‘Iwas drunk, wearing a short skirt and agreed to go back to his house. Does that really mean I deserved to be raped?” Thus spoke Jenni Murray, reflecting on a new survey about women’s attitude to rape.
The survey, carried out by the Haven Service for Rape Victims in London, disclosed that about a third of women believe that female victims of rape can be partly to blame for the offence.
Some years ago, a seasoned old judge told me that when it came to court, male jurors were more inclined to be sympathetic to rape victims than female jurors. Jurywomen were more inclined to ask: “Did she bring this on herself by provocative dressing, or getting plastered?” Obviously, the moral answer is that no one “deserves” to be raped. It is always a heinous offence. But it can also be a complicated legal issue.
If someone robs your house or holds you up at knife-point, the charge is clear. But a case of sexual congress between two adults which depends upon conflicting claims can be more murky. What was said, either verbally or by body language, can be ill-recalled and illunderstood, especially when alcohol is involved.
And although the law must deal with rape as a crime, I sometimes think that manners and morals were better at defining the problem. Traditionally, a man who coerced an unwilling woman was regarded as bounder – disliked and dishonoured by his better peers. While a woman who “let herself down” by seeming to invite such conduct was certainly also censured, morally and socially. Sinning on both sides would have been mentioned.
Today we expect the law to step into the vacuum which had been previously regulated by a complex values system. The law cannot always police every nuance of human interaction.
Rape is odious, and no one “deserves” such an assault. But I suspect that the respondents who feel that women are sometimes to blame may be trying to say that we all have to take responsibility for our conduct, and be honest with ourselves when we examine our consciences.
An admirable Irish couple, Bill and Kathleen Ward, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary during the week with a blessing at the Carmelite church in Dublin’s Whitefriar Street (where there are relics of St Valentine, or relics brought to Dublin in 1836 which claim to be such).
Mr and Mrs Ward said that the secret of their successful marriage was “talking”. They talked to each other continually. They never stopped communicating.
Wonderful and wise. “Never let the sun go down on your anger” is just about the best advice about any family relationship, and my mother’s own advice for marital harmony.
And yet I would ascribe the longevity of my own marriage – more than three and a half decades now – rather to the opposite of talking: silence.
My husband is averse to women who chatter too much (a characteristic shared with not a few men). He once said to me: “Asking ‘a penny for your thoughts?’ is grounds for divorce.” A joke. Kind of. (His other “grounds for divorce” is a wife who does not provide bread sauce with chicken or game. Not a lot to request, admittedly.) He’s well able to blather himself, when he’s in the mood, but he enjoys long periods of silence. Though I can be gabby enough, as well, I also like not to have to talk sometimes, without anyone thinking I’m being sullen or unfriendly. “Companionable silence” is a very nice concept.
Communication is important. But some of us also like to have some space in our heads, to cogitate on our own reflections, and even to decide not to share everything that we think, since some things really are better left unsaid. I’m beginning to ask myself – with only a tincture of sarcasm – if publicly admitting that you have performed a so-called “mercy killing” may turn out to be regarded a successful career move. I was wondering what had become of the broadcaster Ray Gosling – he had a nice, quirky, narrative style in offbeat radio documentaries on Radio 4. As he has grown older, I supposed that he had been sacrificed to the youth cult that pervades broadcasting.
Now he is in the headlines for claiming to have smothered a boyfriend who had contracted Aids. He made an appealing case for “mercy killing” on the Today programme, heard by over six million listeners.
I am sure Mr Gosling was sincere in his intentions to assist someone in pain, and I doubt he will be penalised, since mercy killings have nearly always been treated compassionately by the criminal justice system.
But it can hardly be denied that “coming out” about having performed a “mercy killing” does attract celebrity.