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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 13:47 GMT
Skewed view on alcohol-related rape
Annie McLaughlin
In this week's reader's article, Annie McLaughlin, an administration assistant who lives in Glasgow, says society's conflicting attitudes towards sexual crime must change.


With the Christmas season hurtling towards us, young women all around the country - like their male counterparts - will be gearing up for many an evening of dancing, drinking and, quite possibly, a little festive flirting.

Women on night out
Women out drinking "better watch their backs"

But, as any woman who's paid even the slightest attention to the news recently can't fail to be aware, we'd better watch our backs.

Amnesty's recent survey into attitudes towards rape - which found that one third of us believe that a woman is partly responsible if she is drunk or acts "flirtatiously" - has been much debated.

Likewise the case in Wales of the student whose claims of rape were dropped by a court because she was supposedly too drunk to remember whether she had consented to sex with the security guard who had been entrusted to get her home safely.

In discussions in the media and on internet forums, many seem to find the idea that a victim can ever be held responsible repugnant.

Defining rape

However, the number of respondents who state their case with the opening line "no woman should ever be blamed for rape - BUT" is astounding.

The concept that a woman who drinks, wears revealing clothes or flirts can in some way contribute to her rape seems to have found an unsettling level of support.

With it comes the issue of how we define rape and rapists.

The traditional image of a sex offender is the masked man hiding behind bushes, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting females.

However, we must face the fact that there will be some men who have committed rape who would consider themselves a world away from the "beast" prowling city streets at night for his prey.

There is no loophole, no mitigating circumstance and ultimately no excuse

We have all read accounts of rape victims who have chosen not to fight back out of fear, who have been unconscious or have been unable to resist as a consequence of drink or drugs.

It follows that there will be men who have committed these crimes who firmly believe that what they did was not rape because they did not use brutal violence - they were simply taking advantage of the situation.

The truth is that there is no protection against the attitude that non-violent yet non-consensual sex doesn't add up to rape.

Instead of devoting all our time to warning women of the dangers, isn't it time we questioned our society's conflicting attitudes towards sexual crime and began the process of educating anyone who may be in doubt that there is no loophole, no mitigating circumstance and ultimately no excuse.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not endorsed by the BBC.

"Aren't we supposed to live in a civilised country?" - Jane Duffy. We are SUPPOSED to but like so many people have pointed out, the world is not perfect. I believe this argument, like so many others, comes down to this societies idea that we all have endless rights without the responsibilities that come with them. Yes a girl has the right to wear skimpy clothes, yes a girl has the right to get drunk and yes she has the right to be friendly and flirty with whoever she wants. However, what so many people seem to forget is that with these rights come the responsibility to protect yourself. Everyone knows there are bad people out there and it is up to you to take a few simple precautions to keep yourself safe. Rape is always wrong but we all know the risks, we all know that it could happen so women need to take responsibility for themselves to try and stop it happening - then there will be no-one to blame.
Dawn, Fife

Neil from Edinburgh makes a very good point about male rape. Guys and girls need to watch their backs. We all need to take some responsibility for our own actions, and if we're drunk beyond the point of doing so, our friends need to take care of us. I can't believe the number of stories I read of a woman being left by her friends while drunk, and subsequently being raped (or put in the position of being unable to recall if they said yes or not). There is certainly a fine line between rape and consent when a man or a woman are drunk, but fellas need to show a bit more chivalry by not "taking advantage" of a drunk gal.
Michael Carroll, London

It appears that certain people have to be reminded that the majority of rapes are carried out by someone the woman knows e.g. ex-boyfriend or work colleague, and not in fact after a night out when the woman is drunk and wearing a short skirt. In response to the remarks by Colin, can i please ask, if a drunk man was raped would you say it was his fault for being drunk? No! I thought so!!!!
Alyson, Glasgow

I can see from the comments that there appears to be a divide between people and a lot of sensible comments. Interestingly it seems a lot of people believe that if you can't remember the incident this makes the crime less? If I was attacked and hit over the head, resulting in a loss of memory would that make the crime any less real, because I couldn't remember it. No it would probably make it worse because I couldn't remember and all I could do was imagine what happened. The court should listen to the evidence and decide on an appropriate judgement, if this is two people arguing whether there was consent or not then I don't see that you can bring a conviction, a conviction should only be brought about if there is no reasonable doubt about the crime. I think that people who falsely accuse others of rape have destroyed the hopes of true victims to get justice. Gender issue should not even be in question both parties can be victim in this issue and should be treated in the! same way.
Steve, Edinburgh

Maybe we can take Vic Anderson's assault analogy a bit further here. How about I go out, get so drunk I don't remember getting home and going to bed, have to have the taxi driver help me into the house, crack my skull off the toilet bowl while throwing up, then wake up the next morning with a blinding headache, go to hospital to find I appear to have been hit with a blunt object over the head, and then decide to accuse the taxi driver of assault because I've assumed that must be what happened?! Maybe the solution is clearer. Stop drinking to the point of unconsciousness. Maybe then consent would be a lot clearer.
Krys Kujawa, Linwood, Scotland

