Calls for Clarke to quit in rape row
Published 19/05/2011 | 05:00
Kenneth Clarke, the British Justice Secretary, is facing calls to resign after suggesting that date rape is not always "rape".
He said some cases of date rape or sex with under-age children might not qualify as rape "in the ordinary conversational sense".
He also refused to agree with the statement "rape is rape".
Last night Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, called for Mr Clarke to resign over the comments. However, a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron came out in support of Mr Clarke, saying it was important that the justice secretary "went out and clarified the position".
While clarifying his position, Mr Clarke did nonetheless stop short of an apology.
"If I have given offence, I don't quite understand how I've done it, but obviously I don't intend to give the impression that all rape is not serious," he told Sky News. "I'll make sure I give my views more clearly in the future."
The government is looking into how it deals with plea-bargaining, potentially offering lesser sentences to those who plead guilty early in an effort to boost conviction rates for crimes such as rape. "The real disgrace in our country is that only 6pc of rapes that are reported to a police station end in conviction," Mr Cameron said.
Mr Clarke made his comments during an appearance on BBC radio 'Five Live' as he sought to defend plans to halve sentences for criminals who plead guilty early.
One victim of an attempted rape who telephoned the programme broke down in tears arguing that his plans would be a "disaster".
At one point during the programme, when the presenter, Victoria Derbyshire, said "rape is rape", Mr Clarke replied: "No it's not.
"If an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she is perfectly willing, that is rape, because she is under age. But what you and I are talking about is a man forcefully having sex with a woman and she doesn't want to. That is rape, a serious crime."
Presented with sentencing statistics showing that the average jail term for rape is five years, Mr Clarke played the figure down.
"They include the 18-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old and they include date rapes, date rapes sometimes can be very confusing."
Asked whether date rape is not as serious, he said: "Date rape can be as serious as the worst rape but date rape, in my very old experience of being in trials, do vary extraordinarily one from another and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances."
Mr Clarke admitted that he had not discussed his plans with any rape victims.
Moments later a woman from London was put on the line to relay her experiences of being attacked by a man on a community sentence for other sexual offences.
Breaking down in tears, she told him: "If he had not received the community sentence for six sex offences he would not have been out on the day he attacked me; if he had remained in prison . . . my life would have been so different."