The statistics were bad enough: nearly half of London men aged 18–25 think sex with women too drunk to know what is going on is not rape.
A quarter of those young men don’t believe it is rape if a woman says no to sex and the man continues anyway, and one in five men polled expect to have sex after kissing.
Just some of the ugly findings of a new survey to gauge attitudes towards rape among young people in the U.K. But it was the attitude of an older woman — Minette Marrin, a columnist with the Sunday Times of London — that nearly did me in.
Victim bashing. Slut shaming. Tone-deaf judgmentalism. Where to begin?
Speaking on a panel for the BBC Newshour radio show along with Sandi Schultz, an actress and rape survivor from South Africa, and myself, Marrin explained her theory of “degrees of rape.”
“If a woman allows herself to be drunk and behaves in a very uninhibited way, she is more responsible for what happens to her than if she had been sober,” she said. “Rape is always a crime but it is less of a crime in certain circumstances than in others.”
Marrin’s myopic spectrum of morality was rendered all the more crass by Schultz’s dignity and resolve to break the silence surrounding rape — a task made all the more heroic in the face of the rush to judge by another woman.
“When I was raped it was the middle of the night, I was in my bed wearing my baby-blue pajamas so it was very clear that I wasn’t at fault. But the problem for me is, even if I were walking down the street naked or dancing on a bar, it still doesn’t mean it’s okay to rape me,” Schultz said.
Surely, in the year 2010, in the U.K. and other parts of the so-called developed world, we can all agree on that?
Not Marrin, who went for an even uglier jugular:
“Not long ago I was in a city centre where I saw girls walking around almost naked, vomiting on the pavement; young girls in their teens and 20s who weren’t in charge of themselves at all,” she said. “I thought they were lining themselves up for something terrible to happen. I’m not saying the person who attacked them, if they were raped, was in any way excusable for what he did — it (would be) an inexcusable crime — nonetheless they bear some responsibility for that.”
Last I checked, there was no crime on the books in the U.K. called “provoking a penis.”
At that point I realized Marrin reminded me of one of those conservative Muslim clerics who give me lots to write about, who are equally obsessed with the woman-as-temptress/man-as-helpless scenario. Take the then-mufti of Australia who, in 2006, compared women who didn’t wear the hijab to uncovered meat left out for wild cats.
In Marrin’s world, drunkenness and being “almost naked” mean a “lesser” rape. In the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where alcohol isn’t so much of an issue and the women are a lot more dressed, the legal system and its judges find other “circumstances” that shove the blame onto women who dare to take rapists to court.
In 2007, a Saudi woman who reported being gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes and imprisonment for being alone with a man. After an international outcry, the Saudi king pardoned her.
In June, a court in Abu Dhabi sentenced an 18-year-old Emirati woman to a year in prison for illicit sex after she reported that six men had gang-raped her. The court said that by agreeing to go for a drive with a male friend, a 19-year-old military police officer, she had consented to having sex with him.
It is the height of injustice to jail a rape survivor, and it is likewise the height of nonsense for a woman like Marrin — who no doubt believes she is above the foibles of mere mortals — to pontificate about “degrees of rape.” Ultimately, such boorishness springs from a belief that rape always happens to “other” women, never to women like her.
The laws that punish rape in the U.K. and the U.A.E. are quite different, obviously. Nevertheless, too many women in both countries will not report rape because that blame-game silences them with shame and makes them question whether they could have prevented it by not having that extra drink, by not wearing those “f— me” pumps (notice that name given to high-heeled shoes) and not getting into that car with the male friend.
In the face of such misogyny, the courage of Sandi Schultz and other rape survivors is magnified. Inversely, surely, such mindless woman-blaming diminishes the decency of men who are not rapists waiting to happen?