Yes, I did hear Dame Helen on rape...
This week Dame Helen Mirren has been quoted as saying that a woman who is raped because she changes her mind at the last minute "[can't] have that man into court". The usual suspects have come out with the standard quotations:
"This is not helpful."
"It's an outrage."
"It will make it even harder for women to report rape."
But Dame Helen is not saying that the kind of rape where a woman consents until the last moment, then refuses and is forced to have sex, is not rape. By contrast she tells us she has been raped in this manner herself. She is drawing attention to the fact that a conviction for this kind of rape is nigh on impossible to achieve and it is almost cruel to lead a woman to expect the case to go to court or have any kind of success. She might also be drawing a distinction between this kind of rape and the kind where a guy - without any reasonable expectation of sex - forces a woman into intercourse (whether with physical force or intimidation).
I would like to know, though, how Dame Helen draws a distinction between the following cases:
- A woman has a friend round for dinner, they get a bit drunk and flirty and begin to undress. She changes her mind, he forces her to have sex.
- A woman's ex-partner comes round uninvited and she reluctantly lets him in to discuss childcare. Without any encouragement, he forces her to have sex.
In court, the two examples would be portrayed by the defence in exactly the same way.
In court, I have seen convictions for both kinds of case, and acquittals for both.
I try not to dwell on conviction rates. Rape is a hard crime to prosecute and even harder to convict. Plus a court case may not always be the best option for the victim, in the same way that it isn't always the right answer for domestic violence, child abuse or racism.
Whatever your views on rape, its credibility and the right process for dealing with it, it is wrong to label Dame Helen's remarks as "unhelpful". She speaks from the standpoint of being a victim herself, so how can her view - or the view of anyone who has first-hand experience of such a crime - be ignored?
The system we have now does not appear to be working - either to victims' satisfaction or accuseds' - therefore all discussion on the subject should be welcomed and nobody's opinion should be dismissed out of hand. As long as we treat all parties involved in these cases with dignity and respect, and we make our decisions based on common decency and hard facts rather than Home Office targets and public outcry, we can hope to improve.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.