger in the dark alleyway, or her husband or boyfriend.

It's such a shame, because I like Ken Clarke. I disagree with him on a lot, but he's a good guy and I admire the way he's dealt with abolishing shorter sentences and the like.  I expect to hear victim blaming rubbish from the likes of Nadine Dorries, but not from our Ken.

I was willing to offer a get out clause to Bill Aitken earlier in the year - that I'd forgive and forget if he had a meeting with Rape Crisis and reconsidered his view in the light of what they had to say to them. I'd do the same for Ken Clarke. Sadly, though, if he's not prepared to do so, then I can't see how he can remain in position. Women need to feel confident that ministers accept that rape is always a horrible crime for which there is never an excuse, and it is never ok to blame the victim.

Can I suggest that everyone reads Jennie's take on this issue. She shows the psychological and physical effects of different scenarios of rape very powerfully.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wasn't he merely saying the statistics are misleading as they include statutory rape ie underagers having sex. Clarke was trying to differentiate between this type of activity, classed as rape, and rape.

martijn said...

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. I listened to the BBC interview twice and Clark did never, ever suggest that sometimes the victim can be blamed (as you seem to suggest in the final paragraph). Nor did he ever say, or even suggest, that rape is not a horrible crime.

All he said is, indeed, that some rape cases are worse than others. Or, more accurately, he said that that some rapists get longer sentences than others (and thus it would not be true that all rapists "would be free after 15 months" as the interviewer suggested). That is not an opinion, that is a fact.

I don't want to go into details of rape cases as I imagine they must all be horrible, but I do think the case can be made that some should be punished more severely than others. If you want to draw the conclusion from that that some rape cases are more serious than others, than that is fine (though I would rather put it "even more serious"). It would be too far to conclude that I, or Ken Clarke, think that some rape cases aren't very bad.

As for Aitken, he vented his opinion on a specific and ongoing case. That is and should be an absolute no for a politician, especially on an issue so painful and sensitive as this one.

George Potter said...

I have to agree with martijn on this. If you read the transcript of the interview you will see that Clarke was arguing that some rapes are more serious than others and thus deserve longer sentences. He was saying that the reason for low average rape sentences (5 years) was because some rape attracts lower sentences than, for example, a violent gang rape.

The reason that the average matters is because Labour were using it to claim that halving sentences would release in rapists being released in 15 months which is obviously not going to be the case for serious rape.

I have to ask, have you actually read the transcript of the interview?

Andrew said...

I also have to agree with the sentiments expressed in previous comments. I work in mental health and often come into comment with rape victims (of both genders). Clarke was actually making a point about sentencing, and in itself it was perfectly valid. Unfortunately he made the point in such a carelessly insensitive way .

However, this is quite different from Bill Aitken's indefensible outburst and neither myself, nor any of my colleagues I spoke to today about this, feel that Clarke's comments merit a dismissal.

Ellen Arnison said...

I agree that he probably should go. The problem is that he seem to be looking for some sort of rape categorisation and beyond the statutory rape described in the first comment that is impossible. Every woman, every rape and every circumstance is different and there needs to be a base-line assumption that they are all equally bad.

Caron said...

Ellen, that's the crux of it for me. I get the 17/15 year old issue. There are mitigating circumstances in that instance.

Suggesting that date rape is somehow different from serious rape is the crux of the issue.

And if he has to make any decisions on sentencing guidelines, while he's under the misapprehension that the former is not serious and causes trauma, that could lead to date rape not being taken as seriously by the courts.

Having slept on it, though, I am still in the same place about whether he should go, although I could forgive and forget for a heartfelt apology.

The thing is that in our febrile politics, the use of the word sorry almost renders a minister a dead man walking. Everyone stuffs up from time to time and should it not be more acceptable for a minister to say "Look, I made a real hash of that interview. I'm really sorry. I implied that date rape wasn't serious and that was wrong. I've learned from this and I won't do it again."

I'd live with that if it was delivered with sincerity.

A genuine apology is often not possible in our climate.

martijn said...

@Caron:
"Suggesting that date rape is somehow different from serious rape is the crux of the issue."

