The Attack on Heterosexual Sex on Campus

When spiked’s law editor Luke Gittos decided to write a book on ‘rape culture’ he must have known it was likely to cause him a lot of trouble. Gittos is a privileged, white, London-based, (possibly cis-gender) male lawyer who claims no experience of forced sex. His book could not be more of a challenge to the current zeitgeist.

Hence, there will be those who say his privileged, white maleness disqualifies him from speaking out on the issue of rape, and that this book, Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth: From Steubenville to Ched Evans, is a ‘mansplaining’ display of insensitive arrogance by someone with no sense of women’s experience. Others will probably be tempted to dismiss any man who writes a book challenging ‘rape culture’ as an attention-seeking controversialist intent on provoking feminist fury. The publisher should probably have issued a Twitterstorm alert.

But such attempts to dismiss the relevance of Gittos’s arguments would be mind-numbingly stupid. Because, despite his gender and background (neither of which are his fault), Gittos has produced a useful and intelligent analysis that clarifies and makes sense of an issue that has become very muddled.

Related: Feds Lurch Toward Due Process in a Campus Sex Case

Gittos’s tightly written polemic argues against the accepted view that we live in a society in which misogyny and everyday sexism have created a so-called rape culture, in which rape is pervasive, underreported and ignored. He does not believe that the police and the law courts are failing women by failing to convict rapists. On the contrary, Gittos argues that the obsession with a ‘culture of rape’ has seriously distorted our view of sexual violence, and that the expansion of laws to protect women is eroding areas of privacy and inviting state regulation of our most intimate affairs.

This is dangerous for us all – not just men who may find themselves dragged into court following a sexual encounter they believed was consensual. Gittos holds that the drive to prosecute (and improve conviction rates against) more and more people has dangerous 71157100127170limplications for the fundamental principles of justice, and for basic freedoms. The situation as things stand, he maintains, does no one any favours: it undermines society’s ability to deal adequately with extreme assault, and it undermines our ability to live intimately with one another.

At a time when we are so often encouraged to understand rape from the perspective of the victim, it helps to understand the issue from the perspective of a lawyer who is able to compare the treatment of sexual assault to the treatment of other crimes. Take, for example, the discussion of the conviction rate for rape, which everyone seems to agree is ‘too low’ and in need of ‘improvement’. Gittos demonstrates that the conviction rate for rape is not so different to other crimes, and reminds us that a crucial principle of our judicial system is the ‘burden of proof’. He examines the absurdity of setting what are in effect performance targets for rape convictions. According to this bizarre logic, what matters is not whether a man is guilty or innocent, but whether a quota of rapists are convicted as an expression of society’s abhorrence of the crime.

Related: The Washington Post Joins the Rape Culture Crusade

Gittos examines the claims that rape is underreported, and that women do not report rapes because they are cynical, intimidated, ignorant of process or even unaware that they have been raped. Gittos makes a convincing case that the huge gap between the number of rapes and sexual assaults as reported in surveys and studies, and incidents reported to the police, is due to women preferring to deal with the matter informally, especially with regard to low-level sexual assault. Many women opt to treat these episodes as ‘a private/family matter and not police business’ (19 per cent in one 2012 study) or see them as ‘too trivial and not worth reporting’ (11 per cent). The conscious, deliberate choice not to involve the authorities is often seen as a problem, but Gittos challenges this. In effect, he is asking, do we respect women’s ability to decide these matters for themselves, or not?

People who insist that society is now peculiarly accepting of rape are simply deluded

The expansion of the definition of rape has been rapid and, therefore, deeply confusing. Nevertheless, it must be said that people who insist that society is now peculiarly accepting of rape are simply deluded.

Rape needs to mean something specific. ‘Unwanted sex’ or ‘unenjoyable sex’, is completely different to ‘non-consensual sex’. We need to understand the difference if we are going to have a sensible discussion about rape. You may agree to have sex that you don’t passionately desire for all kinds of reasons. As Bertrand Russell famously observed in his 1929 book Marriage and Morals, ‘the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution’. This was because, he explained, marriage for women at that time was the commonest form of livelihood. Unwanted sex was the price women paid for their economic and social position. Unwanted, unwilling sex is not rape – unless we broaden the definition of rape until it is so wide that it is absolutely meaningless. That is what Gittos thinks we are in danger of doing.

Of course, it is possible to draw the definition of rape too narrowly. The mothers of today’s students (who are encouraged to attend sexual-consent classes) may remember, as I do, protesting to make rape in marriage a crime. Not so long ago, the courts accepted that marriage gave conjugal rights to a spouse and that since a spouse could not withdraw consent, there could be no rape. In fact, it wasn’t until 1991 that the marital-rape exemption was finally abolished. So try telling the generation of women who campaigned to make rape in marriage a crime that today’s culture is uniquely ‘rapey’ because a song suggests that even ‘good girls’ really ‘want it’.

