Posts Tagged ‘ sexual offences ’

The rape of humans

This Sunday morning, thanks to my empty fridge and bad shopping, I had to venture out for breakfast and came across a fascinating and harrowing article over my cup of coffee. An occupational hazard of working on sexual offences is having to read accounts of fairly harrowing stuff on a regular basis and I do sometimes wonder whether I might become a little jaded by it all. Yet every now and then, something happens to remind me both of the fact that I do care and of why I do what I do.

And my Sunday morning reading was just one of those moments. The article deals with the issue of the ‘rape of men’, and how it affects war-ridden countries and I highly recommend reading it (though you might not want to read it over breakfast, or any meal for that matter). It’s not just the account of what is done to these men that will knot your stomach, but also the account of what happens to them afterwards and how the victims seem condemned to a life of pain, physical, psychological and emotional excruciating pain.

As the article points out, the issue of male rape is a little considered issue, and this is true both in terms of war crimes but also regarding sexual offences in general. The rape of a man was only recognised in English criminal law in 1994, the same year that the courts (finally) held that non-consensual sex between husband and wife was still rape, even if they were married.

The legal formulation stays clear of any gendered approach and relies instead on the physicality of the act. Because rape can be committed by anal penetration, then it can be committed against men. This is one of the many ways the concept of rape has changed drastically over the last century or so. From ‘stranger-rape’ to ‘date-rape’, from vaginal penetration to anal or oral penetration and from female to male victim.

Maybe the next step is a more radical and even more important shift in our understanding of rape. Namely that it isn’t to do with sex or attraction at all. That it is about power, coercion and violence rather than sexual desire, and that it’s that behaviour as imposed on others which needs to be condemned, punished but also better understood.

This does not mean that an act of rape or sexual assault is the same as any act of physical violence, but rather that the sexual element of it is a consequence rather than a cause of the act itself. In the article, we hear from men who are highly traumatised by what happened to them, some even suicidal. The impact of being raped on these men is not just the act itself and the physical repercussions. It’s also how they are treated when they get back home, by their wives, their doctors and society in general.

The violation of one’s intimacy and sexual integrity, followed by a dysfunctional social response is what makes these crimes truly terrible. This is the same whether the victim is male, female or indeed a child, and it is the same if the act takes place in war-torn Africa, a dimly-lit park at night, or in a conjugal bedroom.

And so maybe we should stop fooling ourselves that raping someone is about sex: it’s just another, terrible way to hurt someone, which has incredibly traumatic consequences. And maybe if we do so, then we might realise that the problem here is violence, not sex. And while this will unfortunately not stop all rapes, it might just make things a little easier for the human victims of it…


Crime, Sense and Sensibility…

Yesterday evening, I followed a link to an article tweeted by David Allen Green which just said ‘read this’. And so I did, even though it meant squinting and hurting my eyes trying to read it on my tiny blackberry screen. And so should you, although you should also beware that it might both move you to tears and frustrate you, and not just because of the squinting…

Move you to tears because it exposes the trauma of being raped, the incomprehension and moral questioning that goes with it, as well as the pain. Frustrating too because it opposes raw emotions to a seemingly obvious solution, that the crime should be reported, and hopefully prosecuted.

It seems so simple: of course one should report such acts, it can only lead to something better. Better for the victim who might get justice and hopefully closure, better for society at large as it sends a message that such actions are not tolerated and potentially protects other victims and maybe also better for the perpetrator who might become aware of the pain he’s caused and, hopefully, reform.

But is it so simple? We might find it hard to understand but it’s even harder to ignore the vehemence or violence with which this man refuses all police involvement in his ‘case’. What they see as help he sees as intrusion, and he just wants to “not think about it any more”.

