01:17, January 06 72 0 theguardian.com

2018-01-06 01:17:03
Do forgive us women if we don’t agree John Worboys has paid his debt

In a faintly mirthless sort of way, I am enjoying the various people telling despairing women not to rush to judgment on the news that black-cab rapist John Worboys is to be released from prison after nine years inside. Rush? My darlings, it took us a lifetime to get here. You work for this skill, you acquire it, you hone it. Only by laying down a couple or more decades’ experience of being female can we be perfectly placed to judge, when such a revelation emerges, that we are Really Not Happy about it.

Like Chuck Norris, we don’t sleep. We wait. Though we were never in the Boy Scouts, we know to be prepared. So that when the news drops, we are ready. Our performance can only be optimal. The training kicks in, and we are immediately able to offer an unimpeachable verdict along the lines of “Well, there you fucking go.”

In some ways, an outcome such as the Worboys one is the yardstick you’ve been looking for. As a lady, you really know where you stand when society judges Worboys’ debt to it to be nine years. That’s if you didn’t know where you stood when you heard about the original police investigation, which was so useless that the Met has felt forced – forced! – to take two of Worboys’ victims to the Supreme Court to avoid having to pay them compensation. Judgment on that is still awaited. For now, the entire Worboys case puts a strain on most of the clichés about the law, except, perhaps, those relating to its asinine qualities. In technical terms Worboys has “paid his debt to society”. And yet, that doesn’t feel like quite the right analogy. I prefer to think that he’s been permitted to declare himself bankrupt to avoid paying said debt, and will be trading again in haste most unseemly to his creditors.

Merely out of interest, I wonder which sex offender treatment programme Worboys could have undergone inside in a manner that would have satisfied the parole board? I mean, I don’t want to put a downer on his X Factor journey here, but the main one used in England and Wales was scrapped last year after prisoners who had completed it were more likely to offend again than those that hadn’t. Well … there you go.

Whatever the programme, it will have had to effect a stunning turnaround in a comparatively short space of time. Worboys’ trial was marked by a total failure to face up to even the shores of his behaviour, let alone the vast depths of horror that stretched beyond them. As one of his victims put it: “I feel so angry that he pleaded not guilty and made us go through the pain of giving evidence in court.”

Inevitably, the word upon which Worboys alighted in the dock to describe his shtick – lying about having won lots of money, and wishing to celebrate with women he was about to drug and rape or assault – was “banter”. Yup, that trusty old faithful. Even his defence was not averse to a bit of bantz to cast the former stripper as winsomely down on his luck. “One imagines,” opined his barrister at one point, “that a male stripper has a limited shelf life during which they can pursue their career.” (The women, of course, can go on and on.) Still, Worboys had a good innings – 12 years in the stripping game isn’t so bad for someone the jury were simultaneously being asked to think of as withdrawn and socially awkward.

Perhaps prison has brought Worboys out of his shell, transforming him from the banter rapist into someone who poses no danger to the public. Parole experts evidently presume it worth the risk. My long-held view, incidentally, is that the UK’s prison population is absurd. There should be far fewer people in prison. And if that means a bigger cell and more room (and time) to kick around for the likes of John Worboys, he can thank me in one of the radioactively self-pitying letters chaps in his position are given to writing. “My mind is all over the place,” read one of his efforts to an ex-girlfriend’s mother. No doubt. Still, I see he’s somehow found the strength to get himself together and survive.

The details of his transformation remain a mystery, alas. For all the bewilderment, we will not get the full reasons behind the parole board’s decision. For some, there is a troubling inconsistency there. The public can see the court process that leads to a sentence, but after that the shutters come down, and there is no visibility on the process that leads to the majority of offenders emerging after having served half of it. Would more transparency be worse? Lawyers may not want this for many of their more notorious parole clients, but many people in favour of greater openness in all aspects of public life might argue the long-term benefits. As things stand, we won’t get the full reasons on this case. Thus, for many, an injustice will appear to have been done.

Across the airwaves and the internet since news of his release broke, a lot of chaps have taken the time to explain in small words why what has happened is perfectly reasonable. For my money, rather too many (though not all) of these teeter on the brink of finding many women’s reaction to the news “emotional”. Perhaps it takes a control to the experiment to remind them that it is possible to understand how a situation has been arrived at and still have rather strong feelings about it, and many will be grateful to the MP Anna Soubry for saying that even as a former criminal barrister, she feels “uneasy” at the Worboys release.

Either way, to all the Great Explainers out there, allow me to return the favour. Allow me to explain this apparently irrational behaviour of women objecting to Worboys’ minibreak at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. For the avoidance of doubt, I and plenty of other women understand that Worboys was sentenced for 19 offences relating to 12 women, not for the 100 or more others police think he may have committed, nor for potential offences relating to any of the 75 women who came forward after his conviction.

I and plenty of other women understand that those convictions – one count of rape, five counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault, and 12 counts of drugging – secured him a so-called indeterminate sentence. I and plenty of other women understand that he was given a tariff of eight years. And amazingly, it is not even beyond us to understand that an eight-year tariff meant he must serve a minimum of eight years. In fact, if we take a big run-up at the thought, we are even capable of understanding that this meant he could be out having served half of the 16-year sentence he would have received had he not been given an indeterminate sentence for public protection.

But the thing is – and the Great Explainers must prepare to have their minds blown by this – it is possible that we also have a problem with all this. We understand it, and we also disagree with it. I know it’s mad, but we don’t feel the automatic need to reflexively rationalise the status quo as if it’s all predetermined science, and you might as well argue against gravity as disagree with it. We even wonder – imagine! – whether getting angry about things is a step towards getting them changed.

There are so many conversations to be had about rape law. From about 13% of reported rapes in England and Wales ending in a conviction to a complainant’s sexual history being admissible in court; from restorative justice to the scandal of how poor victims’ services are when the Ministry of Justice is paying £30m to consultants PwC to digitalise courts; from the ways in which early guilty pleas could be incentivised to an entire rethink of rape sentencing …

Yes, there are so many conversations to be had about rape law, and this is us starting another one of them. Apologies if we’re not doing it in the right way, or in the way you would, or in a manner emotionally detached from the daily possibility of, you know, being raped. But do please consider your concerns about us duly noted, and we’ll see you on the other side.

Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist