Does the punishment fit the... SEX CRIME?
On Rape Germaine Greer Bloomsbury €16 ★★★★★ Unwanted Advances Laura Kipnis Verso €16 ★ ★★★★
We live in strange times. Who could have predicted that 50 years after the great breakout of secondwave feminism, rape and shockingly low conviction rates would still be such a phenomenon? Or that one of the movement’s most charismatic figures, Germaine Greer, would now be demonised by some younger activists as a dangerous rape ‘apologist’?
Even as the #MeToo movement has revealed the scale of sexual abuse and career derailment of women who said ‘no’, there is a simultaneous concern that ‘victim culture’, particularly on US university campuses, has gone too far.
It is to their credit that both Greer and fellow feminist Laura Kipnis have chosen to speak out on this disturbing state of affairs.
Greer’s On Rape is short and frustratingly underdeveloped, but it is the work of a fearless thinker fizzing with ideas she’s been ruminating over for decades – notably her thesis that most rapes are committed by repeat offenders.
With a calm focus on how to stop such men, Greer offers a number of intriguing suggestions, including isolating the elements of assault for which consent is not an issue, such as actual bodily harm, and then convicting on them at least.
She cites the Callisto database set up by a group of San Francisco women that gets assault survivors to file accounts of campus attacks in a date- and time-locked account online, to be sent to the university or institution only if the content matches with another account as an additional possible way to tackle repeat abusers on campus.
Greer’s narrow semantic definition of rape as involving only the penis and the vagina, and use of shorthand terms such as ‘simple rape’ will infuriate her opponents.
As will one specific idea for tackling low conviction rates, even though it is carefully contextualised: ‘If we are to abandon the formulation used in many jurisdictions that the defendant who reasonably believed that the victim consented is innocent, and rely instead upon the victim’s statement that she did not consent as sufficient, then we will have to lighten the tariff.’ However, her compassion and support for survivors is implicit on every page, and she recognises how being treated as mere pieces of ‘evidence’ by the criminal justice process causes PTSD.
The book is also a useful reminder that Greer was one of the first to question how, long before the Rotherham grooming scandal in the UK, the concept of consent had been blurred thanks to a public health focus on human papillomavirus vaccines and availability of the pill for underage girls. The emphasis all seemed to be on girls keeping men happy without enough concern about the pressure on them to be sexually available.
Laura Kipnis is a film studies professor at Northwestern University. Her book Unwanted
Advances is a real-life horror story based on personal experience of the Kafkaesque bureaucracy surrounding sexual assault allegations on US campuses.
At its heart is a gripping account of the hounding of Kipnis’s colleague Peter Ludlow, the target of a university inquisition after a mentally unstable student accused him of inappropriate behaviour. In the way that survivors are often ‘blamed’ for their rape, this ageing philosophy professor did some gobsmackingly stupid things, such as buying drinks for an underage student and letting her sleep alongside him in his bed afterwards (though no sex took place). But Kipnis makes a compelling case that men like him have been destroyed by a mad, secretive system loaded against defendants not allowed to see, let alone challenge, the evidence or the accusers.
After she started writing about what was going on, Kipnis herself became the subject of a complaint by one of Ludlow’s anonymous accusers. But Kipnis kept challenging. Her legitimate concern is that ‘hard fought rights, namely the right for women to be treated as consenting adults in erotic matters, are being handed back on a platter’.
However, her book is undermined by a sneering tone, surprising for an academic, and sweeping, unproven claims about the scale of women allegedly making it all up.
‘After she started writing about what was going on, Kipnis became the subject of a complaint’