It would be easy to dismiss this reaction as part of the psychological trauma of being raped and insist that justice must follow its course. But, as an academic interested in criminal justice and sexual violence in particular, I see at least two very important points to bear in mind:

  • No matter how you choose to analyse and classify crimes, acts of sexual violence and, a fortiori, rape, are in a class of their own. Whether you believe that they are about sexual desire or pure violence on the part of the perpetrator (another article well worth reading), the effect on the victim is the same: a violation of the most intimate aspect of your physical integrity. Sexual violence might not always be about sex for the person committing it but it always is for the victim, and brings with it particular trauma and psychological consequences. This will inevitably make it a challenge for the criminal justice system to deal with such crimes…
  • From a rational perspective, the only solution is, well, to find a solution to these crimes. And the solution is generally understood to be a criminal investigation, prosecution, trial and punishment if the accused is found guilty. Yet, and this may be hard to hear for people who believe in the criminal justice system, is it always the best way? Are we putting people through the further trauma of a trial in order to satisfy what we believe is best for them, sometimes against their instincts?

Discussions about crime and the criminal justice system are often drawn in black and white, as if it was all so clear and straightforward. Principles, rules, sanctions, but what about emotions? What place, if any, for feelings and emotions in the criminal justice system? Or should justice be necessarily calm and rational in the face of conflicting emotions?

I don’t have the answers and I guess I don’t expect to find some any time soon. One thing I do know though: while I keep looking for answers, I’ll make sure I keep this story that moved me to tears at the back, or even front, of my rational mind…

Pervert Etiquette

The Duke of York’s unfortunate social agenda has hit the headlines recently, from the offspring of dictators, to Arab sheikhs and other unsavoury characters… One ‘friend’ in particular has excited much attention from the media: Jeffrey Epstein, american billionaire (or is it millionaire?) playboy.

The press has used many titles when referring to this gentleman, yet one must be meticulous when discussing royal relations. And so I’ve found myself wondering: what is the adequate etiquette and should Mr Epstein be referred to as a convicted sex offender, a paedophile or just a plain pervert?

What’s in a name?

The term preferred by the tabloids seems to be ‘paedophile’, although it should be pointed out that this is not a legal term, more of an honorific title I guess.

As a medical diagnosis, paedophilia is typically defined as a psychiatric disorder in adults or late adolescents (persons age 16 and older) characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children, which generally means 13 years or younger. So a paedophile would be someone who has been diagnosed with having these particular urges, although he or she might not have acted on it.

As a journalistic diagnosis (generally of the tabloidistic speciality), the definition of the term seems to be slightly different and a paedophile tends to be male, middle aged and sexually attracted to children or teenagers.

As a legal diagnosis, there is no such thing as a paedophile, although one can be convicted and sentenced for ‘child sex offences’ for certain sexual interactions with children. As it turns out, our distinguished subject has not been so far convicted of sexual abuse against a child, though he is a convicted sex offender.

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Let’s talk about sex… some more

You might have thought that I would have made an effort for St Valentine’s Day but I’m afraid today’s post is definitely not about love. Rather, it touches on sex and unpleasant circumstances, much like our previous discussion, though in a more pointed way…

Julian Assange’s extradition case has been all over the news recently and there seems to be a lot of confusion about what the debate should really be about…
Is it about rape and anonymity of rape victims?
Is it about the CIA and international conspiracies?
Is it about the Swedish legal system and political meddling?
Is it about the European Arrest Warrant and extradition laws?

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Let’s talk about sex…

Although it’s been eclipsed a little by undercover work of a different nature over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of talk in the news recently about undercover officers who infiltrate certain potentially criminal groups.

The focus has been particularly placed on Mark Kennedy, who was under cover for seven years as an environmental activist, complete with long hair, goatee and earrings. So far, so not very James Bond…

One similarity though might be that Mr Kennedy, during his seven years undercover, slept with some of the female activists he met, without revealing his true identity. This has led to angry reactions from activists, and to women protesting outside Scotland Yard, “to express solidarity with all the women who have been exploited by men they thought they could trust.”
There has also been calls to clarify what the Metropolitan Police’s policy was regarding these actions. It’s not clear yet what the policy is or indeed if there is any but it seems that although there is no explicit instruction to have or not have sex, it is seen as a fairly inevitable and sometimes necessary by product of the mission carried out.

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