Firstly let me say rape is a serious crime, it deserves to face the full force of the law and the criminal duly punished. It's not for me to say whether the guideline punishments are too lenient or not, but I will comment on the issues raised in the interview. I do not want whatever I go on to type to be misconstrued in anyway as me thinking that punishments are too light or that the victim has brought it onto themselves.
The main criticism levied at Mr Clarke seems to be based on that people are implying that there are varying degrees of rape and that perhaps he his implying that sometimes it's not a serious crime. However at the time he was talking about sentencing. The interviewer (Victoria Derbyshire) was trying to get into the listener's mind that on average rapists receive a 5 year sentence, therefore under these plans (50% off for an early guilty plea) they would only be required to serve 30 months, which once good behaviour is taken into account would result in them being back on the street in 15 months. My interpretation of Mr Clarke's response is that he was trying to distinguish that each case is different and by using an average you can distort the true picture.
Not every rapist receives 5 years, many receive much more than that, some less, it depends on the severity of their crime. Take these following examples:
- A 17 year old having sex with a willing 15 year old (say just a week away from her 16 birthday), they have been seeing each other for quite a few months and believe that they are "in love" - this is classed as rape (statutory rape, and I don't know if it counts in the 5 year figure quoted but Mr Clarke was trying to indicate that it does).
- A person having sex initiating sex with another person who is asleep next to them, they slept together earlier that night and they would probably have slept together in the future. This is rape.
- A person following a random stranger in a dark lane at night, then using violence to force them into engaging in sexual intercourse.
I would hope that everyone would agree that these are all rape, yet in my mind the latter is more serious than the former two - that is not to say that they are not all bad, rape is a very serious crime, but none the less I would find the latter more serious. In the UK we have different classifications of sexual assault because the do range in severity.
Having listened to and read the interview I just think Ms Derbyshire is going for the tabloid news headline style of reporting of trying to make people morally outraged when really they shouldn't be.
Lets look at those figures again, even if sentenced to 5 years - 60 months, serve 15 months. Now, what Mr Clarke was trying to point out is that people already get a discount for pleading guilty, they receive around a third off, however they can do this at any point - the first day of their trial for instance. This would result in an actual sentence of 40 months, 20 for good behaviour. Just 5 months more than the proposed legislation would allow. However in the proposed legislation they would have to plead guilty much earlier, saving the trauma of going through the trial for the victim.
The real terrible issue regarding this is highlighted by this blog, one of the few I've read which I agree with. Conviction rates are far too low, because reporting is too low, charging is too low and then the actual convictions themselves are low (this may not be too low but I doubt 42% of the time the defendant was innocent). This proposal was an attempt to increase conviction rates.
Since starting to draft this I've read one more good post, this on the Independent.
Overall, I think the only thing Mr Clarke should apologise for is letting his words get twisted and perhaps not choosing them as wisely as he might have.
Finally, I'd like to just point out that I have chosen the sexes in this blog carefully, men get raped too. Obviously the vast majority of sexual assaults are on women, I'm not trying to deny that, however I'd wager that even fewer men report such an assault on them as there is likely to be more stigma attached.