1. Kenneth Clarke used the word 'serious' about rape, with the implication that there is less serious rape. Naturally that was met with a storm of protest with calls for his resignation, surprisingly enough from The Sun (for whom, I suspect, Clarke is the wrong sort of Tory, so best get rid). We know - everyone knows - what Clarke meant because he explained it. He wanted to say that violent rape against any woman draws a much heavier sentence than does, say, illicit sex between a seventeen year old boy and a willing fifteen year old girl which is also termed rape because the girl is considered to be below the age of consent. If the two crimes were equal then presumably the seventeen year old boy should receive exactly the same sentence as the man who, with violence and threats, forced a woman to sex.
I am not sure if anyone is proposing this. If they are they can argue it, but I haven't heard it argued so I don't think so. The furore then is about Clarke's choice of word, which is deemed to represent a bad way of thinking about rape. Whether or not it does represent such a way of thinking is impossible to answer without having a reasonably long record of Clarke's pronouncements on the subject. It was, however, a stupid word to use, and I imagine he was needled to it by the suggestion that rape crime generally receives sentences of a year or so. Most rape crimes do not, he wanted to say, but then used the word 'serious', which was a serious mistake.
2. And then there is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who may or may not have committed rape, but is assumed to have done so, and been treated accordingly both physically and in that his career has been declared to have ended. It is one of those ironic things that Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, is also a Socialist, and might have been a serious (that word again) challenger to Nicolas Sarkozy. Two interesting strands of the arrest have been, first, the conspiracy theory that Strauss-Kahn has been somehow stitched up by Sarkozy's people and, secondly, the line of thought that the French have long been far too tolerant of the sexual lives of their public figures, and that this is where such things have to stop.
As with Clarke, I don't know the truth, I only note the events and the effects. There has not been a trial yet in the Strauss-Kahn case so there has been no verdict. But his life is over, as may Clarke's public career be. In other words, nothing needs to be certain: suspicions and accusations are enough. This is mined territory even to think about, the signs clearly say, and you enter at your risk. It doesn't help that Strauss-Kahn is very rich and the chambermaid, like any chambermaid, is poor. It doesn't help, especially in today's climate, that Strauss-Kahn is a banker, nor that he is head of the IMF. And most certainly he may be guilty of the crime of which he is accused. I was going to say, 'He probably is' but then I stopped. On what grounds am I suggesting 'probably'? I don't have grounds. If he is guilty he deserves all he gets. But he's got some of that already.
3. Then Anne Atkins does her Thought for The Day in which she compares the language of sex with the language of religion and finds similarities. She says that a male acquaintance - a rather naive acquaintance, I imagine - once asked her why, if the sexual act was the same whether it happened by force or by seduction, rape was considered as 'serious' a crime as it is generally held to be. Her reply to him talked of the opposites of disgust and terror on the one hand and pleasure and trust on the other. The crime, she suggested in effect, was only partly of the body: it was a crime against being, in that it deprived the victim of choice, and that this choice lay so deep in the psyche that it resonated through the whole being.
Maybe then, it is a matter of autonomy. Autonomy, choice and control might be at the heart of it. And that might lead us into another discussion. But it's not easy having a conversation in a minefield.
So to Fulke Greville, from Mustapha Act V, Scene 4 1609:
Oh wearisome condition of Humanity!
Born under one law, to another bound,
Vainly begot and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound:
What meaneth Nature by these diverse laws?
Passion and reason self-division cause.
Is it the mask or majesty of Power
To make offences that it may forgive?