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We can discuss rape -- but don't trivialise the trauma of it

WHAT'S the point in getting upset about the views on rape of Kevin Myers and UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke? After all, are they not simply men who ought to know better but never will?

There was much that was objectionable about Kevin's column on the subject of rape and feminism in this newspaper on Thursday. It's hardly a surprise to hear these views from such quarters and they are possibly best ignored.

But these are hardly two blokes having a chat in a pub. One is a senior figure in the UK government and the other a well-known columnist.

A third, even better-known male has also made rape a hot topic. The case involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn has resulted in discussion on the issue all over the world.

DSK has not yet been tried for the case in New York involving a hotel employee. But whatever the outcome, the other details we have heard about the predatory behaviour of this man towards women are disturbing on all kinds of levels.

It's quite clear that a woman not being attracted to him and not wishing to sleep with him was something this man simply could not compute.

It's also behaviour that was well known about, in all the right circles, for decades. But he was allowed to get away with it, so he simply continued.

In the Kenneth Clarke case, the minister was on a BBC radio programme and caused an outcry when he told listeners there was "date rape" and "serious rape".

He is right, of course. There is a difference between being raped by someone you know or being gang-raped, raped as a weapon of war or attacked and raped in a dark alleyway by a deranged stranger.

Reading Kevin's description of 'date rape' on Thursday would almost make you laugh. It's a situation, he says, "in which an unwilling woman finally submits to non-violent coercion". Rape by nagging as it were, and eventual acquiescence on the part of a female worn out from the pleading.

If only it were so. Only a person who never endured such an experience, or ever felt under threat of it, would express it in such a manner.

'Date rape' is a catchy but rather unfortunate term. It is something that often involves a situation which can be messy and complicated and frequently involves alcohol. In no circumstances should a female ever be forced to have sex against her will -- but in certain situations an element of caution would be advisable.

Equally, and just as importantly, men need to understand, and to be educated, that they cannot presume consent because of certain signals they believe they have received from their companion, or even the manner in which their date was dressed or subsequently undressed, or how much they had paid for dinner and drinks.

It's true that men are from Mars and women are from Venus on all sorts of issues and sexual relations can certainly be one of those. But that is not to say that most situations where rape occurs between two people who know each other is simply a matter of misunderstanding.

The fact that a rape is carried out by someone you know, indeed trusted -- or even in your own bed -- can often make the trauma all the worse.

I heard Kevin say subsequently on Newstalk that any man who talks about this subject runs into trouble and seems like a troglodyte.

This is untrue. There is no problem with discussing rape. To suggest that anyone who challenges the view that all rape is not the same is immediately tagged as some kind of dinosaur is nonsense. What is objectionable is a discussion which turns into an attack on "feminists" and which is ridiculous in its depiction of date rape.

Rape is all about power and submission -- and, of course, lust. Women, whether they class themselves as feminists or otherwise, have reason to take the issue very seriously because there is no woman, whether she is a 17-year-old on a night out, a 47-year-old jogging in the park or an 83-year-old living alone, safe from the risk.

If men think that women are touchy on the subject and seeking sensitivity, it's because it affects us directly. It's easy to deplore what you see as the political correctness surrounding the matter when you can discuss it as an academic issue.

THIS, after all, is a country where gardai joke about raping women. Such incidents can be dis- missed as relatively harmless -- but not when you consider that these are the people to whom victims report their crime, often reluctantly.

There is a discussion to be held on the subject of rape, and a nuanced one at that, but preferably in a manner which is not offensive.

It's true that in the past feminists spoke about this issue in fairly absolutist terms, but this was because of the difficulty in getting past the attitudes to sexual crimes which then existed.

The under-reporting of rape has long been an issue in this country. According to the SAVI -- Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland -- report, only 6-8pc of cases are reported to the gardai.

Sadly, none of what we have heard in the past week will have given any encouragement to a woman who has been raped to come forward. Those who comment publicly on the subject have a responsibility to try and do so in a way that does not run the risk of making that situation any worse.

Irish Independent