Teach children about consent in schools. Poor money into rape crisis centres. Overhaul sentencing of rapists. David Cameron’s speech today reads like a feminist wish list.
Speaking to the Conservative Women’s Organisation in London, Cameron outlined some statistics that those of us who are involved in feminist activism are all too familiar with:
One in 20 women in the UK have been raped
75% of rapes are not reported to the police
Of those that are reported, 5.7% result in conviction in England and Wales, (not mentioned by Cameron, this figure falls to 3.9% in Scotland)
This means, says Cameron, that of every 1,000 women raped, only 15 will see their rapist convicted. Or, to flip that around, for every 15 rapists that end up in jail, approximately 985 rapes are committed with absolutely no repercussions – for the rapist, that is.
For women who have been raped, services have been stripped down. The number of rape crisis centres in England and Wales has fallen from 68 in 1984 to 45 in 2007, and those that remain are facing severe funding problems.
So, what does Cameron want to do about it? Some of the ideas the Tories are putting forward are good – and, incidentally, all of them are borrowed straight from what those working on violence against women (generally a feminist, lefty bunch) have been saying for ages.
First off, Cameron wants to change the national curriculum so that kids learn about consent as a compulsory element of their sex education classes. He gets a gold star on this one: rapists are not, generally, creepy looking men hiding in bushes. Much more often, they are average, ‘nice’ guys – boyfriends, acquaintances, friends, who just do not understand or believe that ‘no means no’. Will a couple of lessons in the classroom be able to effectively change the underlying assumptions about women that make this possible? It seems a bit ambitious, but it can’t do any harm to try.
Secondly, Cameron wants to provide greater financial security for rape crisis centres by financing them on a three year basis. Another gold star!
But then we get on to the third proposal: review sentencing for rapists. Now, this is not a bad thing as such. Once a woman has gone through the mammoth task of seeing her rapist convicted, at least don’t insult her by giving him a palty sentence.
And, fourthly – oh. There is no fourth point. Although Cameron goes to great lengths to set out the problem, there is a massive gap in his list of solutions: never mind about the sentences doled out to rapists, when you only manage to get such a tiny, miniscule proportion of them convicted in the first place!
Cameron has made a good start – but absent here is any real plan on how to cut the number of rapes by men who have already left the school system, or how to hoist up the poor conviction rate. Where are the promises of retraining for judges? Where are the promises of expert witnesses, to explain to juries that not all women behave the same when they are raped, and that rapists are still rapists, even if they attack a woman who has an active sexual life, wears a short skirt, or, horrors of horrors, gets drunk?
Just like with Tory promises to introduce equal pay audits, designed to force companies to confront and close the pay gap, there are also any number of questions about how the proposals they have put forward would be put into practice.
But the larger question is surely: what happened to our Labour government in all of this? Why hasn’t it put in place, at the least, these simple measures? Although the government has made some progessive moves, they just ditched plans to introduce expert witnesses. Why isn’t this issue further up the political agenda? The government is failing, and badly.