A 19-year-old young woman who has been raped has chosen to speak out, on television, in support of the comment made by the judge in her case. The young woman's name is Megan Clark and she has said that she took Judge Lindsey Kushner's comments about young women who drink "in a positive way", according to the BBC. Megan appeared on Victoria Derbyshire's show earlier this week to talk about what was said in court.
The result of this is that the whole of the BBC is discussing rape. I know this because I appeared on seven BBC local radio stations this week, taking part in a range of phone-ins and other programmes, asking whether rape is rape. As someone who has worked with survivors of rape for 27 years, I am always happy when we have a wider debate on this subject as I know there is still widespread misinformation about rape.
The law in this country is entirely clear that a drunken rape victim is still a victim of crime. Rape is sex without consent and it does not matter whether the woman is so drunk as to be unconscious, if she cannot consent, or does not consent, then it is rape. Sadly, however, many people think that the law is messy, or weak on this topic and so it is useful to take the chances we have to clarify those perceptions.
Rape is still an under-reported crime and Megan Clark herself is reported as saying that she is not sure she would report rape again. The Criminal Justice System does not always do well by those who suffer rape. Few rapists are found guilty, and the impact of the justice process is rarely a positive one for survivors. However I hope everyone can agree that Megan has been brave in speaking out today and in waiving her right to anonymity, to do so.
I have been working on rape since 1990, when I joined a rape crisis centre. I am deeply aware that survivors of all forms of sexual violence deserve and need the kind of support that specialists such as rape crisis provide so well, but that many of the centres are currently facing deep funding losses and threats to their future. So, please go out and do something to support specialist rape crisis centres, if you can.
Workers in rape crisis know that, in reality, the relationship between alcohol and rape is a complex one. Some rapists target women who they can see are drunk. This is what Judge Kushner was referring to when she warned young women against getting drunk. However, other rapists go further than this, and spike drinks to ensure that the woman is drunk, vulnerable and easier to take advantage of. Knowing this can help us to see that the responsibility for the crime really does remain with the rapists. Getting drunk isn't a crime. Rape is a very serious crime, which can attract a life sentence.
Most rapes do not involve alcohol and they take place in private settings. Usually the rapist is someone well-known to the woman they are targeting. Often a father, husband, boyfriend, therapist, teacher, religious leader or even a sports coach. The rape or rapes may be violent or coercive; they may be committed with or without the use of drugs, alcohol or weapons. Whatever the situation, however this is done the survivor bears no shame. The shame belongs with the attacker.
So, well done Megan Clark for speaking out and well done the BBC for carrying on a debate on this. Long may this continue, until we have spread a good deal more of the truth about rape, far and wide.