Guest post from Pink Prosecco
Most people probably hesitate before commenting on contested rape allegations, We don’t wish to belittle the victim of an alleged crime, but are equally unwilling to jump to conclusions about someone who may have been quite unjustly accused. Whatever one thinks of the suggestion that those charged with rape should be granted anonymity, it is certainly easy to sympathise with Ben Sullivans carefully worded thoughts on the issue, given his recent experiences.
Mr Sullivan said: “I’m not as extreme as some who don’t think you should have your anonymity revealed until you’ve been convicted, or… after a charge. ‘What I don’t agree with, though, is that everyone’s identity is automatically revealed the minute they are arrested.” He added that he was “completely aware that it can be extremely helpful to police investigations” and “would never say that everyone’s identity in the circumstances should be kept secret”. “However, these are obviously incredibly poisonous allegations. They are incredibly difficult to deal with.”
Milo Yiannopoulos expresses his views in a less restrained manner. After asserting that it is quite common to regret a drunken sexual encounter, he continues: “Some people, however, decide to exact revenge on their sexual partners, sometimes in retaliation for their own poor choices, sometimes for a variety of other, peculiar psychological reasons. It’s what I call slut’s remorse, and it’s the reason we need to keep the names of rape suspects a secret until they are charged. For too long, men have been a silent class of victim in rape cases, unable to protect themselves from the consequences of victimless drunken fumbling and, yes, from vindictive bitches, whether male or female, lashing out in frustration about their own self-loathing.”
Obviously anyone who deliberately and maliciously makes a false accusation of rape is perverting the cause of justice and should be punished severely. But rape is an under-reported crime and it is not generally thought (although clearly it is impossible to be decisive about the figures) that false allegations are common. Consent is a complex area. It seems possible that there are cases where it would be inappropriate to charge, or convict, but where the accuser still does not fit the “vindictive bitch” image sketched by Yiannoupoulos. For people trying to negotiate these uncertainties the principle of “enthusiastic consent” may be a helpful one, and one which emphasises positive enjoyment, rather than just sternly warning “no means no” (though obviously it does).
But young men may find these guidelines confusing too, as Robyn Urback outlines here. ” And so, the suggestion that ‘yes’ might actually mean ‘no’ or at the very least, isn’t a complete ‘yes’ further complicates any attempt to really evaluate what’s going on. There’s no question that a ‘yes’ uttered under in response to a threat or under some other form of duress does not constitute consent. Nor does an intoxicated ‘yes,’ since an individual loses the capacity to consent when under the influence of alcohol and drugs. But the Forum on Consent takes the consent conundrum to an entirely new level by suggesting that a meek ‘yes,’ or a nonchalant ‘yes” or a ‘yes’ without emphatic body language does not constitute consent. According to the panel ‘It must be loud and clear.’
It’s a pity that those sympathising with men who have been wrongly accused, or young men experiencing confusion over consent, should so often express themselves in a way which is sneering and sexist. Here’s Peter Lloyd writing in the Telegraph: “This is precisely why a court of law armed with all the evidence, not a casual observer saddled with girl power grudges, should convict a defendant in a safe and fair way.” However it does seem as though a letter (no longer available by the way) calling on Sullivan to resign from the Oxford Union, and signed by many prominent media figures, was worded in a tendentious way, and may even have been in contempt of court. Lloyd’s reference to “girl power grudges” may irk, but he is correct in saying that these matters need to be sorted out in the courts.