What started off earlier in the week as proposals to change the way offenders generally are sentenced, soon turned into a media storm when Justice Secretary Ken Clarke made his incorrect, outdated, and downright offensive comments about rape. Accusing the media of adding ‘sexual excitement’ to the story by focusing on rape as opposed to other crimes and suggesting that some rapes are not as serious as others, have resulted in calls for his resignation.
So should he resign? I do my fair share of media work, so have some sympathy with feeling flustered when put on the spot and fearing that I will choose the wrong words and inadvertently upset someone. But Ken Clarke must have realised immediately from the response he got that this had caused an angry reaction, so why dig yourself in deeper? Why not apologise immediately if you did you not mean what you said and simply used the wrong words?
He has, reportedly, sent a written apology to the woman who audibly broke down on the radio phone in when describing what happened to her and the response from the criminal justice system. But he has caused distress to more than that one woman. He has undermined the hard work done by criminal justice and healthcare professionals, by rape crisis workers, by family and friends who support people who have been raped, and has likely caused distress to many who have been raped. In my opinion, Ken Clarke should offer a blanket apology to anyone who was offended by his words and he should sit down and listen to the experiences of people who have been raped by someone close to them. I can guarantee that he would make sure he chose his words more carefully if he really listened to the impact that rape had had one their lives. If he is not willing to do this, he should resign in my opinion.
The Ken Clarke media storm has also meant that a piece of good news has been buried this week. Rape Crisis Centres have just been told whether they have been successful in their funding bids for a contribution towards their costs for the next three years. For the Centres that have been successful, this represents the most stability they have ever had. It is something that the national Rape Crisis movement have campaigned for for many years and which has now come to fruition, with thanks to Home Secretary Theresa May.
I am glad that there will now be more access to Rape Crisis Centres and hope that a more sensible discussion can be had with the coalition government about how the criminal justice system can best improve its response to rape. Whether or not that discussion will include Ken Clarke is yet to be known.
by Nicole Westmarland, co-author of International approaches to rape, published in April 2011.