I am surprised to see that no-one has raised the issue of empowerment. Many people end up either being the aggressor or being assaulted through lack of power in their own lives. Instead of getting sucked into the blame game, more investment is needed in empowering and educating people that a) If you dress or act provocatively you may attract unwanted attention and b) If you are attracted to someone because of their foolish behaviour that doesn't give you the right to attack them, no matter what you may tell yourself at the time to justify it. As a rape survivor that is my truth.
Heather, UK

As others have alluded to, the issue is not one of social attitudes but of tangible evidence of lack of consent. I think I speak for all decent people when I say that no man should take advantage of a woman who's had too much to drink. However, if he does, should that automatically constitute rape? After all, where on the spectrum of drunkenness do you put a threshold of capacity to consent such that it can be applied fairly and consistently in all circumstances? After one drink or ten? At 8pm or 3am? When she starts slurring her words? The law as is stands - in that each case turns on its own facts around the concept of consent - is of course fallible, but a balance has to be struck between the interests of the victim and those of the accused. If the crime of rape is defined as penetration without consent, then the prosecution must satisfy both criteria beyond reasonable doubt. In the well-publicised Welsh case, the prosecution was unable to offer any evidence that she did not consent. Unfair? Would we think the judicial process fair if someone was jailed for any crime on the evidence of a witness who couldn't actually recall the crime taking place? Don't forget that this case, as every other, was tried before a jury who hear all the evidence. That jury will almost certainly have comprised of men and women with similar views to Anne.
Mark Guthrie, Glasgow

Nobody deserves to be raped, in the same way nobody deserves to be attacked or have their home broken into, however that is not what is being discussed. The results of the amnesty survey were sensationalised. What you have to remember about surveys is that they are done for a reason and as laudable as Amnesty are they were no doubt trying to make a point. to understand these results you would have to understand what questions were asked, how rape was defined etc. The bottom line is that whilst 25% thought there was contributory negligence on the victim's part, 75% thought there was not and that rape was not the victim's fault, this is statistically significant, but not the point that Amnesty were trying to make. Annie also mentions the case where the charges were dropped due to the woman not being able to remember if she had consented, as worrying as this is, we cannot have people convicted of rape on the say so of someone who can't remember what happened, that is a ridiculous suggestion. but what is really required is a serious discussion into attitudes to rape and sex crimes without getting caught up in the raw emotion of it and without people being castigated for suggesting that people take care and responsibility for their safety. If I left my car open with 10 grand lying on view in the back seat, would I deserve to have it stolen, well no but it is a stupid thing to do, as is getting drunk and letting someone you don't know suggest taking you home, whether you are male, female, stark naked or whatever. Prevention is always better than cure and those that suggest it should not be seen as condoning rapists, most men and women agree that rape is a particularly nasty crime and cannot be tolerated, but neither should the intolerance of those suggesting people take better care of themselves.
Rob, Glasgow

I don't want so much to comment on the debate above but offer an alternative scenario from the less discussed area of male rape? If a man has been ¿raped' (officially ¿buggery without consent' in Scotland, with a lower tariff attached than for a sex crime against a woman) there is often discussion of whether someone consented/lead on, and whether they may be gay. If a man goes back to a flat with two gay men, who he knows to be gay, what conclusion do we draw? If he is drunk and hugging them on the way home (for support?) what conclusion do we draw? If in the flat he takes his tie off, shoes off, opens his shirt, what conclusion do we draw? If he kisses one of the men (out of drunkenness/curiosity/as a joke?) what conclusion do we draw about his conduct and the consequences? How many people may now be thinking this guy was ¿asking for it', ¿a fool', ¿encouraging them'? Surely a straight man would not do this if they were not in some way wanting something to happen? It's his word against theirs. Perhaps even some of those criticising the ¿blaming' of victims will see different angles when you take out the gender issue? Feminists, and I use that word in the positive and constructive sense it is meant to be used in, and those involved in policy making don't often discuss correlations and analogy which can be drawn with gay men and women on a number of issues (domestic violence, rape and sexual offences, even simply distribution of domestic tasks). Yet these alternative paradigms let us explore traditional problems in a different light. Perhaps deconstructing the gender aspects of rape will allow us to reconstruct a different understandings of the dynamics and issues at play.
Neil Stevenson, Edinburgh

I think rape is a very serious crime and anyone that commits it should be put away. However I feel in this day and age a women can ruin a man's life, career and even family if they just decide to say they have been raped. I have known girls that became drunk and flirty and went all over a male only to wake up in the morning and accuse him of taking advantage. This creates a problem of men being accused falsely ruining their lives and the actual criminals out there not being caught. A sensitive balance!
Craig, Aberdeen

Perhaps what needs to be made clearer to women is the reality of the legal system. Evidence of intercourse is not evidence of rape. If you don't put up enough of a fight to leave evidence of violence on yourself and/or the rapist then the case will come down to your word against his, and he's presumed innocent until you prove otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt. If you were flirting with him in a social setting, or were dressed in a way that could be interpreted by a reasonable person as indicating that you were soliciting sexual advances, then no reasonable jury will convict and that's as it should be.
Colin Miller, Glasgow

