Do we take rape too seriously?

Not for the first time I must express my admiration for Kirsty Strickland. Her column in The National yesterday (SNP MSP Karen Adam is telling a simple truth about sexual predators) was thoughtful and thought-provoking. She a made a solid point about a sensitive subject and did so without resorting to emotive language. When an issue tends to inflame passions it is essential that somebody is there to damp things down a bit. To take some of the passion out of the discussion. All too often it is issues which are best served by calm reflection which provoke such anger and revulsion as makes calm reflection impossible. When discussion touches on child molestation or sexual assault or rape, dispassionate voices tend to be deprecated. They are condemned as cold and unfeeling. Rational debate gives way to competitive public displays of high emotion. Nobody wants to be seen as the least offended or the least alarmed or the least grief-stricken.

Social media aggravates this phenomenon, of course. It gives everybody a public platform on which to engage with these competitive displays of high emotion. Politicians and celebrities strive to outdo one another and the less exalted are encouraged to take sides. Woe betide them should they take the wrong side. Woe betide them whatever side they take because they will always be on the wrong side as far as the other side is concerned. What may start out as a genuine attempt to open a potentially helpful discussion rapidly descends into a sharply polarised conflict between two deeply entrenched positions. There’s little scope for nuance in 280 characters – whether that limit is imposed by the platform or by the contributor’s limited ability to express themselves.

I wrote the other day about the clumsy, thoughtless, idiotic things even normally intelligent people post on Twitter (Here be idiots). As something of a secondary point, Kirsty Strickland refers to the careless reading which can be just as much of a problem as the slapdash writing. Personally, I think Kirsty is a bit hard on Chris McEleney, who is clearly deeply embarrassed by his misreading of a Tweet from Karen Adams MSP which itself was perhaps somewhat open to misinterpretation.

As is the title of this article. That, I admit, is me being a bit mischievous. It amuses me to see the number of people who react solely to the headline having read precisely none of the article. They assume they know all they need to know. They fall at the first hurdle by failing to question their own assumptions. It’s just another form of the idiocy which appears to be rife wherever I look these days. Is it ‘cos I is gettin’ old?

There is a serious point to the title of this article. Although I’m painfully aware that few people will get as far as that point. And just as few will actually get the point even if they read the entire piece. Of course I don’t think we take rape too seriously. It’s right up there with murder and people-trafficking as one of the worst crimes against the person. I merely suggest the possibility that treating rape as such an exceptional offence may contribute to difficulty in successfully prosecuting offenders. Maybe we do take rape too seriously in at least one narrow sense. Maybe it would better serve the ends of justice if it were to be treated as a category of assault.

Karen Adams was saying something similar when she pointed out that rapists and child-molesters are not monsters but to all appearances very ordinary people. They may be predators. But they operate within society. They are part of society. A fact that we find seriously discomfiting. In painting them as monsters we let ourselves off the hook by setting them apart from society. But in doing so we misunderstand and misrepresent the reality that we should be dealing with if we are to address the issue effectively. Now, before anybody gets on their high horse, I know that this is not exactly what Karen Adams was saying. But it is something we can take from her comments without, I think, seriously misrepresenting them. The two things tie together. The idea that we shouldn’t think of rapists as monsters relates closely to the idea that we shouldn’t treat rape as a crime which is only committed by monsters.

Another columnist for The National – the redoubtable Joanna Cherry – is one more woman prepared to ask probing questions about how the justice system deals with alleged rape and other sexual offences (How justice system can better serve women who have been raped). She too appears intent on taking some of the heat out of the discussion and taking a more thoughtful approach than you’ll ever find on Twitter. She is clearly disturbed at the amount of emotion which is being brought to the issue when emotion has no place in the justice system.

Earlier this year, it was alarming to hear that some MSPs thought the feelings of medical examiners and their personal validation were more important than the very well evidenced preference of women who have been raped to be examined by a female forensic medical examiner. Ultimately, Parliament saw sense but some of what was said during the course of the debate was frankly outrageous.

It’s OK to be emotional when talking about the offence. It most certainly is not OK to be emotional when discussing how the justice system deals with the offence. Labour MP Nadia Whittome demonstrates why it is essential to keep emotion out of the equation as far as possible; while also providing a fine example of a politician saying something idiotic. A report in The Guardian quotes Nadia Whittome’s reaction to the BBC’s disgraceful behaviour in relation to the Alan Dershowitz interview (BBC says interview with Epstein lawyer did not meet its standards). The following remark caught my attention – and not in a good way.

We have a responsibility to believe people when they disclose sexual abuse…

That is just wrong! Nadia Whittome wants a presumption of guilt. She doesn’t just say we should believe allegations of sexual abuse by default, she insists we have a responsibility to do so. A responsibility to prejudge very serious allegations? Really? What was she thinking? Was thinking involved at all?

