Ken Clarke’s rape gaffe

Ken Clarke has a reputation as one of the most formidable politicians of the past twenty years. He is also a bit more popular than many Tories amongst many in the media due his seemingly more liberal views, his eminent quote-ability and maybe his penchant for brown suede shoes. He has, however, also a bit of a reputation for gaffes. Whilst Health Secretary in the late 1980s he denied that junior doctors worked excessive hours and claimed they were lying about this. Unfortunately he was contradicted by his own daughter: a junior hospital doctor.

His remarks on rape have created a much greater storm. The relevant transcript is here from the BBC:

In an interview with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 live, Mr Clarke argued that pushing for an early guilty plea would stop rapists denying charges and would relieve the victim of “going through the whole ordeal again and of being called a liar” in court.
He dismissed suggestions rapists could be out in 15 months – calculated by halving the average sentence of five years, then allowing for the time someone would be allowed to serve on licence – as “total nonsense”.
On being told that the five-year figure came from the Council of Circuit Judges, Mr Clarke said: “That includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15 year olds…
“A serious rape with violence and an unwilling woman – the tariff is longer than that.”

There are a whole series of problems with Clarke’s remarks: ones which a senior politician and indeed a former barrister should have been well aware of. The political and indeed moral gaffe was pretty significant. Whilst at some level there are variations in the severity of rape that is not far removed from suggesting that there are variations in the severity of murder. Clarke went on, however, to compound the problem by seeming to take date rape less seriously. For the past twenty years there have been attempts to address more effectively the huge problem of date rape. There is a well argued comment on the issue of date rape here in the Guardian from 2009.

However, not only was Clarke extremely foolish but he was also wrong from a legal viewpoint. As the BBC have detailed here consensual sexual intercourse between a 15 year old girl and an eighteen year old man is not rape: it is a different (also criminal) offence attracting a different sentence.

It seems likely that Clarke will survive this episode. Christina Patterson in the Independent seems to be using the strategy of attack those attacking Clarke.

Had those comments come from a right wing authoritarian figure (or indeed a member of the judiciary) it is highly likely that the calls for his political head would have been almost universal. As it is Clarke’s reputation as a liberal “blokish” jovial sort of politician may have helped save him at least in the short term. Then again I thought rape was rape and surely dismissing it as not serious rape would be unacceptable from whatever quarter.

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  • andnowwhat

    I’m a Clarke fan (even though I’m a confirmed leftie) but I heard this yesterday and followed the reaction to it on 5Live.

    It was a complete mess with legal experts pulling his points apart. I’m just wondering if this is down to giving him the wrong brief or more to do with the tory obsession with saving money at any cost, in this case, morality.

  • JAH

    It was a silly comment on a radio station but probably one that is often ventilated amongst lawyers and judges.

    However the overall agenda Clarke is following almost matches the solutions to our unbelievably huge prison population which were advocated in “the Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett last year that received a lot of cross part support. We simply lock up far to many people for real discernible gain or effect.

    Yes, it does play into the Tory cost cutting regime, but in this case Clarke is hiding behind that regime in order to make long overdue changes to the justice system.

    I’d cut him a bit of slack on this error as he may ultimately be leaving a legacy of a better justice system for all. Assuming he can stay awake at meetings!

  • troubleshooter

    Is one type of rape more serious than another?

    a.) My sister meets a guy over the last few weeks at a nightclub. They make out on the dance floor. Then head back to his house for a party with their friends. Drink is flowing both are intoxicated and they roll into bed together. Clothes are off and after sometime he attempts to go “all the way”
    She says no. However he forces on.

    Yes RAPE. Yes Serious!

    b.) My sister walks home from her tech class at night. Though the park a masked man grabs her with a knife. Fearing for her life he forces her to the ground. Knife to throat and rapes her.

    Yes RAPE. Yes Serious!


    Without doubt the majority of people in this country would count (b.) more serious than (a.)

    KEN CLARKE said NOTHING wrong.

  • PaddyReilly

    A and B were boyfriend and girlfriend, but had never consummated their relationship. One night A got drunk and forced B to have intercourse with him. The next day he was suitably contrite and they both went tearfully to the police to report this offence against womankind. It came to court and the judge sentenced him to 3 years. The Daily Mirror reported this and also the reaction of B, who said she would wait for him to get out! Unbelievable.

    There is clearly a saving which could be made here. There are gradations in rape, as there are with any other offence.

