Monday 28 November 2005


When I first read about this

a recent ICM opinion poll indicates that 1 in 3 of those surveyed believed that a woman was responsible for being raped if she was flirting.

... more than a quarter (26%) of those asked said that they thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than one in five (22%) held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners. Similarly, more than a quarter of people (30%) said that a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk, and more than a third (37%) held the same view if the woman had failed to clearly say “no” to the man.

— I knew there was something fundamentally wrong about it, but just couldn't quite put my finger on it. I'm a firm believer that there's only one person responsible for any crime, and that's the criminal. If the death penalty were to be reintroduced, I would sooner see it used on rapists than murderers. So I know the problem isn't that I think rape's OK. And yet I'm also a firm believer in accepting the consequences of one's actions. Walking into a Rangers pub with a Tricolor on a match day and shouting "Fuck the Queen!" is the sort of behaviour that gets you hurt, and, if you do something so stupid, you are partly responsible for the pain you end up in — even though every single Rangers fan who kicks you is entirely responsible for their actions too, and should be punished for them.

All very confusing. Until that marvellous Solent woman went and explained it all properly:

Amnesty seems to share some of the same faulty and worrying assumptions about responsibility for rape with those whose responses to the survey caused such concern. The questions asked in the survey (asking whether a woman was "partially or totally responsible for being raped" in various circumstances) pushed the respondents into assuming that responsibility for a crime works like settling the liability for costs relating to a road accident: a pie chart where the responsibility is split between the two sides, where for instance Driver A has to pay 75% and Driver B 25%.

Amnesty's view is that the rapist should get 100% liability — but it still implicitly accepts the framework that the more the woman is blamed the less the man should be.


I see no contradiction between holding that the guilt of rape is not one whit lessened if the victim was drunk, or dressed in skimpy clothing, or has had many sexual partners — and at the same time holding that the woman in the case I mentioned was foolish. Being drunk in a city centre at three a.m. while wearing a miniskirt does increase your chances of rape, predictably so. We should work towards a world where women were as free in fact as they are in law to go where they like, when they like and dress as they like — but that world does not exist at present. One way of working towards it is to have severe penalties for rape and to denounce the view that rape can be excused.

I think my "there is no pie chart" opinion, or something like it, is fairly common. When doing surveys it often happens that none of the choices match what I think, so I just have to choose the least bad match.

I note that the Amnesty press release spoke of "blame" whereas the poll questions quoted spoke of "responsibility." There is a distinction. Personally, I don't think it's the right distinction to make. I don't like the "pie chart" model for responsibility or blame, but many of the respondents may have been trying to get across the point that in one perfectly defensible sense of the word "responsible", women should be responsible when it comes to the risks they take. If I am right these respondents are now saying angrily, "But I'd have answered differently if they had talked about blame."

Exactly. Exactly, exactly, exactly. Thank you.

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