Friday, March 27, 2009

Hattersley's consent principle

The case of a chef who was cleared yesterday of raping a severely drunk woman reminded of me of the edition of Question Time a year or two back when Roy Hattersley claimed it was self-evident that, once a woman had consumed a certain level of alcohol, any sex that took place was by definition rape - because no consent to sex could be meaningfully given. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of this particular case (and no-one can doubt the difficulties of obtaining a conviction even when a rape has genuinely occurred), Hattersley's proposition seemed to me to be a recipe for chaos, not to mention injustice on a mammoth scale. Taken literally, it would probably mean that rape has taken place within the majority of marriages in this country at some point or another - although in most cases the 'victims' would be somewhat surprised to learn of this. And there's another even more important point. Don't women sometimes have sex with severely drunken men? Why is sex with a drunk woman 'rape' and sex with a drunk man just...well, 'drunk sex'? And how should the law define sex between two equally drunk people - perfectly OK on the part of the woman, but rape on the part of the man?

Before anyone misunderstands me, if a relatively sober man takes advantage of a woman who is practically unconscious, that is clearly rape. But there does seem to be a very convenient double-standard creeping in here.

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