We have a responsibility to take allegations of sexual assault seriously. We have a responsibility to treat those disclosing sexual abuse with respect and perhaps a bit of kindness. We have a responsibility not to disbelieve them. We have a responsibility to keep an entirely open mind about the matter until it has been thoroughly investigated. We have a responsibility not to introduce to the justice system principles which run counter to the ends of justice. We have a responsibility to defend those principles which are essential to a fair and effective justice system. Such as the presumption of innocence.

Nadia Whittome nicely demonstrates the danger of treating rape as too much of an exception to the normal rules. That is increasingly what has been happening and the results have not been impressive, as Joanna Cherry points out.

The Lord Advocate is also concerned about the low conviction rate in sexual offence cases. Scottish Government statistics show that just 43% of cases of rape and attempted rape in 2019-20 resulted in a conviction – compared to a rate of 88% for all crimes.

Superficially, what this suggests to me is that if we want the conviction rate for sexual offences to rise to somewhere near the rate for all crimes then we might do well to consider treating rape more like those other crimes. That is, I’m fully aware, a very simplistic analysis. But proper analysis begins with asking questions. No question should be discounted. The right questions are in there somewhere and won’t be found unless you’re prepared to ask all the questions. Even asking whether we take rape too seriously.

Scottish law provides for degrees of assault. I’d be very interested to have some expert opinion on how many of those failed convictions on charges which put all the emphasis on the sexual element of the crime might have succeeded had they been charges which stressed the assault element instead. It’s got to be worth considering. It has to be worth considering rationally.

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23 thoughts on “Do we take rape too seriously?

  1. Hi Peter,

    As a politician,elected Adams might have think about choosing her words carefully. Whether she didn’t and we will make up our mind regarding her communication skills or whether she did ( as lots of populist harseholes do just for fun or for a darker purpose) knowing that a wave of abuses will come her way … This is not a person we should give our vote to. At the least incompetence shouldn’t be rewarded.
    Kind Regards
    Paul, from a forgotten world

    Liked by 1 person

  2. > They can be charming, successful, rich and have good careers.

    Ms. Strickland could do with choosing her words a little more carefully too.

    However, with this sentence she singularly fails to identify the root of the problem. It’s not about control. It’s all about the abuse of power for selfish gain at the expense of others and, particularly in the case of children, the abuse of trust, in a situation where they have absolutely no agency. The scars are permanent. That’s why words like “monster” are used.

    I agree the framing is not particularly helpful, especially when it’s used by mainstream media to generate revenue from advertising. Perhaps we need a new vocabulary to describe the situation. Ms Strickland’s attempt to dress up the situation as otherwise nice men being naughty is not the right approach.

    Also of interest. Why wasn’t there are photo of Karen Adams? With all those references to “monster” made the article look like a hit-piece on McEleny.


    1. That is NOT what Kirsty Strickland was doing at all. She was echoing Karen Adams’s point that sexual predators are not monsters because if they were they’d stand out. And that’s the last thing a predator wants to do. They CAN be charming, successful, rich and have good careers. In fact, they have to be if that’s what it takes to be a successful predator.

      As to the root causes of sexual predation, I assiduously avoid summary conclusion. Human beings are complex. Human psychology is complex. Human behaviour is complex. Human relationships are complex. Human society is complex. That’s a helluva lot of complexity to deal with in a couple of sentences.

      The only thing I’m prepared to state with absolute certainty is that insight into ‘why men rape’ begins with evolutionary psychology. Understand begins with asking the probing questions. Such as, why don’t all men rape?

      But all of this is straying from the point. What The article is about is not the nature of rape and rapists but how allegations of rape are dealt with within the justice system. The justice system is not and should not be interested in why men rape – only whether or not they did beyond all reasonable doubt.


      1. Where I take issue with Ms. Strickland’s article is that she simply takes a contrarian stance by saying maybe the perpetrators are not monsters. Given the damage done that’s not really credible. It does not do anything to move the debate forward or devise a solution.

        One reason for low reporting rates and low conviction rates is the result of decades of dealing with police forces and judges which didn’t take the allegations or the crime seriously. Finding a solution within the system that is somewhat responsible for creating the problem is not likely to be successful.

        Perhaps one approach would be to take the initial stages of any “investigation” out of the hands of the justice system entirely – put it in the hands of a specialist team of doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors for example.The justice system can get involved once there is a case to answer.


  3. The fact that there is a low rate of conviction in rape and attempted rape cases compared to crimes overall is something that does merit looking into. The fact that the “success” rate in cases prosecuted in Scotland is around half of the norm may suggest that this is especially urgent in cases of this nature.

    However, I think it should be borne in mind by the Scottish Government that all the possible REASONS why this might be the case that should be thoroughly examined. It may be that prosecutors are simply not skilled enough in making their arguments. Perhaps it might be that the police are not sufficiently forensic or killed in collecting evidence. Maybe the reality is that there is simply less incidence of rape in cases brought to court than some other equally heinous and serious crimes. (I’m not saying this is the case, or even a likelihood, but am merely stating that it is at least a possibility).

