Socialist Worker

Capitalism and rape

Disgraceful police attitudes to rape victims are symptomatic of a system that degrades and oppresses women, writes Grace Lally

Issue No. 2144

When London taxi driver John Worboys was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting his passengers, it emerged that many women had been reporting attacks for almost seven years, only to have their claims dismissed by the police as “no crime”.

The government was forced to admit, yet again, that there are institutional problems with the way accusations of rape are handled by the police.

Socialist Worker has no tradition of calling for more arrests or harsher sentencing to deal with social problems, and I don’t intend to make rape the exception to this. But the low conviction rate for men accused of rape – just over 5 percent – does tell a story about the nature of the problem.

The police and the courts are much more likely to believe “stranger rape” victims than other types of rape victims, most of whom are raped by current or former partners.

But it’s likely that, in this case, the victims were not seen as credible witnesses because it was assumed they had been out drinking late at night before hailing Worboys’ cab.

It is 30 years since feminists organised the first Reclaim The Night marches. They challenged a culture that blamed women for bringing rape on themselves.

But it is still the case that almost a third of people believe that a woman is partially or totally responsible for an attack if she was drunk.

Campaigners have fought for legal recognition that a woman who is drunk is not capable of giving consent.

Yet rape trials continue to be based on the idea that sex is a service controlled by women – and appropriated by men, either fairly or unfairly.

No courtroom will ever put on trial this degrading and distorted view of human sexuality. It sees sex as a commodity like any other – something which can be given freely but also bought, sold or stolen – rather than part of who we are and how we relate to each other.

For the German revolutionary Karl Marx, the lack of control over our lives and the work we do under capitalism creates the fundamental alienation of human beings – from ourselves as well as from each other.

Our homes are as much a part of this alienation as the workplace or the street.

Rape and sexual violence are more extreme forms of this alienation – a complete negation of the most basic human capacities for empathy and mutual respect.

The statistics give gruesome testimony to the alienated sexuality that our society breeds. At least 47,000 adult women are raped every year in Britain, the majority in their own home by a man they know.

Sexual violence is nurtured by a society where all women are routinely presented as sex objects and systematically degraded and oppressed.

Shamefully, there are more licensed lap dancing clubs in Britain than Rape Crisis Centres.

Men who rape women are a minority. Many women who suffer brutality and violence at the hands of one man will go on to have loving relationships in the future.

But I know too many people who have suffered sexual abuse to believe that simply locking up every abuser can ever be a solution.

Abusers should receive treatment and counselling to help them to live normal lives and prevent them repeating their behaviour. But to eradicate all forms of sexual violence we need to fight together to create a very different kind of society.

As long as we live in a class society, which puts the pressures and financial burden of raising children onto individual families, women will remain subordinate.

The ideology of the woman as homemaker, wife and mother – which stops her being seen as a person in her own right – will continue because it justifies the unpaid labour of women who raise families.

It is because capitalism is a class-divided society, where the ruling class has a vested interest in perpetuating sexist divisions, that this oppression remains.

In a survey of attitudes about rape victims, the number of women who blamed rape victims for being drunk or wearing revealing clothes was equal to the number of men.

An ideology that allows women to be devalued as mere sex objects will also drive women in this country to spend around £1 billion this year on plastic surgery.

As individual men and women we can, and often do, reject the sexism of our society. But as individuals we cannot abolish the cultural and social pressures that shape our attitudes and our relationships with each other.

That will require a movement for change in which working class men and women rely on each other to challenge our rulers – and learn in the process to value each other as equals.

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Tue 24 Mar 2009, 17:56 GMT
Issue No. 2144
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