White Heat

I normally like to read the columns of Michael White in The Guardian. He can be relied upon for entertaining sketches from Parliament. Now with the House of Commons in recess, maybe the holiday sunshine (or alcohol) has gone to his head. How else to explain his piece today - linking the stories on drunken Brits abroad and the case of mistakes in compensation for rape.

At least the Guardian allows a free reign - within boundaries -to its comments section. Thus, we witness Mr White getting his ass kicked.

The article in full:

On rape and personal responsibility -Michael White

August 12, 2008

Here's a trick question: part I. When Brits on their summer holiday across (occasionally 35,000 feet above) sunny southern Europe get drunk, hospitalised and possibly jailed, whose fault is it?
Usually theirs, of course, though it's always interesting to hear how keen some of them are to blame the poor old British consul for not finding their stolen passport - or opening the front door at three in the morning.
It's all over page one of the Mail today, based on a Foreign Office reports which records a sharp rise in arrests - 2,032 in Spain last year, 1,415 in the US, 230 in Greece, on average 15% up.
In Spain 1,591 Brits died in 2006-07, which sounds like a lot of pool drownings until you remember the pensioners who live - and die - in the sun.
Junior Foreign Office minister, Meg Munn, was on the radio this morning, sensibly advising travellers to check the law and customs in countries they plan to visit. I often forget the French requirement that drivers must carry a triangle and fluorescent yellow jacket in the boot of the car. They can be very bureaucratic, the Frogs, though they tolerated sensational speeding until recently.
What Munn really meant, of course, was drink, drugs and sex. Apparently, not everyone heads south for sunshine or museums. Some go to get bladdered and laid, so they tell me. It's not just the grown-ups either. Teenagers, free from mum and dad, do it too.
Well, well. Serves them right, says me, if the Greek police take a less restrained view of their misconduct than they do down on the Quays in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In socially conservative countries - as ours was until quite recently - being pissed, aggressively loud and half-naked isn't thought acceptable.
I realise the local boys take advantage of this deplorable phenomenon to get easy pickings, but hypocrisy is a universal trait, even among priests and mullahs, let alone barmen.
Now to part II of the trick question. Who's to blame when someone who's got drunk later gets raped, abroad or at home? Well, the rapist, of course. Rape is a very nasty crime, though a flamboyant Tory politician - Nicholas Fairbairn QC - who later lost his job as Mrs Thatcher's Scottish solicitor general once got into trouble for observing that it was very close to a normal activity. It's one reason among several (no witnesses) why prosecution is so difficult.
But what about compensation for rape victims? Just as today's Mail highlights the holiday binge drinkers on page one today, the Guardian carries a page one report under the headline Rape victims told alcoholic consumption may cost them compensation.
We learned that in the past year 14 rape victims have had their compensation trimmed by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) because they had been drinking before they were attacked.
In the case of Helen - a beauty therapist who has not worked since being raped - she got 25% knocked off her £11,000 standard award. It felt like "a slap in the face", Helen told the paper.
She also gave an interview - read by an actor to protect her anonymity - to Radio 4's Today programme which, so I assume, must also have been given the story. The legal wrangle prolonged her distress, Helen seemed to be suggesting. Her lawyer was outraged.
The twist was that the CICA later changed its mind. It updated its response to the Guardian and BBC to say a mistake had been made in Helen's case: its policy is NOT to reduce awards to rape victims on the basis of alcohol consumption.
Today's Guardian editorial comment endorses that position, calling for a change in the rules on alcohol, in part on the grounds that for many women, those who do not see their attacker convicted, monetary compensation from the public purse is a form of recognition for their suffering.
I'm uneasy about this line of argument. Compensation for injury, civil and criminal, can be a pretty rough old business, with bomb victims sometimes getting much less than some pretty undeserving litigants who tripped on an uneven paving stone.
The Guardian acknowledges that drink "raises the risk of suffering rape, just as it increases the dangers of suffering from other violent crimes. No, the argument is that with rape there can be no divvying up of the blame."
Indeed not. But surely compensation is not about blame, that's a matter for the criminal law. It's about weighing up the injury, what long-term distress, financial outlay or even unemployment, it may cause, and - one factor among several - whether the actions of the claimant may have contributed to his/her misfortune. In sum, it's about personal responsibility.
If I get glassed in a pub during a fight which arose when I was drunk it's not quite the same as if I took the broken bottle in my eye as I soberly walked in, is it? If I wear conspicuously expensive clothes - or accent - and a Rolex watch in a rough part of town, drunk or sober, it's a crime to mug me. But, as the old saying goes, I was "asking for it" a bit, wasn't I?
It's rather like the police saying - as they rightly do - "don't carry a knife for protection, it may get you into trouble."
You put yourself at risk, just as you do by speeding when the idiot coming the other way loses control of the car: his fault, but you were going too fast or (another common one) tail-gating.
Yet I get into a lot of trouble with women friends whenever I suggest they have a responsibility to themselves to think about what they're wearing where they're wearing it. Ditto how much they drink. Ditto what I wear - and drink. Date rape drugs may be a problem, but rather less so than the happy hour, I suspect from the speed-drinking I see in bars.
The fact that people go to enormous lengths to deny this factor seems to me part of the problem, just as it is when bladdered stag party boys get stroppy with the consul when they lose their passport in Riga.
Everyone's a victim, no one's responsible. No wonder we have a discipline pandemic in school, at home and on the streets, not confined to the underclass either.
As for Brits, tourist or ex-pats doing drugs and sex-on-the-beach in places like Dubai, where appearances matter (as they once did here) they must be mad.
It's not Bradford or Barking, surely they can figure that out. For one thing it's hotter. That's why they're there. Or have they forgotten? Wonder why...

