Picture credit: japatino

The meaning of rape

There is no case for expanding its definition

Artillery Row

The current UK zeitgeist favours a drive to remove the use of the word “woman” from as many areas of public policy as possible. The word has become unfashionable as a means of describing the female body, and this includes the literature and conversation specific to women’s health. Women are “people who menstruate”, “pregnant people” or “people with a cervix”. Even Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, has said “it isn’t right” to say that only women have a cervix. The word “woman’’, it is claimed, is just not inclusive enough and so other words must suffice. 

At the same time news reports invite us to believe that a male rapist is “she” and public outrage is the only way to ensure that a trans-identified man who rapes women, as in the case of Isla Bryson/Adam Graham, is rightly housed in the male prison estate. The court Bench rules have been updated to advise that a woman giving evidence should describe her rape by a man by talking of “her penis” if he identifies as a woman, or be reprimanded by judges who must abide similarly with the chosen pronouns of those entitled, rapist men. 

It is against such a surreal backdrop this week that there has been a surprising surge in demand that women are overtly mentioned and that their vagina does matter. “Woman” has returned to the stage, unfortunately, not triumphantly. It seems that the words for a woman and her vagina matter only when she does something wrong with it. 

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 does not allow for such interpretation

The evergreen men’s activist battle cry of “women do it too” whenever rape and consent hit the headlines has seen a renaissance this week with a sexual assault case involving a female perpetrator. It is of no surprise to feminist women that these misogynist voices have been joined by trans activists, united in the cry of “women are just as bad” and “the penis doesn’t matter it’s still rape!”. Both groups are keen to ignore actual UK law on rape or to push for a change which would obscure the necessity for the perpetrator to have a penis and possibly criminalise a woman’s vagina at the same time. Suddenly trans activists seem able to talk very graphically about women’s bodies — and this should ring alarm bells. 

In the UK not all men rape, but all rapists are men. According to UK law women can only be convicted of rape if they are an accessory to a male rapist. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is very specific that the act of rape requires a penis (italics mine):

A person (A) commits an offence of rape if he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis, and (B) does not consent to the penetration, and the (A) does not reasonably believe that B consents.

The definition is the same in the guidelines produced by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland and thus applicable in the case of Tanya Lord. 

In December 2022 this very unusual case came before Judge Patrick Lynch KC in Craigavon County Court in Northern Ireland where Lord, a lesbian woman, admitted the offence of “Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent”. The court heard that on June 23rd 2020 Lord and the male complainant returned to her house after a day drinking and went to bed together. The man woke later to find Tanya Lord on top of him “straddling him, bouncing up and down” and her DNA was later found on his penis. This is a dreadful sexual assault, an abuse of trust between friends, and has left the male victim by his own testimony traumatised. I do not seek to minimise the seriousness of the attack or its effect on the victim. 

However, the following comments by Judge Lynch are baffling in light of the very specific wording of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Judge Lunch said at sentencing “there’s no distinction between male and female rape” and, “The fact that a male is the victim doesn’t make it any less serious than the rape of a female victim.”

The prosecuting counsel also seemed to push against the boundaries of the legal definition of rape when he said, “Factually this case involved a woman having sex with a man without his consent and there should be parity between male victims of sexual crime and female victims.”

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 does not allow for such interpretation. I assume this is the law as the two of them, for whatever reason, would like it to be and not as it is. Tanya Lord was found guilty of an offence and sentenced to four years, but that offence is not rape it is sexual assault. 

Who is the perpetrator if we can’t point to the penis?

I’ve been called a “rape apologist” and worse by hundreds of activists over the last few days for daring to point this out. In my experience, and I campaigned extensively around the Ched Evans case, if a lot of men are angry at me for talking about rape then I’m saying some of the right things. I’m not apologising for sexual assailants, I’m saying that it is necessary to have regard for the law as it stands. In order to challenge male violence against women we have to be able to look squarely at reliable sex-segregated statistics on the extremes of such violence. Rape is the most extreme form of sexual violence, and in the UK it is only perpetrated by men. The conviction rate for rape is at criminally low levels and women are being discouraged from reporting. The CPS heavily fails women who do report followed by a lack of convictions once they arrive at court. If men are able to blur the lines between rape which is perpetrated by men alone and other forms of sexual violence which are perpetrated, though more rarely, by women then it is harder to tackle men’s violence against women and girls. 

There is a reason rape is used as a tactical weapon in war to subdue enemies. It is terror. All forms of sexual violence are horrific and traumatic for the victim, but the invasion of a female body by a male penis is the last boundary to access her body and the most extreme act of degradation, humiliation and pain. 

As Susan Brownmiller wrote in 1975:

Rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.

Men are raped too of course, but they are raped by men. Crimes of sexual violence with a female perpetrator are far less common than those with a male perpetrator and of less severity. If crimes of sexual violence perpetrated by women, though terrible, have parity with the more serious crime of rape then there is a less blindingly obvious issue with which sex perpetrates the most serious of those crimes on the other sex. 

Furthermore, if we have a situation where men who identify as women are guilty of rape and women are also found guilty of this “new” rape, rather than sexual assault according to current legislation, then there are less substantial reasons to keep male rapists out of female prisons. If we can say “rape” and “rapist” and it clearly means men, including those men who say they are women, then we can acknowledge how terrible it is to place them in prison with women. But, if those men can say that women rapists are already in those jails that objection becomes less valid. Saying women who commit crimes of sexual violence are “the same” as “trans women” who commit crimes of rape, makes the argument for being housed in a female prison less outrageous; less obviously wrong to all.

If focus in rape law drifted away from penetration by a penis, then a nightmare scenario exists where defence counsel could suggest that the vagina of the victim was actually the source of a rape. The bodies of perpetrators and victims become interchangeable if we remove the sexed nature of the specific sex crime of rape. His DNA is in her vagina, but hers is on his penis. Who is the perpetrator if we can’t point to the penis?

Since lesbians are sometimes being bullied into accepting trans-identified men as potential “lesbian” partners if they wish to avoid being called transphobic, and if the act of rape no longer required a penis, it would be possible for a man who says he is a woman to accuse a lesbian of rape. I don’t believe we have seen the bottom of this insane rabbit hole yet, or anywhere near it.

Such rewording of rape, in legislation, would only be in the interest of men who don’t want to be exposed as being predominantly the most violent sexual aggressors. This includes old-fashioned men’s rights activists and the new ones who say they are women. Misogynists both. 

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