  • I dont know the ratio of men to women on Slugger O’Toole but I think its safe to say that the most verbose people on Slugger are people like me. Men.
    Verbose=mouthy and opinionated.
    Clarke as has been observed is both a politician and a QC. And indeed a bloke. Three quite different things.
    The Politician should have known better.
    The QC should certainly have known better.
    Blokes are much more stupid than Men…and I wouldnt really expect much more from a Bloke. A Real Man might have had more sense.
    According to stats that I have no reason to doubt. An incredibly large number of women are subject to serious assult during the course of their lives. A lot withinmarriages and families of course. Taboo subject for generations. The workplace, school playground, date rape, the long walk home, the battlefield.
    But a Man or even the sub species of Bloke should know better and Clarke should know the statistics….legal and real… much more than the likes of us.
    Womens Groups settle on figures like 20%.
    One in Five. And anyway a “womens issue”. If Men and Blokes were that vulnerable …if it was a “Mans issue” or a “Blokes issue”.
    Except it kinda is….
    Even Men and Blokes have two grandmothers and one mother. A wife perhaps. A girlfriend. A couple of ex-girlfriends maybe. One or two sisters. One or two daughters. Maybe a daughter-in -law. Four or five aunties. Five or six neices. Seven or Eight cousins. Colleagues. Neighbours. 500 Facebookers. 1000 Twitterers.
    We quickly get into the territory where one in five becomes not quite so remote….however rape, sexual assult and “serious” sexual harassment is defined.
    Chances are that most men and blokes reading this know someone who has been a victim…..or will be a victim (including the girl child you read a bedtime story to last night……..20 years from now….or 40 years……long past the reach of your personal protection).
    You wouldnt let it happen. But Society might.
    Of course theres a reasonable chance that men and blokes might not even realise that they know a victim.
    But the fewer women reading this are more likely to be aware.
    Thats how it is.
    The taboo has ensured a kinda “silence”. Thats for the individual victim.
    And ensured a kinda broader spirit in Women. making ita “Womens Issue”. Yet you might feel from the statistics that it makes it an issue for Women……and Men.
    I confess I dont much care for Ken Clarke. Never have. Never will. But in a Society where Women keep the issue to themselves and Men are prepared to let them… will always get a respected QC behaving like a barrack room lawyer.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Interesting how the story is being reported here and there; one minute it’s the ‘when’s a rape not really a proper rape – Ken says….’, the next it’s on sentencing and then it’s on discounting sentences for the more considerate, confessing rapist.

    His wording is clumsy certainly but his fundamental point might have made a bit of sense if properly positioned. Not sure about Derbyshire’s interviewing technique here either; I didn’t hear the interview but having read it there’s a fine line between being firm and interjecting appropriately to contradict, summarize, skip-on and repeat where necessary on one hand and continuous mid-sentence ‘heckling-type’ interruptions on the other. This makes it very difficult for the interviewee to string a coherent bundle of words together and actually properly make their point. Interruption’s absolutely fine – essential, indeed – if they are willfully ignoring the question or just filling dead air with nonsense, it’s irritating to listen to when they’re not. It’s very obviously designed at least in part simply to provoke the interviewee.

    Somebody of Clarke’s experience should have seen the need for sensitivity on this coming a mile away though; his other issue is that what appeals to some about him is his middle Englander middle class everyman ‘hush-puppied-commonsense-uncle-in-the-pub’ tone but this can often represent itself as insensitive, unduly crass and even flippant when it comes to addressing serious matters. That works fine when you’re going head to head with the Governor of the Bank of England talking out of his rear end, slightly less so when dealing with the victim of a sexual assault.

  • A couple of years ago, when Kenneth Clarke was appointed to the Conservative front bench, Lord Tebbit suggested that he was too lazy for high office. Not many would know Kenneth Clarke better than Lord Tebbit.

    There is nothing wrong with Kenneth Clarke’s intellect but it looks very much as though he has failed to master his brief in relation to this very sensitive area of criminal law.

  • Clarke is a lawyer, barrister and QC.
    I wouldnt have thought “sensitivity” was a part of the portfolio of skills. Or maybe Ive watched too many episodes of “Crown Court” and “Rumpole of the Bailey” or just been a witness three or four times too often.
    Interesting as the transcript of the interview with Ms Derbyshire is……..a much more revealing one would be of Ken Clarke defending a defendant (a guilty one) in a rape case and see if he was hectoring or bullying the main witness.
    The evidence and the witness has to be “tested” apparently.
    Theres aschool of thought that saysa “lawyer” should head the Justice Ministry but I am of the opinion a lawyer should be barred (no pun intended) from it.

