11:15, May 31 166 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-31 11:15:34
Germaine Greer’s comments on rape are dangerous and damaging

When women talk about any kind of misogynistic abuse, three things happen. We are told that we should stop making a fuss. We are told that it could be worse. We are told that other issues are more serious. At the Hay Festival this week, Germaine Greer told us all three.

Greer, a leading feminist and author of The Female Eunuch, suggested that most rape should not be seen as a “spectacularly violent crime” but as “lazy, careless and insensitive”. She said “most rapes don’t involve any injury whatsoever,” and conflated rape with “bad sex … where there is no communication, no tenderness”.

She also ridiculed the notion that rape survivors were left “impulsive, sleepless” or “anxiety ridden”, or suffered high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder: “What the hell are you saying? Something that leaves no sign, no injury, no nothing is more damaging to a woman than seeing your best friend blown up by an IED [improvised explosive device]?”

And Greer dismissed the #MeToo movement, implying that actors who had made allegations against Harvey Weinstein were seeking publicity.

During her talk, Greer referenced her own rape – a violent assault which took place when she was 18. She said she did not want to see herself as a victim for the rest of her life, and suggested that 200 hours of community service, or a tattoo of an “R” on the hand or cheek might be an appropriate sentence. But while it is absolutely her prerogative to respond to her own experience in any way she chooses, it is damaging and dangerous to suggest that rape is not a violent crime with a devastating long-term impact for many survivors.

Greer’s argument does not seem to stem, as has been suggested by some, from a desire to undermine rape victims, but rather from frustration at the lack of justice they receive.

But if Greer recognises this as a huge problem, her rhetoric seems bound to worsen it.

The decision to penetrate somebody’s body without their consent is a violent act, whether or not physical violence is involved. It doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t matter if you already know the victim. It doesn’t matter whether she struggles. It is deeply dispiriting for the catastrophic impact on survivors’ mental health to still be doubted.

And the notion that, if a crime is difficult to prove we should simply abandon the attempt to bring perpetrators to justice, is laughable. Rape is not, as Greer suggests, the only crime that is hard to prosecute. So too, for example, is financial crime.

Yes, the system is failing women. But the solution is not to throw our hands up and abandon the pursuit of justice. It is (as feminists have done for centuries) to fight to change the system. We should not settle for a lesser form of justice for the privilege of being believed. Nor should we reduce sentences, as Greer suggests. She believes this would increase the number of convictions. But rape juries don’t fail to convict because they think the punishment is too harsh. They simply don’t believe women in the first place. Or they blame them: she was asking for it. She was drunk. She led him on.

Ultimately, if Greer is saying we need to take rape less seriously, she needn’t worry … society is already doing a pretty great job of that all by itself.

Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, a collection of more than 80,000 women’s daily experiences of gender inequality

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