Whilst it used to be apocryphal old fart judges that equated skimpy dresses and lambrini with 'asking for it', it seems even the liberal elite are holding this view, albeit not apportioning blame in the legal sense - only in civil terms.
Now, let's be clear here, as a bloke who detests the way drunken morons of both sexes desecrate our towns and sully our name overseas, I'm not condoning drunkenness. I'd also fall into the grumpy old man groove of 'you're not going out dressed like that' but rape is rape is rape.

To use the following - as White does- defies logic:
If I get glassed in a pub during a fight which arose when I was drunk it's not quite the same as if I took the broken bottle in my eye as I soberly walked in, is it? If I wear conspicuously expensive clothes - or accent - and a Rolex watch in a rough part of town, drunk or sober, it's a crime to mug me. But, as the old saying goes, I was "asking for it" a bit, wasn't I?

This point stinks for a number of reasons:-
Is White saying that it's different because the alcohol will provide anaesthetic, or is he actually using such a general scenario to cover a multitude of sins? Who was to blame for the fight? Was the protagonist in the second example known to the victim?

Earlier in the article, White introduces the contrasting situation of drunken Brits losing their passports etc. I have an interest here: my first menage-a-tois with Messrs Ouzo and Stella led to me losing a credit card and much skin tissue. Mea culpa. No third party was involved. If I had been assaulted (and hadn't encouraged it) or had been buggered, the situation is clearly different. I cannot rape or assault myself.

I also had a lot of dealings with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) or CICB as was. There was a provision in the scheme for deductions to be made for contributory behaviour. This includes drunken behaviour but is largely to do with behaviour rather than the alcohol content (Often this would only be apparent on appeal as the faceless decision-makers evidently had a remit to save the exchequer money as claim rates rose (allegedly as any great Hislop would say).
White is not saying that anyone walking home in the early hours or with a belt for a skirt is responsible for the crime. He is correct that we need to take responsiblity for our own actions. However, even in purely compensation terms, there is no justification for the inferrence that somehow a victim is the architect of misfortune. It is hard to put a figure on injury in such cases; the tarrif system of the CICA scheme hardly helps here. There is though a clear distinction between an inebriated girl headbutting concret after tripping over a defective paving flag and a rape victim. The pavement is impassive; the rapist is not.

Suffice to say, this is a poor article for The Guardian and would not be out of place in The Mail. It is sometimes a flavourite device of a columnist to take a controversial view a la Burchill and then wait. Well, White succeeds there.
Perhaps the best comment on the piece comes from Purplefluff so the last word should be with her:

Complete and utter rubbish.
Are you REALLY comparing someone who is raped after having the temerity to have a couple of drinks, to drunken stag night idiots blaming everyone BUT themselves for losing their passport?
Compensation is cut if the victim had been drinking *at all* - not because they were *drunk*. This policy is just an absolute joke.
I am getting very tired of hearing men whinge stuff along the lines of: "but *men* are putting themselves at risk if they go around in dodgy areas wearing expensive suits flashing their cash! They're asking for it! whyyyyyy can't I say that women wearing revealing clothing are asking for it!"
Well, I'll try and make it easy for you: no-one actually says of mugging victims that they were asking for it! If you go to the police they focus on the *crime* and do not ask - what were you wearing? Nice suit, that, how much did that cost? You had £200 cash on you and a gold Amex? You had a few beers? Silly man, stop wasting our time, you know what to expect if you flash your cash in that kind of pub! You probably just got drunk and GAVE the money away!
Women, too, are at risk of theft. A businesswoman wearing a designer suit and flashing a gold credit card is quite likely to be a victim, too. Women have the EXTRA risk of sexual assault and rape, and the misogynist myths that go with it.
The thing is that it's reasonably predictable when you are more at risk of non-sexual crime and you can reduce your risk accordingly: cover your PIN when getting out cash, don't take out too much at once, don't wander around dodgy areas late at night, take taxis not public transport late at night, don't ask the shell-suited skinhead lad what he's looking at, etc...
Yes, being extremely drunk might make people more careless about this kind of thing, and I don't think anyone is seriously arguing that drinking to the point where basic common sense goes out of the window is a good idea. But no-one seriously thinks anyone is actually to blame for being mugged, or glassed, *whatever* their behaviour.
The thing is - women get raped when drunk or sober, by opportunist strangers or people they know. Actually, by far the majority of rapes are by perpetrators known to the victim in some way.
Since most rapes aren't the violent, stranger dragging victim into dark alley off the street kind you're probably thinking - it doesn't MATTER how much she was drinking or what she was wearing or anything else she did or didn't do.
Rapists do not have red eyes, horns, a tail, and a tattoo on their forehead saying "RAPIST". They are often very skilled at making women trust them.
Many rapes are by partners, yes, really, or friends of the victim - people they thought they could trust. Women cannot sanely go around assuming every man they date is a rapist, even a long-term partner is a rapist, their friend of ten years is a rapist. Do we assume the nice guy who is a friend of a friend, who is offering them a lift home from the party, after all, they know him to talk to, he seems like a nice respectable guy, and we all know the scare stories that women are at risk if they take public transport home, or even take a taxi alone. Yet rapists are calculating, and the "let me walk you home, dear, you know it's not safe" is not an unknown ploy used by rapists to get women alone.
The risks of sexual crimes cannot be weighed in the same way.
And for your information, women are raped when wearing *all kinds* of clothing. Work suit? Jeans and baggy jumper? Slobby old tracksuit with food stains? Burqua? Nun's habit? Phwoar, sexaaay, yet you can bet some woman has been raped wearing all of the above. I am not surprised your unfortunate female friends get annoyed when you try to patronisingly advise them what to wear. In fact if a man said that to me, I'd think he was "asking for" a slap...what do you expect, deliberately provoking those hormonal angry women? You KNOW they can't be trusted around men coming out with sexist tripe!