Rape affects us all

Men must challenge the myths and stereotypes that still surround the issues of sexual violence, to s

The majority of rape victims are female and the majority of perpetrators are male. But does this mean that men do not care about offences that they are unlikely to experience? Of course not. Eight per cent of rapes recorded in 2005/6 were against men or boys.

But men do not have to experience rape to be affected by it. Men have wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers and friends who may experience rape. It can destroy marriages, affect the lives of whole families and cause shockwaves through local communities; its effects often go far wider than the immediate victim.

Rape is considered by the government and the public - not just women - to rank alongside murder in terms of seriousness because of the violence and violation it involves.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates’s article in this series stated that the way in which society protects its victims of crime is a barometer of that society’s standards of humanity and decency.

I could not put it better. Rape is not a “women’s issue”; rape is an attempt to overpower, to weaken and to violate human dignity. It is an issue that should concern all of us.

The last ten years has seen an increase in reporting of rape which indicates that victims are more confident to come forward. The proportion of cases that go to court that result in a conviction, which stands at 34 per cent is the highest it has been for ten years. But the increase in convictions is not keeping pace with the increases in reporting so we all need to do everything we can to improve this, regardless of gender.

That being said, I am immensely proud to be a male minister with responsibility for this area alongside issues such as domestic violence, prostitution and trafficking. So what do I try to bring to this?

For me the fact that these issues generally affect women and the majority of those committing these offences, or creating the demand for prostitution, are male, makes it even more important that men are involved in discussing these issues and finding solutions.

Men have a responsibility to speak out and speak up on this issue. To challenge the myths and stereotypes that still surround the issue of rape and sexual assault. To show that being masculine, or being strong, does not involve dominating others.

I am determined to get these messages across. In recent months I have been working with the Mens’ Coalition, an organisation which aims to get men speaking out on these issues. The group is in its infancy but is a hugely positive step in the right direction.

I am privileged to be working alongside some very committed female ministers such as the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the Attorney General Baroness Scotland, the Solicitor General Vera Baird, the Minister for Women Harriet Harman and the Deputy Minister for Women Barbara Follett who are all determined to use their positions of responsibility to drive up conviction rates for rape and provide better support for victims.

It shows not just that we are making progress but that the path of change needs to quicken. There are also many men in Parliament who constantly raise these issues. This partnership of men and women taking a stand against rape can only be a good thing and I hope it is only the start.

Vernon Coaker is a Home Office minister

Vernon Coaker is the Labour MP for Gedlin and the former shadow defence secretary.