UK

David Starkey: Rape Is About Violence, Not Consent

07/02/2014 10:43 GMT | Updated 07/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Controversial historian David Starkey plumbed new depths on Question Time when he said that violence, not consent, should be the measure of rape.

Speaking on the BBC panel show, he bypassed the question - about anonymity for rape defendants - and said the current law was not working because of the "complicated" concept of consent.

His comments sparked a Twitter backlash and earned him a rebuke from fellow panelist George Galloway.

Starkey has previously courted controversy by saying "the whites have become black" in a debate about the London riots.

david starkey rape

Starkey in action

On Thursday night, he was asked whether defendants should have their identities protected after the not guilty verdict in the case of Coronation Street star Bill Roache.

"I think we've got ourselves into a hopeless confusion on the whole question of rape", he began, saying its original Latin definition referred to violence.

"What we have tried to do is take that word, with all its terrible associations, and apply it to a whole series of much more awkward, much more difficult to establish, much more contested and contentious sexual encounters by focusing on this issue of consent, which so often boils down, as it did exactly in this case, to his word against her word."

Starkey claimed the law as it is was "working very badly" and "encouraging false accusations".

"We are in a state of complete confusion about sexual etiquette" and about "what's right and what's wrong", he said, adding: "This sense of a very large female paw resting on one pan of the scales is bad and it's wrong".

Galloway, himself no stranger to the debate having said sex assault claims against Julian Assange amounted to nothing more than "bad sexual etiquette", said Starkey's comments were "utter reactionary tosh".

Galloway said it was time to look at the issue of anonymity for those accused of rape, saying Roache had "spent many months under the cloud of suspicion and that cannot be right".

But former Labour cabinet minister Tessa Jowell said the priority had to be to encourage victims to come forward.