Magazine article The Spectator

Sometimes Women Share the Blame

Magazine article The Spectator

Sometimes Women Share the Blame

Article excerpt

There was a clever little opinion poll in your morning newspapers this week, courtesy of Amnesty International UK.

The headline story from the poll was that about one third of British people thought that women were 'partially or totally responsible' for being raped if they didn't say 'No' clearly enough, or were wearing revealing clothing, or were drunk, or had been behaving in a flirtatious manner.

Usually opinion polls are, well, a matter of opinion: respondents tick a box expressing one view or another and the rest of us can agree or agree to differ. Not with this poll, though. In the manner in which it was reported, there was no doubt: that one third of the country who ticked the 'partially or totally responsible' boxes were quite simply, objectively, plain wrong.

Worse than that, they were stupid and dangerous and deserved a good kicking from the relevant authorities. Commenting upon its own poll, Amnesty International UK's Kate Allen said this: 'It is shocking that so many people will lay the blame for being raped at the feet of women, and the government must launch a new drive to counteract this sexist blame culture.' Lordy: that's something to look forward to.

Pretty soon after Kate made her observation and inevitable demand, every charitable organisation with a vague interest in this area was out of the blocks. Victim Support, for example, called the poll alarming and appalling and demanded that the thickoes who had ticked the wrong boxes be 'educated'. The poll was reported (as a lead story) on BBC News 24, and it was assumed throughout -- it was a given -- that the public had got it all wrong. A regiment of angry women marched into the television studios to shout things. One particularly vexed lady insisted endlessly that women had 'a right not to be raped'.

At no time during these interviews, or in the newspaper coverage the following morning, was it even whispered that perhaps that 30-odd per cent of British people might have a bit of a point. It's one of the things you're not allowed to say. And yet, given the terms of the poll, common sense would suggest that those sexist blame-culture monkeys, that one third of the British public -- pretty much equally divided between men and women, by the way -- are entirely right.

The precise question asked by the ICM researchers was this: 'I'm going to read out a series of scenarios which a woman may find herself in. In each, please could you indicate whether you believe a woman is totally responsible, partially responsible or not at all responsible for being raped.' And then followed the list of scenarios: being drunk, flirting, etc.

Now, your response may well depend upon what you understand by the word 'responsible' or, indeed, 'partially responsible'. (Only the real nutters, about the usual 5 or 6 per cent of the poll, put down 'totally responsible', by the way -- so Amnesty International's headlines were technically accurate but nonetheless misleading. ) Clearly, if you are a woman who is as drunk as a skunk, flirting outrageously with a man while wearing a boob tube and micro skirt, the likelihood of your being raped is going to be greater than if you stayed at home with a cup of Bovril watching Songs of Praise and dressed like Ann Widdecombe. …

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