  • Nunoftheabove


    Depends what end of the prism you’re looking through; an acute awareness of the power of precision use of language would be one attribute any successful barrister ought to have in spades; willingness and ability to to use it on the other hand while in political life…another. Maybe they make for better interviewers than interviewees…better barristers than politicians…but let’s not get into Jim Allister quite this early in the day if we can possibly avoid it (please ?).

  • Rory Carr

    “Whilst at some level there are variations in the severity of rape that is not far removed from suggesting that there are variations in the severity of murder.”

    But it has long been recognised that there are “variations in the severity of murder”, Turgon, which recognition, while not reflected in the actual sentence in the UK (which is a mandatory life sentence upon conviction), has been taken into account when the minimum sentence, or tariff, has been set. I understand that there are at present plans to bring before Parliament legislation which would in fact separate murder into categories of severity, only the most severe of which would attract the present mandatory life sentence.

    The most likely effect of such legislation, bringing as it may a much more tolerant penal policy towards those who undertake mercy-killings and wives who apply the frying pan to the skulls of annoying husbands while they sleep, is likely to be an upsurge in insomnia among the married male population.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Rory Carr

    …can I just get a very brief word in there on behalf of the similarly perturbed unmarried male population too mate ?

    When it comes to certain crimes such as rape or murder, is there persusive evidence out there that either setencing policy – or the application of sentencing policy – makes much or any difference to the pattern of offending in the first place ? Or to recidivism rates ?

    “…Isn’t it true what a wife can do
    With a needle, thread and a stitch or two”

  • The Raven is the rather blue title covering some interesting comment I picked up on Twitter yesterday from a female lawyer.

  • Zig70

    For those of us that are parents, the real message is that kids drink too much, send dodgy photo’s, post things on the internet, and are more promiscious than we were. Young girls sometimes cry rape when faced with angry parents or ugly partners. My own opinion is old fashioned. It is the blokes job to know before he has knowledge. Hopefully in 5 years time I will still know how to crack pc passwords, dump phone contents and look my kids in the eye and see the truth behind. More than likely I’ll just be a gullible parent.

  • joeCanuck

    I have just heard a BBC reporter say on BBC World News that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with a serious sexual crime. Does she need to be reprimanded?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Clarke: No it’s not, and if an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she’s perfectly willing, that is rape. That’s ’cause she’s underage, can’t consent”

    And yet my 13 year old daughter can give “informed consent” for the cervical cancer vaccine, despite whether I, as her mother agree to this invasion or not.

  • Rory Carr

    I am not quite sure where you are going with the above argument, Pigeon Toes. You seem to be opposed to your daughter having the legal right to consent to the cervical cancer vaccine and would that you and her mother, as parents, could override that consent. The state here, in its wisdom has taken away parental authority in order that the child’s health may not be endangered by the religious zealotry of its parents.

    In the matter of sexual relations the age of consent for sexual intercourse lies with the individual but is raised to an age deemed compatible with informed consent and consent does not at any stage lie with the parent as the age limit in some religions and cultures is at great variance with the legal and social norms of prevailing society. This seems to me to be reasonable and protective of the child in both matters.

    Would you care to comment further?

  • slappymcgroundout

    “And yet my 13 year old daughter can give “informed consent” for the cervical cancer vaccine, despite whether I, as her mother agree to this invasion or not.”

    Don’t mind Rory, as he hasn’t bothered to read the legislative history. Your 13 year old, who will be the father? Some other minor without a job and so no means of paying child support and so the state will have to pickup the tab? Compared to that, the vaccine is cheap. And that’s why your 13 year old can consent to one and not the other.


    An HPV infection rarely leads to cervical cancer. In most women infected with HPV, the cells in the cervix return to normal after the body’s immune system destroys the HPV infection without the woman ever having any signs or symptoms of the HPV.

    Oh, and Rory, men are infected with HPV as well. Why are we not getting penile or some other cancer? I was not aware that the viruses that cause the common cold, the flu, polio, ebola, etc. discriminated based on gender. Consider:

    Why isn’t there an HPV test for men?

    The diseases that HPV causes in women do not happen in men. So the test results will not be helpful for a man.

    If only the various and sundry viruses that cause the common cold, the flu, polio, ebola, etc., worked that way. Oh, the joy to be a man. One of these days someone will ask the obvious question, to wit, a human cell is usually a human cell, so how in Deity’s name does the one gender get cancer while the other does not?

    Not actually true, the facts are:

    About 1% of sexually active men in the U.S. have genital warts at any one time.