The BBC has the transcript of the interview. Here is what Clarke said on date rapes (emphasis mine):
"Date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes. But date rapes, as you are quite right to say very old experience, of being in trials, they do vary extraordinarily one from another and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances. But I've never met a judge who, confronted with a rapist, as you and I would use the term in conversation, would give him 12 months. That would be a crazy sentence."

Caron said...

"Date rape can be as serious as the worse rapes" implies that there are times it isn't.

He also said:

Serious rape, I don't think many judges give five years for a forcible rape, the tariff is longer than that. And a serious rape where, you know, violence and an unwilling woman,

That sounds like all rape to me. Why even try to make a distinction?
Tell me of a rape where there is no violence.

Douglas McLellan said...

"Tell me of a rape where there is no violence."

Where the man and the woman are both drunk and defining consent becomes a problem.

martijn said...

Here is the "sentencing manual" for rape (warning: this is NOT a pleasant read). It describes in technical terms how "some rapes are (punished) worse than others". So some distinction is made. You can argue that there shouldn't be made any distinction but the fact is that there is and I read/heard Clarke's comments as merely explaining this fact.

Anonymous said...

Surely you'ld be aware that there are many rapes where the coercian is non physical, or where the threat of violence comes in place of violence itself?

I would be more concerned if Clark had implied all rape involved violence, than I am at what he actually said.

Lee Griffin said...

"Suggesting that date rape is somehow different from serious rape is the crux of the issue."

First of all, as has been said, Ken never said that Date Rape is different, he was clumsy in his language but to me he was clear in stating that date rape cases can be more complex than the kind of rapes more commonly held in our perceptions. He's recently gone back and said he wasn't talking about date rapes when he said date rapes, I don't believe that personally and wish he'd have stuck to his guns.

But different rape cases are different in their level of seriousness. Rape is rape, but all rapes are different. You surely cannot deny that a man planning to rape a stranger he's been stalking, and doing so in conjunction with non-sexual violence, repeatedly, or of a rapist that is threatening and raping a child in their care, is of the same "seriousness" (a poor choice of words, but none the less accurate) as a guy that has received full consent mere minutes before, but then fails to stop having intercourse when the woman changes her mind. Two opposite ends of the scale in terms of what the offender has actually done (and set out to do).

I think this nonsense of trying to say every crime under one category has to be "the same seriousness" is utterly misguided. And to claim that a man should lose his job because all he has done is point out the realities of the sentencing guidelines and systems is insane.

Paul Walter said...

The interview transcript is painful to read. Clarke is guilty of clumsy language. As mentioned above, Victoria Derbyshire was saying that rapists could be out after 15 months in jail. This is based on the average sentence of 5 years. On its own that is a valid point. Clarke tried to explain got dug himself into a hole. Phillip Hammond explained it in crisp clear language this morning. The average of five years includes statutory rape (such as consensual sex between an 18 year old and a 15 year old) and forced rape. Forced rape would receive a much higher sentence than five years and therefore the criminal would not be let out in 15 months.

It's a relatively simple point that he was trying to explain and certainly not worthy of resignation.

If allowing a 50% sentence discount for those accused who, very early in the judicial process, pleaded guilty saves the victim untold months/years of pain, then is that not a recommendation worthy of consideration?

At the core of this issue, is the difference between 50% and 33%. 17%. Is that really worthy of a hugely excited debate and calls for resignation?

Caron said...

Can I suggest that everyone who's commented goes and reads Jennie's post on this. http://miss-s-b.dreamwidth.org/1152957.html. She's explained it better than I have.

Jock said...

Caron. If you want Ken Clarke to resign then you would have to call for all judges to resign as well. They impose sentences varying from a few years to life without parole so they are obviously judging each rape case differently and don't think all rapes are equal.

scepticalbutopen said...

I am dismayed to find you with Ed Miliband, Jack Straw and Melanie Phillips.

Please explain the logic behind Ellen's assertion that "Every woman, every rape and every circumstance is different and there needs to be a base-line assumption that they are all equally bad" and why - with the Daily Mail, Sun and Star - you go along with it.

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