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Sometimes women share the blame

Rape is wrong, says Rod Liddle, but it is right to believe — as 30 per cent of British people do — that some victims are partly responsible

26 November 2005

12:00 AM

26 November 2005

12:00 AM

Rape is wrong, says Rod Liddle, but it is right to believe — as 30 per cent of British people do — that some victims are partly responsible

There was a clever little opinion poll in your morning news-papers this week, courtesy of Amnesty International UK. The headline story from the poll was that about one third of British people thought that women were ‘partially or totally responsible’ for being raped if they didn’t say ‘No’ clearly enough, or were wearing revealing clothing, or were drunk, or had been behaving in a flirtatious manner.

Usually opinion polls are, well, a matter of opinion: respondents tick a box expressing one view or another and the rest of us can agree or agree to differ. Not with this poll, though. In the manner in which it was reported, there was no doubt: that one third of the country who ticked the ‘partially or totally responsible’ boxes were quite simply, objectively, plain wrong. Worse than that, they were stupid and dangerous and deserved a good kicking from the relevant authorities. Commenting upon its own poll, Amnesty International UK’s Kate Allen said this: ‘It is shocking that so many people will lay the blame for being raped at the feet of women, and the government must launch a new drive to counteract this sexist blame culture.’ Lordy: that’s something to look forward to.

Pretty soon after Kate made her observation and inevitable demand, every charitable organisation with a vague interest in this area was out of the blocks. Victim Support, for example, called the poll alarming and appalling and demanded that the thickoes who had ticked the wrong boxes be ‘educated’. The poll was reported (as a lead story) on BBC News 24, and it was assumed throughout — it was a given — that the public had got it all wrong. A regiment of angry women marched into the television studios to shout things. One particularly vexed lady insisted endlessly that women had ‘a right not to be raped’.

At no time during these interviews, or in the newspaper coverage the following morning, was it even whispered that perhaps that 30-odd per cent of British people might have a bit of a point. It’s one of the things you’re not allowed to say. And yet, given the terms of the poll, common sense would suggest that those sexist blame-culture monkeys, that one third of the British public — pretty much equally divided between men and women, by the way — are entirely right.


The precise question asked by the ICM researchers was this: ‘I’m going to read out a series of scenarios which a woman may find herself in. In each, please could you indicate whether you believe a woman is totally responsible, partially responsible or not at all responsible for being raped.’ And then followed the list of scenarios: being drunk, flirting, etc.

Now, your response may well depend upon what you understand by the word ‘responsible’ or, indeed, ‘partially responsible’. (Only the real nutters, about the usual 5 or 6 per cent of the poll, put down ‘totally responsible’, by the way — so Amnesty International’s headlines were technically accurate but nonetheless misleading.) Clearly, if you are a woman who is as drunk as a skunk, flirting outrageously with a man while wearing a boob tube and micro skirt, the likelihood of your being raped is going to be greater than if you stayed at home with a cup of Bovril watching Songs of Praise and dressed like Ann Widdecombe.

This does not remotely mitigate the guilt of the rapist, however — and that supposedly errant one third of the British public didn’t seem to suggest that it should, either. A comparable scenario might be this: if I go for a walk at midnight in Harlesden wearing a flashy suit and holding aloft a BlackBerry, I would be more likely to be mugged than if I skulked down the street in jeans and trainers looking destitute. Or, indeed, better still, did not visit the area at all after sundown. But my comparatively risky behaviour does not lessen by one iota the guilt of my mugger, even though you might argue that I am partially responsible for my own downfall.

You might argue with some force that the mere fact that I should be scared to visit Harlesden after sundown while wearing a suit is a form of oppression in itself. And, similarly, that it is every woman’s right to get well and truly plastered and behave like a Dandie Dinmont on heat without worrying that she might be attacked as a result — and that such a constraint on behaviour is, indeed, oppressive and unjust. I’d wholly agree — and I suspect the British people who ticked the wrong boxes would agree, too. But it does not alter my contention that certain forms of behaviour on the part of women will lead to an increased risk of sexual assault from men, and that it is silly to pretend otherwise.

I stress: of course I do not mean that they should be sexually assaulted or that the sexual assault is in some way justified, or the gravity of the offence even slightly lessened — merely that there is a greater likelihood that an assault will take place. When we take responsibility for ourselves we do not assume that we are living in a perfect world; we assess risk, regardless of how unfair or oppressive that risk might be, and behave accordingly.

I’m not sure what to make of that other scenario put up by Amnesty: the woman who does not say no ‘clearly enough’. Do they mean that she didn’t say no at all? Or sort of mumbled no, remorsefully, afterwards (as so many of us have done). What about those women who say ‘Yes!’ with great enthusiasm and gusto? They have rights too, you know.

Interestingly, that errant 30-odd per cent of the British public who insist that we live in the real world — rather than in some fabulous sunlit upland where actions do not lead to consequences because we don’t want them to — were drawn almost exclusively from that most sensible tranche of the population: the older, working class. Or, to bestow upon them the latest unlovely sociological categorisation, the DEs. I don’t think that they’ll be easily susceptible to a government re-education drive. They’ve had to put up with a lot of re-educating from governments and pressure groups this last 30 or 40 years and it doesn’t seem to have changed their point of view one bit. They continue to take the common-sense point of view, and can usually smell humbug a mile off. They smelled it in this poll, I think.

Meanwhile, the next time I bung money to Amnesty International I’d like it to go towards some investigation into real human-rights abuses somewhere in the world, rather than towards a self-serving opinion poll which was designed to make some of us look like fools.


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