A lot has been said and written today about Ken Clarke’s comments on BBC5Live this morning regarding rape but for these words to come from the Justice Secretary took many by surprise.
The main quote which started all the problems came in a discussion on rape sentences. When it was pointed out to him by host Victoria Derbeyshire, that the average sentence for rape was 5 years Clarke replied
"That includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15 year olds…
"A serious rape with violence and an unwilling woman - the tariff is longer than that."
The number of things wrong with these comments is stunning.
For a start, he seems to be confusing date rape with underage sex (or possibly statutory rape). Date rape is a very, very different situation as, even though a 15 year old cannot legally give consent to sex, they may be a willing participant. In date rape the woman (or man) has sex against their will.
Secondly, he claims that rape statistics would include cases such as 17 year olds having sex with 15 year olds. This isn’t the case. When pressed on the issue, he said
…if an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she’s perfectly willing, that is rape. Because she is under age, she can’t consent…
As justice secretary, and a barrister by training, he should know better. The age of consent in the UK is 16, but un-coercive sex with a 15-year-old is not rape, it’s unlawful sexual intercourse. It’s only rape if one of the participants is under 13 years old. These would not be included in rape statistics.
Next Clarke refers to rape cases other than date rape or underage rape as ‘serious rape’ which, by implication, means that he doesn’t deem date rape to be serious. Derbeyshire challenges this assertion saying that ‘rape is rape’ but while defending his comments Clarke says
What you and I are talking about is we are talking about a man forcibly having sex with a woman and she doesn’t want to - a serious crime
Again, the inference here is that date rape does not include force or an unwilling woman and is not a serious crime. Some rapes do not include physical violence or force it’s true but that doesn’t make them any less serious or any less of a rape. Emotional or mental coercion can be involved or a perceived threat of violence which means that an unwilling woman does not physically fight back.
Some of the defence of Clarke has centred around the idea that not all rapes are the same and should have the same sentence. There’s a wide range of sentencing with regards to rape (as there is to other violent crimes) and no-one is suggesting that judges shouldn’t have some level of freedom to impose varying sentences but my problem with Clarke is that he doesn’t seem to recognise that date rape is serious, or that the woman is unwilling.
Clarke’s inability to recognise the problem with his words was really illustrated by his comment to Sky News that the proposal regarding reduced sentences for guilty pleas applied to every single criminal offence, “Rape has been singled out as an example mainly to add a bit of sexual excitement to the headlines”. Again, Clarke showed stunning disregard for the seriousness of the crime and the experience of victims, talking about rape as if it was ‘sexy’ - simply because it involves sexual contact? I honestly couldn’t say what he was thinking.
Ed Miliband quickly called for his resignation and David Cameron has been quick to say not much at all, having not heard the comments before Prime Minister’s questions and a spokesman later saying “The prime minister has not spent the day watching Ken Clarke interviews”. It remains to be seen whether Ken Clarke can really find a way to keep his job through this but his inability to see the error of his comments really makes voters wonder if he should