Dave Gee – the UK’s leading authority on rape investigation – said he felt “despair” last week when he heard Kenneth Clarke appear to suggest some rape cases were more serious than others. I know exactly how he feels.
Ken Clarke has long been a thorn in the side of those of us in the Tory Party who want the party to stand for conservative principles. His rambling interview about rape, and the lax sentencing policy that he proposes proves that he should be nowhere near the Cabinet, and nowhere near the Conservative Party.
Tories have always been popular with the public when it comes to the question of crime. The British public have never bought into trendy left-wing theories about criminals being victims themselves, and that it’s really society’s fault. They are wise enough to know that most of the time “rehabilitation” is just a magic word said before releasing dangerous criminals early, and that only a tough attitude to criminality can keep society safer. Indeed, the only way that Tony Blair was able to win the public over on the subject of crime in 1997 was by sounding exactly like a Tory.
So, when Ken Clarke announced that he is looking at lowering the already low sentences for rapists even further (by introducing an even higher sentence discount of 50% for those who plead guilty), then he was already on thin ice. The average sentence a rapist serves is five years, and the Justice Secretary wishes to make that average even lower. Yet to make matters worse, in defending the bizarre policy, his implication that date rape was a less serious form of rape than violent rape has rightly provoked a furore that should have taken his job from him by now.
Date rape takes many forms, and Clarke has noted that these situations can vary greatly, and can be complex. This is true, but this often comes from woolly definitions about what constitutes rape; if this is the case, then a redefinition of rape is required, not a lax form of sentencing for the crime. Indeed, sentencing for date rape should be being made stronger than it already is, as there is evidence to suggest that it is on the increase.
Only last year did the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board conclude that the use of date rape drugs was rising dramatically, and anyone who is a regular club goer will know that date rape drugs are a common hazard for women, and even for men who might get their drink spiked by accident. Additionally, the tactic of plying a woman with alcohol until she is so drunk that she loses her ability to resist is one that, while frowned upon, is still not seen as rape in the eyes of many.
Clarke’s attempt to disagree that “rape is rape” by offering the case of an 18 year old having sex with their 15 year old girlfriend is a pathetic attempt at a get out by using a tough case that in reality is rarely prosecuted. To quote Jane Martinson’s excellent column on the subject, “We’re still waiting for the statistics on the number of teenagers who subsequently go to the police to press rape charges if what they are doing is having happy, consensual – if under the age of consent – sex.”
Clarke’s subsequent half-apologies come across as meaningless when he is still trying to go ahead with finding ways to lower what are already pitifully low sentences for rape. David Cameron made a bold effort at Prime Minister’s Questions to affirm just how serious any form of rape is; but his words are betrayed by his government’s proposal to limit the already miniscule sentences even further.
If our society wishes to make it clear that rape is a very serious crime in whatever form it takes, then sentencing must match this intention. This is something that the Conservative Party has always understood, and yet Ken Clarke seems to want to do the opposite. It is for this reason that he has no place on the Conservative front bench, and he should be fired immediately.