There is no great stigma attached to being a rapist

On the contrary, our society is surprisingly tolerant of rape.

There is no great stigma attached to being a rapist. Of course, it’s not a word anyone wishes to see applied to themselves. We’d all hate to be called rapists, just as we’d hate anyone close to us to be accused of rape. But when it comes to committing rape - actually having sex with someone who is not consenting? It seems a lot of us are totally cool with that. Go ahead, rape away, just make sure no one calls it by that name.

A 2010 survey reported by Sky News revealed 46 per cent of men aged 18 to 25 do not consider it rape if a man continues to penetrate a woman after she has changed her mind. Last week a survey conducted by Rape Crisis and Reveal magazine showed a third of women do not believe a rape to have taken place if an alleged victim did not fight back. It’s only eight years since a poll by Amnesty International suggested 8 per cent people believe a woman to be totally - that’s totally - responsible for rape if she’s had many sexual partners. The truth is, an alarming number of people are very comfortable indeed with the idea of rape in certain circumstances. Like George Galloway, they merely see it as “bad sexual etiquette”. Rape doesn’t horrify them, not a bit; rape accusations do.

Take the case of the actor Michael Le Vell, who was this week found not guilty of 12 charges relating to rape, sexual assault and sex with a minor. During the trial, the press pored over details of Le Vell’s private life, caring not one bit for the reputation of a man who had not (and still hasn’t) been convicted of anything. And yet it’s only now, once the trial’s over, that we discover the true horror of it all: the fact that Le Vell was accused at all.

Soon after the verdict Phillip Schofield tweeted his outrage, proclaiming it “bloody ridiculous a mans [sic] life & reputation can be so comprehensively trashed in this way” (it’s probably churlish to mention Lord McAlpine at this point, but still). Calls were swiftly being made for anonymity to be granted to those accused of rape, with Christine Hamilton helpfully suggesting “it’s outrageous that we should know who the accused is but not the accuser, whom the jury obviously think is a serial liar”. Similarly keen on making up allegations about other people’s allegedly made-up allegations, men’s rights campaigner Peter Lloyd wrote in the Mail that “even UK charity Rape Crisis admit that almost 1 in 10 rape allegations are false” (Rape Crisis have of course refuted this false allegation). Amazing though it is, one acquittal has made it open season on rape allegations. Just what is going on?

Having no interest in his private life and no reason to question his acquittal I have a great deal of sympathy for Michael Le Vell. I don’t, however, feel I am in a position to call his accuser a serial liar (maybe the wives of disgraced Tory MPs have special instincts for these things). I pity all victims of rape whose credibility is undermined by insinuations such as those made by Hamilton, just as I pity the small number of men who are falsely accused of rape. It’s a mess. Yet what strikes me as particularly bizarre is that in a society so tolerant of rape, in which significant numbers of people believe many forms of assault don’t even count, it’s being suggested that rape defendants need anonymity because so much shame and stigma is attached to being a rapist. This is nonsense. We’re far less likely to excuse shoplifting or benefit fraud than we are rape. We’re fine with rape. We just don’t like those who accuse and we don’t like those who are accused, either.

Rape culture is so endemic that an actual rape trial doesn’t just put the accused in the dock; broader cultural attitudes are on trial, too. Unless we’re talking about the Yorkshire Ripper or John Worboys - those extreme, nowt-to-do-with-us types - an accusation of rape doesn’t just point the finger at an individual. It challenges the widespread assumption that sex without the consent of another person isn’t really a crime. I can’t help feeling there’s a serious amount of wilful distancing in our shunning of those on trial for rape. We might not have done the things they’re accused of, but we’re way too close to them for comfort.

Hence the stigma but hence, too, the relief and triumphalism following an acquittal. Phew! So it wasn’t them - it wasn’t us - after all! Even though a not guilty verdict does not itself demonstrate that a complainant was lying (sorry, Christine), in terms of the fury it releases it might as well do. A litany of entirely implausible reasons for making a false accusation - such as a need for attention and fame - pour forth, together with contradictory demands that the fame-hungry attention-seeker’s anonymity be revoked. Yet there’s little to be gained from “crying rape” (as it’s so tastelessly called). Four fifths of assault victims responding to Mumsnet’s We Believe You survey had not made a report to the police, with most feeling that the media, the legal system and society at large are unsympathetic to rape victims. Oddly, we seem to think that if those accused of rape are losing out, those doing the accusing must be winning. This is rubbish.

Attitudes to those accused of rape can be terrible but let’s not pretend for one moment that this is because we’re overly sympathetic towards those making complaints. We’re not. Both complainants and defendants face speculation, suspicion and dismissal. Whenever there’s reasonable doubt, rather than support those we believe, we denigrate those we don’t. This isn’t because we’re disgusted by rape. On the contrary, we just don’t like anything that reminds us how tolerant we are of something we ought to despise.


Protesters pose for a picture at Slutwalk. Image: Getty

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.