Letters: Ken Clarke and rape law reform

Letters: The legislative and sentencing framework makes no distinction between whether or not the rape was preceded by a meal or a few drinks

It's hugely disappointing your editorial (19 May) backed Ken Clarke following the furore about his inaccurate comments about rape. You take the view that his leniency on sentencing more than makes up for his abhorrent views on rape. It does not. You outlined the various distinctions Ken Clarke sought to make, including whether all rape is the same and his views on so called "date rape". The legislative and sentencing framework makes no distinction between whether or not the rape was preceded by a meal or a few drinks. The sentencing framework rightly takes in to account harm to the victim, culpability of the offender and the risk the offender poses to the public. There's no distinction between the victim knowing their assailant or not.

Letters pic 200511
illustration: Gillian Blease Photograph: Gillian Blease

There are two common factors in all the victims of rape or attempted rape that I know personally: they did not report the crime to the police and they had a prior relationship with their assailant. One of the factors in the decision not to report – potentially putting other women in danger – is because women experience views like Ken Clarke's, that not all rapes are the same, and most of the victims that I know have, initially at least, blamed themselves in some way.

One point you didn't highlight is Ken Clarke's claim that rape hasn't changed since he practised law. But he's wrong. Arguably the biggest change is that when Ken Clarke practised law it was legally impossible for a man to rape his wife. Judges, not the parliament he was a member of, changed this in 1991.

It's unacceptable that the most senior politician in charge of trying to increase rape prosecutions – which includes surely, encouraging victims to come forward – could hold the antiquated and sexist views that prevent many victims from doing just that. And it's difficult to see how further progress can be made while he remains in post.

Cllr Sarah Hayward

Labour, Camden council

• It is deeply prejudicial to any serious debate on rape for Labour to distort and hype up Ken Clarke's remarks. This is typical of Labour, blasting out of the water anyone who wants to discuss whether there are more effective approaches to tackling crime than their own undistinguished 13-year record. People in glass houses should not throw stones.

I did not have any problem with Ken Clarke's remarks, and it is also entirely legitimate for him to consult on whether a bigger discount on sentence for a guilty plea would secure more rape convictions.

I respect those who disagree with this suggestion, but I do not respect Labour's cynical playing of the feminist card by attacking Ken Clarke. They are mistaken if they think this is helpful to actually improving the 6% rape conviction rate and the lives of women.

Sarah Ludford MEP

Liberal Democrat, London

• Jane Martinson (Comment, 19 May) complains that "rape is regarded as a different kind of crime to other assaults" when the whole thrust of her piece is that she wishes rape to be treated differently to other assaults. Contrary to her assertion, there is plenty of gradation in crimes of assault, from simple assault, through assault occasioning actual bodily harm, to assault with GBH, to murder, and with sentencing sensibly tempered by the individual circumstances of any case.

The crime of rape is defined in narrow terms as unlawful penetration, which probably dates back to when women were chattels whose value was contingent on their "honour". I would expect a feminist to view rape instead primarily in terms of being a particularly nasty form of assault – and accept that there is potential gradation according to circumstance.

Andy Smith

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

• Reducing the prison sentence of an alleged perpetrator of serious crime, including rape, by as much as 50% for an early guilty plea clearly needs thorough consideration. Ken Clarke has said it "helps rape victims" if there is a guilty plea. Surely it is time to consult the victim. If the accused wants to plead guilty, the victim should not be powerless. It is time to include victims in the process of plea bargaining.

Anne Allison


• We all know that the changes being suggested by the justice secretary are to save money. However, if we accept for a moment the argument that rapists will plead guilty because they will receive a shorter sentence, may I suggest an approach that may satisfy that criterion?

Do not reduce the statutory sentence under any circumstance, but let it be known that if guilt is accepted as soon as possible then that will be taken into consideration when early release is considered. If someone is found guilty, after refusing to plead guilty, then it will be likely that he will serve the whole sentence, or near to it.

Roy Hogg


• Kenneth Clarke's plans to allow shorter sentences in exchange for early guilty pleas will be another stab in the back for those who suffer miscarriages of justice. We already know that these people are badly treated in prison – now the law is going to penalise them as well, leaving them fighting to clear their names while the guilty are let out early.

Pauline Bagg

Waltham Abbey, Essex

• I despaired of the Guardian when I read your editorial. Most of the public will understand the difference between violent rape, coerced rape, unknowing rape between teenagers and the vast array of circumstances that surround the act of rape. However, the minister for justice should be able to articulate exactly what he means without digging himself into a cavernous hole. We may all tolerate or even love politicians with character in run-of-the-mill situations; they may equally be well intentioned; but serious issues require serious politicians. He should go.

Gill Morgan


• All crimes can be divided into more or less serious examples, which is why politicians setting mandatory sentences is always a bad idea. Take murder, one of the few crimes that is worse than rape: someone who in a spasm of temper picks up a gun and kills someone with it has clearly committed a less serious offence than someone who coldly plots and then executes the torturing of a person to death – that does not make the former crime any the less hideous.

Joe Morison


The GuardianTramp

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