Rape law tightened, campaigners urge change in society’s attitude

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Christian Today report- Campaigners have hailed an announcement by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, that men must be able to show that women have consented to sex in cases where they are accused of rape.

However, a Christian activist and consultant told Christian Today that a change in society’s attitude was also needed and warned that the Church needed to examine its theology about women.

Saunders said that the legal system should recognise the fact that sometimes a woman might not be in a position to give their consent, for instance because she is drunk or frightened.

The move does not mark a change in the law; footballer Ched Evans has been at the centre of a long-running row after he was found guilty of raping a woman who was drunk. However, convictions have sometimes been hard to secure and Evans has continued to protest his innocence.

“Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area – in law it is clearly defined and must be given fully and freely,” Saunders said.

“It is not a crime to drink, but it is a crime for a rapist to target someone who is no longer capable of consenting to sex though drink.

“These tools take us well beyond the old saying ‘no means no’ – it is now well established that many rape victims freeze rather than fight as a protective and coping mechanism.

“We want police and prosecutors to make sure they ask in every case where consent is the issue – how did the suspect know the complainant was saying yes and doing so freely and knowingly?”

Natalie Collins, a consultant who works in the field of gender equality, told Christian Today that the DPP had sent a “powerful signal” through her words. “This is a brilliant thing. The challenge will be to implement it and make the effort to put the guidance in place,” she said.

However, she added that as well as increasing the number of convictions in rape cases, in order to reduce the incidence of rape itself it was necessary to change public attitudes. “We are all complicit, we all have views about what is ‘real’ rape and about the kind of person who is involved.

“Changing attitudes and beliefs is the hardest thing to do.”

She said that churches could play an important role in this, but that they tended not to address the issue other than to provide pastoral support in cases of rape by strangers. “Abuse by partners is a massive issue. There is teaching about headship, the sanctity of marriage, complementarianism. In churches there can be an acceptance of pressure on a woman to have sex and an assumption that men have a higher sex drive and can’t help themselves.

“The Church has a massive opportunity to make a difference on this issue, but we need to do a lot of soul-searching about how our theology has contributed to it.”

Collins warned that churches with young people focused too narrowly on persuading them to reserve sex for marriage. “If the teaching is that sex before marriage is only bad and sex after marriage is all good, it’s missing whole areas about consent,” she said.

Source: Christian Today

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