    The Scottish Government, via Lady Dorrian’s investigation, is considering juryless trials in sexual assault/rape cases, the implication being that those individuals that comprise juries may have prejudices that are to strong to allow them to come to a fair and reasoned conclusion. However, juries will be composed of members who have biases no doubt but over the piece the randomness of selection (of 15 people drawn from all walks of life) is meant to balance this out. A single judge, however, is neither random nor is there a counter balance – one person making the decision alone, even if an expert, does not necessarily make it free of flaw or prejudice.

    Those entrusted with ensuring our justice system should tread very carefully here: A rush to judgment will not serve us or them well – it very rarely does.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pleased you raised the jury aspect. Tail end of last year saw the consultation on replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, this is an extract: “We make far-reaching proposals for reform, with a particular focus on those quintessentially UK rights, such as freedom of speech and the RIGHT TO TRIAL BY JURY. (Capitalisation mine).

      Dig deeper in the consultation (100+ pages) on which Parliament has the over-riding power, on the role of the Supreme Court, and on the distancing of the EHRC, and yet again we see reasons for independence. Interestingly therefore the Claim of Right 1689 is referenced in the consultation.

      (FYI: This issue will be added to the growing list of issues lodged with the UN and that form part of the Declaration of Sovereign Scot initiative.)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is the same Strickland that took part in the disgraceful derogatory BBC programme about Alex Salmond, after he was found to be innocent.


  5. Karen Adam was pontificating on a trial in the USA. That is not her business. Independence for Scotland is. That is what Chris McEleny pulled her up on. Both Ms Adam and the journalists completely missed missed that point.

    They all fixated on the point that “monster” was not appropriate, but they did not tell us what they should be called – other than people. As far as I am concerned her tweet was not misinterpreted and In my view the word people is quite inadequate to describe the individuals who.rape and abuse.


  6. No article quotes the full tweet, so here it is:

    Paedophiles and predators are people. Not bogey men under the bed. Not Mac wearing flashers in the street, faceless and nameless. They are our family, friends and colleagues. They are not scary monsters. They are people who abuse. It’s uncomfortable to humanise them because 1/2

    we then have to face the horrors in plain sight.

    Headlines read ‘daughter’ not ‘paedophile’ to provoke something in us. Not for good purpose.

    But use it. Yes a daughter did do that. Daughters can be capable of doing that. Horrifying isn’t it? Face it and warn our kids. 2/2

    Note carefully: “1/2”. I don’t do twitter thanks be, but even I know what that means. I would look at “2/2” before making any judgement about “1/2”, because I wouldn’t unjustly attack someone.

    And Kirsty Strickland is NOT saying paedophiles and predators are not monsters, she says they should not be depicted as monsters as it skews our perceptions of what a paedophile or predator looks like.

    Like Adam, she is making the point that they are hidden amongst us, in plain sight.

    The secondary point is that some people are so full of their own agenda they descend into a mist of blind rage and just can not understand what is clearly in front of them. There are such people in Alba, and in the SNP, as witnessed by some of the responses to either person – and not forgetting that Adam did not address it to McEleny, he was the one who jumped in with both clangers.

    Thirdly, McEleny has not apologised, he tried to pass it off by saying Adam clarified what she meant in a subsequent series of tweets. It was as plain as the nose on my face what she meant in the first place, with this making it completely clear even for the hard of understanding: “we then have to face the horrors in plain sight“. Which Strickland puts as “Monsters are easy to spot. You’d know one instantly if you saw it walking down the street. Sexual predators are not.

    There is no excuse for McEleny, and he needs to retract and apologise. There was no ambiguity, none whatsoever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would seem that Councillor McEleny at least saw he misread it, and I would hope apologise to the MSP.
      Yes. It seems more than a few have misread the context.
      When the MSP says they ain’t “monsters”, what she means is, they could be absolutely anybody.
      Not that what they do, has not made them into “monsters”, however. For they do a monstrous deed.
      But again, maybe the MSP gave it far too wide a net. And making out every person could be one of those “monsters” in sheep’s clothing. Which would equally end up affronting many a good person.

      At any rate, as Peter said the other day about idiots, there is more than too many in the Independence movement, just now. The New Year was not even 3 days gone, and we’ve had quite an unnecessary and very damaging row between ALBA and SNP already.
      This could have been avoided.
      One golden rule of elected politicians at any level, in my view, is to avoid “Twitter” at all times!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Politicians can’t ignore Twitter. It is too powerful. What they need to do is learn how to think and how to then express what they think. It is depressingly ironic that the people who most need good communication skills in order to do their job are the least proficient in using modern communication tools. While being most insistent that they are unsurpassed experts. Why did the name ‘Pete Wishart’ just pop into my mind?


      2. Politicians and others should make Language in Thought and Action (Hayakawa) a qualifying read. Available on Abebooks and Amazon. Along perhaps with the old basic transactional analysis primer – I’m OK, You’re OK.

        Sadly most of today’s crop seem to be totally unaware of the general principles of communication.


  7. You can’t equate rape with common assault because there isn’t any consentual stabbing. There is a difference between forensic evidence of having been stabbed and forensic evidence of having been fucked.


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