Today’s big headline tells us that Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, is set to release progressive guidelines to all police forces and prosecutors on how to deal better with rape allegations. The guidance attempts to remove grey areas surrounding sexual consent and clarifies the situations in which a person is unable or unlikely to be able to give consent. These include being under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, existing mental health problems, learning difficulties, being asleep and being unconscious.

Suspects in positions of power, and domestic violence scenarios are also referred to in the ‘tool kit’, as potential red flags in addressing consent.

Controversially, the guidelines do not seem to touch upon male-on-male rape, or female-on-male rape, still perceived as taboos and forms of rape which have yet to be treated, at least from a cultural perspective, as on a par with male-on-female rape. Consequently, the current guidance seems only to require men to prove that a woman said ‘yes’ in rape cases, despite the Sexual Offences Act 2003 clearly encompassing, albeit implicitly, other forms of rape.

The debate surrounding female-on-male rape is still the least highlighted, with many, including ourselves, unsure about the issues and contexts involved. But it is a debate we should be having. In what circumstances can a woman rape a man? Should we define those circumstances and place them on a par with other forms of rape? And finally, what are the psychological effects of this kind of rape? These are all issues that have yet to be discussed openly, and with government input. America has already started to look at female-on-male rape. There, these instances are called “made to penetrate” cases. Not surprisingly, many of these “made to penetrate” cases involve adult teachers engaging in sexual activity with underage students.

Without seeing the guidelines that made the headlines today, we don’t feel able to comment more on their potential impact, but people are already concerned about the impact the guidelines will have on men if they are not able to provide evidence of consent.

This is not a new concern though, as the current law already imposes a duty on the defendant in this context to bring sufficient evidence to show that the complainant consented. The guidelines then, are in some part simply emphasising current legislation on the issue, but they are also extending police and prosecutors’ understanding of how consent may be impeded or obstructed.

The double standard though is there for all to see. An whilst we don’t like to make a fuss about gender equality for the sake of it, we do think that if Alison Saunders wishes to bring rape investigations into the 21st century, she should do that, for everyone.

Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions

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