Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ken Clarke's comments reveal a dangerous attitude in the Tory Party

Ken Clarke's comments yesterday feed into a worrying trend in the way the right view victims of sexual abuse. Ken answered the statement "rape is rape", with "no it's not" and proceeded to say there is "serious rape" to which other offences, including date rape, do not belong. He may be known for his blustering style but this is completely unacceptable. Not only is it highly offensive and upsetting to the victims of rape but it also plays into the mindset that some victims of sexual abuse are real victims, and others are just lying or exaggerating. Ken Clarke says that he wants to minimise the distress for a victim when they take their attacker to court. However, if the victim feels they have to prove that their terrible experience really was "serious", it will discourage them from coming forward in the first place. Already 60% of sexual assaults go unreported.

Ken Clarke was not the only Tory politician to make offensive comments about sexual abuse this week. Nadine Dorries, defending her campaign to teach young girls abstinence, said that a strong 'Just Say No' message would mean that less child abuse would take place because currently victims "don't realise that that was a wrong thing to do". The message she is sending out is disgusting. We must not lay any of the blame for child abuse on the child; it is not the child's responsibility to tell their abuser that what they are doing is wrong. Furthermore telling a girl (both Nadine and Ken forget about the many male victims of sexual abuse) that she should 'just say no' will only increase the feelings of guilt and shame that victims already feel.

What we should be doing is protecting and supporting the victims of sexual abuse in every possible way, but this does not seem to come naturally to the Conservatives. Last year the EU passed a new Anti-Trafficking Directive to combat human trafficking, a cross border issue which is best solved at a European level. Several hundred thousand people, including many children, are trafficked in the EU every year and forced into the sex trade. The directive increases penalties for human traffickers, gives better victim support and allows traffickers from abroad to be prosecuted in the UK. However the Tory-Lib Dem government opted out of the directive, saying that there were already enough measures to tackle human trafficking. Only after sustained pressure from charities, NGOs and Labour MEPs did the government finally opt in this March.

The Conservatives need to wake up and deal with the realities of sexual abuse in a sensitive and effective way. What we must not be doing is giving the impression that these crimes are not serious or that the victims can be blamed in some way. When a policeman in Canada told a group of students that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised" I was encouraged to see that thousands of women across the world took to the streets to protest. I hope David Cameron was listening because his party needs to change their outdated and dangerous attitude fast.


  1. It feels so refreshing after the last few days to read this blog. As someone who was raped I have found both Nadine Dorries's and Ken Clarke's words hurtful and galling. I think both of them have helped contribute in different ways to the culture of victim blaming. Today, I went home from uni because I couldn't believe the amount of people who not only harbour such attitudes and were expressing them so very vocally but were making jokes out of this issue. We really do need to make it clear that victim blaming is never acceptable and rape is a very serious crime. I think a clear message needs to come from our government before any more damage is done.

  2. I find it truly disgusting and it makes me sick to the stomach that these attitudes persist in our society and permiate way beyond the political sphere. My friend was recently sexually assaulted on the way home from a night out and was advised by the chief inspector that it was a 'good job' she was wearing jeans and not dressed provocatively because otherwise it would have been much more difficult to prove that it was actually an assault, despite all her injuries.

    This cannot carry on, its time for change.

  3. If Kenneth Clarke won't take proper responsibility for this serious misjudgement and resign, then Cameron should has to sack him. I hope our Labour representatives will continue to pursue the issue in the coming days.

    I do not think any man can truly understand the trauma suffered by women rape victims. What men can do however is gather as many facts as they can, listen to victims and then strive to formulate policy in as sympathetic and as professional a manner as possible. Kenneth Clarke failed to do this. He continues to be dismissive of his critics and cannot even find the grace to say sorry during interviews. There is a fine line between speaking in a forthright manner and being downright pompous and arrogant.