Related: Brown U. Messes Up Sex Assault Case, Accused Prevails

Clearly no one wants to return to the Bad Old Days, although many of us will have sympathy with the legal commission advising government on rape law in the 1980s when it said that ‘the criminal law should keep out of the marital relationships between cohabiting partners – especially the marriage bed’.

Gittos is right to insist that it is important to understand what rape is and how it is distinct from the intimacy of sex, which is, and must remain, a private matter. But what is it about rape that makes it a crime different to other forms of assault? After all, Susan Brownmiller, one of the most influential 1970s feminist thinkers on rape, denied that it was really about sex at – it was ‘a crime not of lust but of violence and power’.

My only problem with Gittos’ book is the title, Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth. I do believe we live in what could be called a ‘rape culture’. We live in a culture where rape is a constant reference point for intimate relations, regardless of the extent of intentional, non-consensual sex. That’s because in today’s culture, ‘rape’ is so broadly defined as to encompass almost everything: songs about picking up women are vilified for encouraging rape; an actor can decide a years-old sexual episode she experienced was in fact ‘rape’; men are warned not to assume that a woman who says ‘yes’ is competent to consent – especially if, heaven forbid, she’s under the influence of alcohol… We are fast approaching a culture in which almost all heterosexual sex is seen as rape.

And that’s why Gittos’s intervention is so vital. He is intent on protecting the sphere of intimacy from those who see rape everywhere

This piece is reprinted with permission from Ann Furedi is writing in a personal capacity.


  • Ann Furedi

    Ann Furedi has worked in pro-choice organizations in the UK for more than 20 years, mainly in policy and communications.

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3 thoughts on “The Attack on Heterosexual Sex on Campus

  1. No.
    “Unwanted, unwilling sex is not rape – UNLESS (emphasis added) we broaden the definition of rape until it is so wide that it is absolutely meaningless. That is what Gittos thinks we are in DANGER of doing.”

    No — It is not an “unless”; it is not that we “are in danger of doing (that)”; no, not at all. We have, in fact, already done it — we are there. Through the Looking Glass we’ve crashed and swallowed the one pill which makes us very small indeed. The definition of rape… the definition of sexual assault is so universal, so broad, so non-specific, and so entirely subjective… so absolutely an exclusive function of the state of mind of the supposed ‘victim’….that heterosexual sex & rape are virtually indistinguishable.

    We have occupied AndreaDworkinville (1987) and made it home.

    “Rape,” or so the Justice Department tells us, is “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Sexual Assault is ever broader, defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. ”

    Rape, therefore, becomes a too-friendly hand, in the middle of an adolescent make-out session, in the front seat of your Dad’s car: not simply a hand moved, or a whispered demurral, or a “not now”… it is rape made manifest. Behold the world of 8M high school rapists.

    And Sexual Assault… “sexual behavior without explicit consent”… that is everything else. That is asking for a date…that is a locker flirtation….that is the brush of a hand in the hallway…a leading glance…a laugh….a bad joke (or good one)…a picture of a wife , displayed on a desk, found by another to be sexually offensive….a tone of voice….a compliment…an insult — anything which can be seen or heard or felt as sexual in any way whatsoever, if that thing has NOT been explicitly vetted & approved, it is or can be sexual assault.
    And you, me, all of us — sexual criminals.

    These rules, written obviously by non-humans…individuals who have never experienced actual sex….never experienced adolescence…never suffered from any confusion, misunderstanding, miscommunication, or doubt … creatures who have never lusted, never loved, never anguished or regretted or misbehaved, or mistakenly behaved or misperceived… these rules they’ve written have effectively criminalized each and every sexually-tainted activity or event.

    Ms. Dworkin, clearly ahead of her time, prophesied all this so eloquently:
    “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman.”
    “Men are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimized by it.”
    “Romantic love, in pornography as in life, is the mythic celebration of female negation. For a woman, love is defined as her willingness to submit to her own annihilation.”

    Everything is Rape — everything Sexual Assault — every man a Sexual Criminal looking for prey.

    Ms. Dworkin reassures us, though: “Only when manhood is dead – and it will perish when ravaged femininity no longer sustains it – only then will we know what it is to be free.”
    Here in the world of “1 in 5”, surrounded by Rape Culture, instructed by Rape Epidemiologists….taught about the dangers of “toxic masculinity”….it is only a matter of time. We are almost there. Andrea would be so proud.

  2. I will say, though, that this author’s point about “rape culture” being non-mythical owing to the Left’s inflation of the word to cover all heterosexual encounters and references is excellent.

  3. I would like to read this book, except that its conclusions and assertions, as here summarized, are so blindingly obvious to anyone with even half-open eyes and not busy acting as a useful idiot for the Party, that I don’t feel there is anything I could really learn from it. But I still applaud the author’s attempt, misguided though it is, to argue the facts to people whose agenda is independent of fact.

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