Re-classifying rape

Ilona Jasiewicz argues for re-classifying rape from a sex crime to a hate crime, to make clear that the motive of rape is power - not passion.

Ilona Jasiewicz, 19 December 2003

The newest rape statistics show that it is on the increase (reported rapes were up 27% in 2002 from 2001), but the dilemma behind the numbers is the same. Are more women being raped, or are more women reporting it? Unless we can answer this question, we can't address the problem accurately. The shame and stigma attached to rape are as prevalent today as they were fifty years ago, so it's difficult to tell. Although the bad old days of questioning a victim about her sexual past, clothing, nocturnal habits (was she drinking? Did she come home late?) are slowly being replaced with dedicated counsellors and judges trained to handle a rape trial sensitively (however only six out of 107 high court judges, not renowned for their liberal views towards female emancipation, are female), a rape trial can be an experience as harrowing as the attack itself.

what is the most common gender-related hate crime but rape?

I have a suggestion: I vote we re-classify rape as a hate crime. The definition of a hate crime as agreed by The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) for England and Wales is 'a crime where the perpetrator's prejudice against any identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised' (my italics). Broadly speaking, it's a crime against the individual because of something that is part of them (not a crime against the individual's property, possessions or actions): e.g. colour of skin, race, religion, gender, sexual preference. At present, we tend to think of a hate crime as racially or religiously motivated, and increasingly often as a result of sexual preference: e.g. gay bashing. I'd like to add gender to this list, and what is the most common gender-related hate crime but rape?

Rape is about a deep hatred of women: men who rape are not 'normal' men who get horny one night and can't help themselves. It is not about love, or even really about sex. The motive for rape is the same as the motive for many hate crimes: power. Rape has long been used as a weapon in wartime; invading soldiers systematically rape women as a means of destroying a community or a village. Sex is intrinsically emotive, involving at least one of the following: love, lust, passion, longing. None of these feelings are present in a rape, or are a motive for it. The association of something good and positive (sex) with a crime muddies the waters. And let's not even get started on the term 'date rape'. If we remove the emotional attachments from this crime (i.e. that it is about sex and therefore about passion), it is easier for us to see it clearly and cut through the 'romance' of rape. I don't believe that the media or the police consciously romanticise rape, but as long as it is classed as a sex crime rather than a hate crime, it will be seen less objectively, and less clearly, for what it is. By calling something a 'sex crime' you make it seem about sex/love/passion, when it isn't about that at all: sex is just what the hatred manifests itself as. Prefixing any negative word with 'sex' immediately makes it harder to take seriously: a sex addict is just seen as someone who likes to sleep around.

hate crimes are seen as more serious and worse than sex crimes

While writing this piece something was nagging at me, and I've finally realised what it is. I think that hate crimes are seen as more serious and worse than sex crimes. A sex crime can so often fall into that hazy blur of a 'domestic': the (sometimes close) relationship between victim and attacker confuses things, whereas who's to blame in a hate crime is clear from the start.

Perhaps more than any other crime, there are still many myths that cling to rape. Ranging from the lunk-headed ("All women want it"; "It's not the worst thing that can happen to a woman" - this from a female Express columnist), to the ones that are believed by many to be fact. For example, that a rapist is a crazed, Quasimodo-like stranger who only comes out at night, not the man next door or the cute young guy you work with. As Katharine Viner pointed out a recent Guardian op-ed, nice men rape. And many jurors can't accept that, so supposedly 'nice' men who rape aren't convicted.

Recent reports show that both men and women feel passionately about rape and the process of trying someone accused of the crime. It's been suggested that the law covering anonymity in a rape case be changed to make things 'equal': to give men accused of the crime the right not to be named. This privilege is not granted to the defendant in any other trial, even in cases of murder or child abuse. The suggestion that the law be changed to grant the accused anonymity in a rape case, as well as the accuser, was met with a storm of letters, both for and against the change. A man wrote to the Metro saying that the accuser in a rape case should be named, following the logic that a man accused of rape was suffering and having his name dragged through the mud, so why shouldn't the woman? (Um, because she is the victim, and therefore the one who didn't commit a crime?) Several men agreed with him, and I was dismayed to see the venom with which men all over the country leapt on a (male) writer who dared to point out that the percentage of men falsely accused of rape is tiny, but the number of women being raped and their attackers not being convicted is far more alarming. (5.8% of reported rapes end in a conviction.) On the subject of rape, it still seems like men and women are often on opposing sides.

For information on rape statistics, I used Katherine Viner's excellent Saturday August 2nd piece in the Guardian, available online at www.guardian.co.uk.

About the author

Ilona Jasiewicz

When she's not nit picking for a living, Ilona Jasiewicz likes to sew cushion covers, look at property websites and ride the bus peering into people's windows. Her zine, Radium Dial, is now online at http://radium-dial.blogspot.com/

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