    Each year in the U.S. there are about:

    800 men who get HPV-related penile cancer
    1100 men who get HPV-related anal cancer
    5700 men who get HPV-related head and neck cancers. [Note: although HPV is associated with some of head and neck cancers, most of these cancers are related to smoking and heavy drinking.]

    Lastly, Rory, the best correlation with cervical cancer is poverty. 80% of all cervical cancer is outside of the “developed world”.

    Sorry, almost forgot, but the vaccine is good for ages 9-26. Yet the average woman is 48 years old when diagnosed with cervical cancer. How does that work? It defies everything we know about humans and the human immune system.

    Consider as well:

    “[C]arcinogens may be primary inducers of abnormal cell proliferation rather than HPV [Human papillomavirus].” “Since proliferating cells [cancer cells dividing wildly] would be more susceptible to infection than resting cells, the viruses would just be indicators rather than causes of abnormal proliferation.”

    “no set of viral genes is consistently present or expressed in human cervical cancers. [345] S HPV does not replicate in the cancer cells. ”

    “Recently the alarm bells have been ringing about the risks of dying from cervical cancer. But HPV, the virus that is blamed for this disease is very common and can be found in about 80% of both men and women. Most of us have had, at one time or another, the HPV virus but most of us do not suffer or die from cervical cancer. In fact, only one percent of women do develop cervical cancer with the year 2000 figures on the mortality rates for cervical cancer being 3.3 women per 100,000 population in the US and 4 women per 100,000 population in Australia. In Australia there are about 740 cases of cervical cancer each year and around 270 deaths from the disease. Mortality rates generally increase with age with the highest number of deaths occurring in the 75-79 age group. Less than 6 per cent of cervical cancer deaths occur in women under 35 years of age.

    The US national cancer institute says that direct causation has not been proven. In a controlled study of age-matched women, 67% of those with cervical cancer and 43% of those without were found to be HPV-positive. These cancers are observed on average only 20-50 years after infection.”

    Yes, direct causation has NEVER been shown. In other words, in terms that a scientist can understand, the etiology is not known. Once was, back in the day, that the truth was, if you didn’t etiology, you didn’t know jack.

    Leading to:

    So with cervical cancer causing about one percent of all cancer deaths in women and with the causation in doubt, not to mention the lack of safety displayed by the vaccine trials we need to ask why parents are being urged to get their young daughters vaccinated with Gardasil.

    The obvious answer it that there is much hanging on the success of Gardasil. It is predicted that Gardasil could be Merck’s most important money earner, with expected sales of at least $2 billion.This is revenue that Merck badly needs after the Vioxx scandal. To achieve this success Gardasil will be required for school admittance.

    How can we remain silent on the issue of Gardasil?

  • Pigeon Toes


    The vaccine is recommended for 12 year old girls. It protects against the HPV virus which can lead to cervical cancer inn some instances and is usually sexually transmitted.

    The vaccine protection is expected to last a minimum of 4.5 years.

    By the time my daughter is old enough thus to legally consent to sex, the protection may only be effective for 6 months, and in Northern Ireland would have lapsed by 6 months.

    Why are 12 year old boys not being vaccinated, to prevent the spread of this virus?

    If we acknowledge that the vaccine is given because our children are sexually active, then we must also acknowledge that either the age is of consent is fundamentally flawed or. there is a frightening amount of statutory rape which also needs to be addressed.

    If my child is not old enough to require the cover of the vaccine, because legally she would not be allowed to consent to the activity that leads to said infection, then I don’t see how in this instance my authority as a parent can be over ruled.

    BTW Rory it has nothing to do with any religious beliefs. I am however dismayed that we are not reinforcing “safe sex”message, because as far as I know this vaccine does not protect against other sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.

    Then again, I’m only her mother

  • Nunoftheabove

    Pigeon Toes

    Is your issue with the teenage having of the sex or purely with the safety of the sex that teenagers will, for the most part, inevitably enage in anyway ?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Actually my issue is about the safety and relevance of the vaccine.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Pigeon Toes

    If that’s your only issue then leave the teenage sex – consensual or otherwise, under-age or not – out of it as it’s clouding your argument. The vaccine’s not particularly relevant to the thread either, in fairness.

  • Pigeon Toes

    It is relevant in terms of statutory rape which is a criminal offence, yet the government through the introduction of a mass vaccination programme for 12 year old children seem to have accepted that these same children are engaging in consensual sex.
    The Gillick test does not come into question here.

    That’s a pretty mixed message.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Is it accepting that they commmonly are or that this is a sensible risk precaution to take given the evidence of under-age sex and assuming that there is some medical rationale for it in light of that ?