Rape case prompts rethink of attitudes

In America, a giant of world politics is accused of sexual assaults, while a Canadian policeman tells female students to 'avoid dressing like sluts.' Are we too quick to blame the victims?

One of the world's most powerful men, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is behind bars in New York, accused of attempting to rape a member of staff at his hotel.

His career as an international financier and politician is in tatters. And other women are now coming forward to say they received similar treatment from him in the past.

The case has instigated a worldwide debate about what is acceptable in sexual encounters between adults – particularly because America's refusal to turn a blind eye to the allegations has exposed a higher level of tolerance in his native France.

Without consent on both sides, unwanted sex is rape, a serious criminal offence. But until now, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund had enough status and power to protect him for being confronted with his behaviour.

Attitudes to rape are complicated: a 2009 survey of students in London found that 17% thought a woman was to blame for being raped if she was wearing 'sexy clothing'. 26% would blame her for walking alone in a dark place and a third if she was drunk.

In Canada earlier this year, a policeman addressing female law students told them that 'women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.'

The outcry over his remarks prompted a new phenomenon: the 'slutwalk.'

These walks have now been held across north America – hundreds of thousands of women in provocative clothes protesting their right to dress as they choose without fear of assault. 'Rape is not a compliment!' they shouted. And 'A dress is not a yes!'

Campaigners for women's rights argue that the attitude shown by the Toronto cop – one that is widely shared – prevents women from being protected by the law.

Juries are reluctant to convict accused rapists, partly because it's often one person's word against another's but also because society condones the offence and blames the victim.

In the UK, only 15% of serious sexual offences against people 16 and over are reported to the police and of the rape offences that are reported, fewer than 6% result in an offender being convicted of this offence.

Maid to suffer
The hotel maid who has accused Mr Strauss Kahn of attacking her has the protection of US law and the judicial system to help her.

She made the allegation without knowing who he was; and now other women in France, where he is well known, say they were intimidated into staying silent.

Do our attitudes towards rape need some work even in the most developed and democratic parts of the world?

You Decide

  1. 'Rape is not about sex but power.' Do you agree?
  2. Do you think there is pressure on girls and women to 'dress sexy'? Is it fair to assume a girl or woman has meant to invite attention by presenting themselves in that way or is it just fashion?


  1. Imagine you are the prosecuting lawyer in a rape case. Prepare a legal argument to persuade the jury that rape is a serious crime, regardless of how the victim behaves or is dressed. Consent is what matters.
  2. Prison sentences for rape – five years on average – vary a great deal according to the particular circumstances and nature of the attack. Research the subject (See 'Become an expert No.3) and write either an attack or a defence of this practice called: 'Are there degrees of rape?'

Some People Say...

“All rapists should get life imprisonment.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Rapists should get longer sentences.
Well, the government is in fact planning to halve prison sentences for rapists who plead guilty at the first opportunity. This could mean a convicted rapist serves just 15 months in prison.
Why is the government doing that?
Ministers argue that encouraging an early guilty plea will spare victims the ordeal of giving evidence in court and increase the six per cent conviction rate for rape.
Is it the same the world over?
No, there are countries where rape is far more common, both by strangers and family members. In South Africa two years ago, a shocking one quarter of the male population admitted they'd committed rape.
In other parts of the continent, mass rape is being used in long-running wars to traumatise and undermine entire populations.


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