For some, rape is apparently an ambiguous and confusing issue.
Back in 2008, Dame Helen Mirren caused a considerable stir when, in an interview with GQ magazine, she characterized "date rape" as a "tricky" area that need not necessarily be a matter for the courts. If a woman ended up in a man's bedroom, engaged in sexual activity but then said "no" to intercourse, Mirren suggested that if that refusal was ignored, the man "cannot be ha[d] into court under those circumstances." Instead, she argued, "it is one of the many subtle parts of the men/women relationship that has to be negotiated and worked out between them."
Agreeing with Mirren's remarks, then Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe waded in with her own bold statement on the issue, asserting that: "Dame Helen is absolutely right. This is sheer common sense prevailing." Articulating the now widely discredited 'she was asking for it' argument, Widdecombe continued by stating in no uncertain terms: "Of course if a woman goes back to a man's room she has responsibility for her actions. Of course she should accept that she has got herself into that position [...] If we say to women that you can go as far as you like with a man but once you don't like it then you can go running to the law, well then we are offering them a false comfort."
More recently - only yesterday, in fact - it was George Galloway's turn to muddy the waters and treat us all to his own particular take on the issue of rape as he set out his views regarding the ongoing furore surrounding Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. Speaking in his weekly online video broadcast, Good Night with George Galloway, the Respect party MP for Bradford West set out to discredit serious claims made against Mr Assange, who is currently sheltering in Ecuador's London embassy in a desperate bid to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over accusations - stringently denied - that he committed sexual assault against two women in Stockholm, in August 2010.
Condemning Assange's "personal sexual behaviour" as "sordid and disgusting", Galloway paints the scenario from which the allegation arises thus:
"Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him. Claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know."
Sordid and disgusting though it may be, apparently this is not rape: "Even taken at its worst," Galloway protests, "if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100% true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don't constitute rape. At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it."
The crux of the issue, according to Galloway, is that "Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them. It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, 'do you mind if I do it again?'. It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning."
In Sweden, as in Britain, however, having sex with someone while they are asleep is more than simply bad manners. It really is rape, Mr. Galloway, because here is the simple thing: everybody does need to be asked, every time. Whether it's the woman in Mirren's scenario, or the one in Assange's, every person has the right to say no, at any stage, and have that right respected. In suggesting otherwise, Galloway's understanding of rape is not only offensive and provocative, but also deeply insensitive to the ordeals of many countless victims of sexual assault.
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