Enough of the drama: on the language of rape
This week we’ve had the annual figures released from the Crown Office, which show the number of convictions for rape, and as normal, it makes pretty depressing reading. So far only two of the political parties in The Scottish Parliament have commented on the figures, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. While both parties are condemning the low conviction rates, what is quite alarming about the Conservative press release is the language used.
“Rape is an evil crime”, “Rape is a horrific, harrowing crime”, “ensure those who commit such a heinous crime are properly punished”, “punished severely”. It does make me wonder if their press officer has been given a new Thesaurus and is a little over excited by it.
Yes, rape is a horrific crime; you’re not going to find me arguing against that statement. However the amount of overly dramatic adjectives in what is a very short press release is worrying. Much like the bluster that currently surrounds sectarianism it smacks more of being seen to say the “right” thing and hold the “right” attitude than of real action. When politicians start getting the urge to “say the right thing” all that results is a lack of real debate, and a lack of scrutiny because they are too busy patting themselves on the back.
I attended the excellent Edinburgh Slut Walk on Saturday, and there were many good speeches. One of the best came from a woman who had herself lived through rape. She made a plea to politicians not to use overly-dramatic language when dealing with this issue. Why? Women, children and men who have experience rape know it is horrific, they know it is a heinous crime, because they have lived it and live with it. What they need, and what they want from politicians is less of the rhetoric and more action. Can we rush a Bill through parliament to reform the Scottish legal systems’ way of dealing with rape? Can we do that too quickly? We appear to be doing it with sectarianism…
Enough of the dramatic language. I’d be more than happy to have the all the parties explain working towards achieving the cross-party consensus to deal with the issues in the press release. At the same time I’d like to hear how they will calmly, and in an adult manner persistently press to achieve this over the next five years. Go on.
Mairi Campbell-Jack is a poet from Edinburgh. She blogs at www.alumpinthethroat.wordpress.com and tweets @lumpinthethroat
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Ha, yes you’re staying into Nanny State territory. Which is a connected matter. Can we really resolve deep seated problems in our society by knee jerk reactions? Is some of the problem the fact that in only four (or five) years a government feels they need to evidence having done “something” about problems which have garnered mass column inch’s in the papers, when most of the problems need deeper, more lasting societal change.
With the banning clothes thing I have seen some things which I would NEVER dress my daughter in. But the fact that worry about children’s toy’s and clothes is mainly focused on girls could also be seen to evidence a need still to “protect” girls, whereas boy’s upbringing, with a negative emphasis on what masculinity means does not appear to cause the same panic. I do also wonder if there is a class element to is “I am more middle class than thou”, and to prove it I will pour scorn on how you dress your child, rather than engage in discussion about the messages we send all our children as a society?
Absolutely agree Mairi. Though there is no condoning rape it’s also completely dismissive to label those who have committed the crime as “evil” and simply ignores the great need to address why people commit such crimes and how we should prevent it. Actually I feel this is reflected in a great deal of recent policy. Take the recent attempts to ban “sexy” clothes from being sold for children: rather than trying to educate parents the government falls to just banning things outright. It’s lazy and dangerous. Sorry to go off course, but I think the example applies across a number of boards.
Thanks for your comment Russell. You are right to also bring up how we label the purportraitors of such acts. To say the act or the person is “evil” is in a sense to make them or the act “other”, it then enables people to ring fence these acts in their minds to a certain type of person/social strata/age group etc, i.e. “they do ‘evil’ things so are evil. I don’t do ‘evil’ things so I must be good/right”. This enables society as a whole to step back from the situation, rather than seeing everyone involved as products of a wider community, and the problems which lead to such acts of violence as the problems of a wider community. It does not help us understand the motivations and influences that lead to such acts, which in turn could help with prevention/rehabilitation. It’s easier to say they’re “evil”, it’s more comforting than the hard work.
Interesting, Mairi. One problem with the hyperbole language used around rape (and other crimes) is also that it attaches labels to those who are the victims: we assert that they are destroyed, weak, tarnished by “evil”. And the problems of labeling the accused is another issue altogether
I think if you read carefully you will find that the point I was making was not about the need for laws to be made or rushed through and not indeed about the need to make law, but the need for our law makers to address these issues without overly dramatic language.
I’m sure I don’t need to point out that I was making a comparison between the use of language around rape and the use around the sectarianism issue (which has been handled badly) rather than endorsing rushing to change law or introduce new Bills.
“What they need, and what they want from politicians is less of the rhetoric and more action. Can we rush a Bill through parliament to reform the Scottish legal systems’ way of dealing with rape? Can we do that too quickly? We appear to be doing it with sectarianism…”
In case you haven’t seen it, one of the laws Holyrood spent a good deal of time on in the last session of the parliament was the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, which came into force in December 2010. The full text is here:
I recognise that how the legal systems deals with complaints of sexual assault is not exhausted by the clauses and provisions setting out the offences – but it is certainly part of it. Holyrood’s Justice Committee took extensive evidence on the legislation from a range of folk. If you are very keen on taking a look at it, it is all set out here: