Philobiblon: 'Licence to batter'

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

'Licence to batter'

Imagine the case: a bloke is down the pub, has a drink or two too many, loses his temper with a man at the next table who is, he thinks, "looking at me funny" and beats the hell out of him. Duly hauled before a magistrate, he says: "Sorry. Really sorry. Didn't mean any harm. Won't do it again." The magistrate says: "That's all right then. Here's a slap on the wrist."

No, I can't imagine it either. But that is what is proposed, at least for cases of domestic violence, in new draft guidelines.

MEN and women who attack their partners should have the chance to avoid being sent to jail if they appear genuinely sorry for their violence, according to sentencing proposals published yesterday.
Instead, wife-beaters could receive a suspended prison sentence or community order. The proposals also recommend that perpetrators of domestic violence attend courses to tackle their offending, even though it is too early to know if they are effective in curbing violence.
The head of the leading domestic violence charity attacked the draft guidelines. Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: “It would be a travesty if the Sentencing Guidelines Council proposals on domestic violence come into effect. In short they give men a licence to batter women as long as they are able to put on a remorseful act in front of a judge.”

That fits nicely with an excellent interview with Catharine McKinnon, whose latest book, Are Women Human? has just been published.

She writes: "[T]he fact that the law of rape protects rapists and is written from their point of view to guarantee impunity for most rapes is officially regarded as a violation of the law of sex equality, national or international, by virtually nobody."
Are you suggesting that rape law enshrines rapists' points of view, I ask MacKinnon? "Yes, in a couple of senses. The most obvious sense is that most rapists are men and most legislators are men and most judges are men and the law of rape was created when women weren't even allowed to vote. So that means not that all the people who wrote it were rapists, but that they are a member of the group who do [rape] and who do for reasons that they share in common even with those who don't, namely masculinity and their identification with masculine norms and in particular being the people who initiate sex and being the people who socially experience themselves as being affirmed by aggressive initiation of sexual interaction."

5 Comments:

Blogger Jo said...

Mackinnon seems to me to be a fiercely intelligent and courageous woman. She is making statements about the links between pornography and rape that although being deeply unfashionable, need to be made. As she rightly points out the laws concerning rape were drawn up before women even had the vote. Surely it would have been logical that when women were finally granted a voice, that legislation should have changed to in concurrence with the new status as genuine citizens. But it wasn't. And the fact that the set up of judiciary proceedings favour keeping innocent men out of prison just in case a woman felt like lying about being raped, rather than protecting the victim is absolutely outrageous.

4/12/2006 08:12:00 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Mackinnon seems to me to be a fiercely intelligent and courageous woman. She is making statements about the links between pornography and rape that although being deeply unfashionable, need to be made. As she rightly points out the laws concerning rape were drawn up before women even had the vote. Surely it would have been logical that when women were finally granted a voice, that legislation should have changed to in concurrence with the new status as genuine citizens. But it wasn't. And the fact that the set up of judiciary proceedings favour keeping innocent men out of prison just in case a woman felt like lying about being raped, rather than protecting the victim is absolutely outrageous.

4/12/2006 08:16:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

I think what she says about rape law is a telling point (although the real problem in rape trials isn't the law but the juries' attitudes). As for the claim of a porn-rape link, I'm not necessarily in agreement; it is a bit like the children and violence on TV argument - a whole hugely complex set of factors contribute to the attitudes to rape, and just singling out one simplistic cause doesn't necessarily contribute constructively to the debate.

4/13/2006 01:45:00 am  
Blogger Jo said...

I don't want to suggest that pornography is the cause of rape, I am aware that it is far more complicated than that. What I believe is that violent pornography is part of an atmosphere that perpetuates the sexual objectification of women. The incorporation of a porn aesthetic into the main stream as harmless raunch culture I think contributes to this. Now, I know I'm on shaky ground talking about this because it can come down to a question of free expression of a person's sexuality and that is none of my or anyone else's business. What I object to is the commodification of bodies. I just cannot believe that conforming to titillating sexual stereotypes can bring about any kind of liberation, and teaming this with reduced sentences for violent crimes against women just sends out a dreadful message. I want to insist that I'm not suggesting a conspiracy rather worrying attitudes. But defending porn when it may be a contributing factor in condoning misogyny seems senseless. What do women get from it? Very little I'm sure, compared to the huge bank roll attributed to the industry as a whole. I can't believe for a minute that porn is made as a benevolent gesture, it is to make money. It's not going to go away unless, I imagine, it fails to make a profit.

4/13/2006 10:01:00 am  
Anonymous Chameleon said...

I knew I could rely on you to point to this aberration - well, it would be an aberration of women were accorded equality with men in our society - doling out a slap on the wrist, "You naughty boy" style to wife-beaters. This constitutes a fundamental and glaring misunderstanding of the dynamics of the phenomenon and is an absolute disgrace. Any society that considers itself remotely "civilised" ought to have no place for such an approach. What kind of message does it send to the victim, whose bruised face is supposed to light up when the erring husband/partner brings a bunch of flowers by way of an apology/token of an all too transitory remorse? It tells her that she is correct to forgive him, that he will mend his ways if only she doesn't provoke him, that he was right to fling his plate of chips against the wall because they were too soggy, that she can expect neither sympathy nor protection from the law, that her lack of self-esteem is justified, that his dissatisfaction with her performance of wifely duties (one of the many lies he tells her in order to disguise the true dynamic of escalating violence and psychological intimidation) is acknowledged by the outside, that open season has been declared on her if he has been down the pub, etc. Such a callous disregard of decades of research into the phenomenon simply because jails are overcrowded makes a mockery of any notion of progress we might have deluded ourselves with! Yes, I am passionate about this and yes, I do intend to write about it once I have a spare minute!

4/14/2006 07:40:00 am  

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