As someone falsely accused of rape by a jilted girl I would have to ask Annie to consider that the 'sex crimes/crimes of passion' are not black and white and they are sometimes horrifically messy. People cannot be found guilty by default on the basis of political correctness, etc, BEFORE they are tried - not least of all in a case of a girl who so incapacitated herself with alcohol she had no recollection of consent. People have clear choices over how they present themselves to the world and how much they have to drink. I find the nature of the legal precedent proposed alarming. I expect soon to hear from Annie regarding the plight of poor FHM/Page 3 girls, etc who are exploited by being paid vast sums for simply removing their clothing.
David, Aberdeen

Hmmm, the initial two comments from men suggest that "... a woman's action can make her a more or less favourable target for a rapist". Excuse me? Aren't we supposed to live in a civilised country? Rape is unacceptable, regardless of someone's actions or behaviour. The vast majority of men are decent, upstanding citizens, who would not use a woman's behaviour or drunkenness as an excuse to commit such a vile act, so why do the minority who do rape deserve to have their actions excused in this manner? Get a grip, guys - these monsters are not worthy of your excuses. Remember - your sisters, mother, daughters, nieces, aunts, cousins and friends may, on occasion, do something foolish (like get drunk). Does this mean that they could be making themselves a more favourable target to be raped, that they have contributed to such a violent act? Think about that.
Jane Duffy, Glasgow

Maybe we can extend this attitude to men getting beaten up. If you're drunk, argue or disagree with anyone. Walk the wrong side of the road, wear baggy jeans or go to a different town or part of town then you are "asking for it" and its okay for people to beat the crap out of you. No charge!
Vic Anderson, Arbroath

I don't think anyone deserves to be a victim of crime, but if you do blatantly stupid things it will increase the chances of it. I used to work as a steward in a number of night clubs in the west of Scotland. Every weekend I would end up spending a considerable amount of time trying convince (in most cases) very young and very drunk women that walking home on their own at night would be a bad thing to do. Sometimes I succeeded in getting them into a licensed taxi but all too often they ignored my advice. At the day you must be responsible for keeping yourself safe.
Lee Symes, Glasgow

I was out with my boyfriend on Friday night and he overheard several well-heeled men in suits out on their work Christmas do discussing me and my clothes. I was wearing a short skirt - as is my democratic right - and they observed "if they look as good as that and wear skirts as short as that they are asking to be raped". I'm disgusted at this attitude, as the article noted, not by the mean man in the corner, but by upper middle-class, supposedly educated men.
Anne, Belfast

Much of what has been said recently has been misconstrued. I don't think that the public actually mean that a victim is to blame in any way. It seems to be more that in a lot of cases, the victims could have avoided the situation in the first place by being a bit more careful. If they didn't get unconscious through drink or drugs they could stay in control. Flirting with strange men and going home with them whilst in an inebriated state is also an irresponsible thing to do. These things are akin to walking through alleys or parks in the dead of night. They shouldn't be a problem, but being realistic, a wide head would avoid doing so. I accept in a lot of situations rapes happen with trusted friends etc and there was nothing the victim could have done to prevent it, but there are also a lot of cases where the victim acted irresponsibly and put themselves in danger. I am however, not blaming them for the attack. Anyone guilty of these heinous crimes should be caged for life, but some of the victims have to accept responsibility for putting themselves in harm's way. It's not just applicable to rape. If I walked down a dark alley at night and got mugged, Some would say I asked for it and to be fair, I would have to accept that I had acted stupidly. The public survey results were sensationalised to make headlines. The public don't blame the victims for the crime, but they are aware that in a lot of cases it could have been avoided if the victim had acted responsibly. We all have a duty of care to ourselves. How many cases have we read of a horrible attack and then thought "but why oh why did she put herself in that position?" This is the real feeling behind the survey. The attacker is blamed 100% for the crime - No quibbles. But the victim can sometimes be at fault for putting themselves into a situation where this can happen.
Ian Mckinnon, Bishopton

"There is no loophole, no mitigating circumstance and ultimately no excuse." While this statement is true it is not the point, the point is that when it comes down to the word of one person against another it is very difficult to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. It is clear that given identical evidence a jury would not believe a 'crack whore' over the Pope but would believe the Queen over a serial rapist. By their actions women can make themselves more of a target for men who wish to rape someone and get away with it. Both by placing themselves in a situation that allows the rape to happen i.e. 'going back to his place for a coffee and only a coffee' and acting in a way that reduces their credibility i.e. 'making a habit of getting drunk and having sex with random men' makes them more of a target. The report quoted does not distinguish between 'she was asking for it' as in 'she wanted to be raped' and "she was asking for it' as in 'if you play with fire your going to get burned'. Naturally in a ideal world God would smite rapists from on high, but in the real world where imperfect humans have to decide who is a rapist and who is not, a women's action can make her a more or less favourable target for a rapist.
David McNay, London


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