Thursday, 19 May 2011

The real problem with Ken Clarke's words.

Following the 5Live interview yesterday, in which Ken Clarke referred to 'serious rapes' thus implying that some rapes were not, there was an absolute explosion of outrage on Twitter from all camps. As is the norm, it wasn't long before a few voices started to question the outrage and those voices became louder and shortly afterwards blog posts started appearing analysing what Ken Clarke had said, picking apart the hyperbole added to his comments by his (now many) detractors.

A good chunk of these posts focused on the facts surrounding the classification of rape and the sentences which as Clarke now knows, is a lot easier when not done live on radio. Some went further and said that those who were outraged were political opportunists or hadn't listened to what Clarke said. It's worthwhile providing the facts of course but opinion remains just that and what follows is mine, for what it's worth.

There are those who have sought and will continue to seek the political win from the situation & Victoria Derbyshire does go for the headline and the sound-bite in much the same way that Stephen Nolan does.

However, Ken Clarke is the Secretary of State for Justice. There is no circumventing that one. Whilst others can try their very best to shape the debate on rape laws, it is only Ken Clarke who is responsible for actually shaping the policy and so it is for him to ensure that he does not put himself in a position where the public, rightly or wrongly, feel his views on rape are not suited to that position. Unfortunately, that is exactly what he has done.

Yes, those that look at the subject objectively can easily see that there is, from a legal point, a difference in the severity of rapes, though the severity for the victim is uniform. But Ken Clarke didn't say that. He referred to 'serious' rapes.

He also appeared to dismiss Date Rape as being in the same category as statutory rape which is quite plainly wrong. One involves consent and one does not. Of course, it is easy to get flustered on the radio and people make mistakes. But again, we must remember that this is the Justice Secretary and he is talking about one of the most serious crimes in our society. Being flippant and speaking without thinking can not be excused.

One final point is that as well as misspeaking, Ken Clarke also misled. When talking about Rape sentences being on average, 5 years, he said that the stats included those cases where the was consensual sex between an 18 year old and a 15 year old. That is completely incorrect. If such cases were indeed in the rape stats it is because a judge has deemed that there was no consent and the charge of rape is as valid in those cases as in any other. Again, this type of flippant attitude to the subject suggest to the public that the Justice Secretary believes that some rapes are just not as bad as others.

Ken Clarke can feel victimised if he wants. His supporters can point to those making political capital or those that just like to be outraged. Others can worry that a sensible debate on rape sentencing is now off the cards, and indeed it may be. But if you're looking for someone to blame for this, the Ken Clarke is your man.

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