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‘Rape’: The Weaponisation of a Word

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Painstakingly described in a 2000 book, A Natural History of Rape, by Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, the definition of the word 'rape' had even by then been through quite a few epochal transformations.

The classical meaning was to desecrate another's property, i.e. the rape and pillage of Viking legend, where the invading Scandinavians would take whatever they could from the spoils of their efforts, including the womenfolk. The perpetual fear of immigrants might well have its roots in the cultural memory of this sort of event, though replacing the tall Aryan blondes of yore with the shorter 'People of the East' version of early 21st Century anxiety.

It was the 20th Century, though, in which etymologists, linguists and semanticists became increasingly exercised about the possible weaponisation of words: if you want to control something, you need to first define it. Then, it becomes easier to market, to a certain part of the available population.

In the 1950s and 60s intellectuals with an interest in language such as Noam Chomsky and Simone De Beauvoir interpreted how we construct our genetic or sexual identity with word. This rigour was passed on to more radical thinkers such as Susan Sontag and Germaine Greer in the 1970s. It was the latter three's preoccupation with the patriarchy as a system of negative power that led to the third-wave feminism of the era, including social wins such as the Roe vs Wade US abortion case in 1973.

Feminism and lesbianism were very much intertwined at this time, including a certain bunker mentality that such positions can entail, and the legend 'All men are rapists' was born, first penned by radical gender feminist Marilyn French.

This was all the spur that the Men's Rights movement needed to assert its opposition to such thinking, and the 1980s and 1990s progressed in something of a cultural rough and tumble, through Madonna, the gnarly independent assertion of Grrrl Power, the Girl Power of the Spice Girls, the martyrdom of Princess Diana, and to a degree culminating in the Year Zero of the burgeoning Internet/turn of the millennium.

With the instant dissemination of message and information, and the Facebook-enabled balkanisation of a myriad interest groups, the traditionally egregious and totally destructive crime of rape, second only to murder, began to mean whatever seven billion voices felt it meant to them. Agreed terms were flung onto a bonfire of algorithms, and media story after media story was exploited as an opportunity to attempt to make the 'All men are rapists' label true, with the aim of gradual revolution to female-dominated legislative power.

Sex-power relationships were toxified by the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal of the late 1990s, leading to a procession of celebrity scalps being hurled from the Hollywood hills onto Sunset Boulevard. Woody Allen was demonised for falling in love with his adopted stepdaughter, Harvey Weinstein was jailed for 23 years for allowing unprofessional massages to become exploitative behaviour, and billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead before standing trial for a second time for grossly expanding the boundaries of work experience.

And, that's just the Jews. Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby and R Kelly were all defenestrated from the 'privileged black entertainer' window, having allegedly over-tested the limits of consent laws, cushioned by an ever-ballooning compensation industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the UK, the tabloid press diarised a heartbroken nation as its 70s celebrities such as Gary Glitter, Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall, and more, were exposed as entertainers abusing their positions in pop culture, with the latter two strenuously maintaining their innocence. These arrests kicked off the disastrous Operation Midland, supported by the 'believe the victims' policy in court trials, ending the innocent until proven guilty principle (and designed by future Labour leader/UK gender feminist in chief Keir Starmer).

This was later abandoned after a slew of miscarriages of justice and failures of disclosure by the police, highlighted by the guilty verdict of fantasist Carl 'Nick' Beech, and the last-minute discovery of 40,000 exculpatory text messages in the Liam Allan scandal, a young law student charged with twelve counts of rape by an embittered ex with mental health problems.

These high profile cases hid the fact that in 2002 there were approximately 12,000 rapes recorded by police in the UK, rising to 70,000 in 2021. It's a well-known rule of journalese that if you can somehow include the word 'rape' in a report, this will effectively quadruple an article's readership. When keeping your job in a target-driven industry like news reporting depends on readership targets, it behoves the diligent hack to get as many salacious keyword into their articles as possible: and 'rape' is the doozy.

From that once extremely rare and catastrophic act of violent reappropriation of 'property’ (is this because women were seen as property?) the term rape, far from being 'decriminalised' (as ex-Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird incessantly put it), has actually been democratised into including marital, statutory, acquaintance, date, friend, stranger and digital into its dizzying spectrum of contested consent situations. Proven 'Enthusiastic Consent', imported from North American academies, is being talked about being introduced as a necessary factor in another wheeze to get the conviction numbers up.

8 out of 10 complaints involve parties known to each other. There are three categories before becoming boring old sexual assault, but ex-Father of the House Kenneth Clarke MP was unpersonned for a while after a pile-on on Twitter for suggesting that not all alleged rapes might be as serious as each other (Germaine Greer agreed with him).

Even the term 'rapist' is problematic, as this implies a repeat pattern of deliberate behaviour. But, by and large the alleged rapes reported involving premiership football players (for example) are post-club alcohol-based misunderstandings and misadventures.

There is an instinct to assume that if someone gets convicted they surely 'did it', but the bar has been set lower and lower as pressure groups such as Rape Crisis successfully and tirelessly lobby for wider and wider expansion of the law.

This began with New Labour's massive expansion of sex laws in 2003, adding one new law for every day they were in office, and as the radical gender activists (of both sexes) became heads of media, justice and academia, they tightened the screws on the language we are required to increasingly use.

Now, the industrialisation of the term 'rape' ensures that the attempts of new Directors of Public Prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service to return the tsunami of media-inflamed reports to something like a pre-2016 norm are themselves demonised by the new academic activists.

This for what used to be seen as the perpetrators of a very serious crime, but who have become known as the new car stereo thieves or weed dealers of the prison estate, with one-fifth of prisoners being people convicted of a sexual offence (pcoso). Those, thus, imprisoned don't generally have co-morbid criminal behaviours; prison is a very strange place for them to be, totally disorientating, and of course depressing.

This mass media democratisation of the word rape has led to a hyper-vigilance amongst the population over a term that was very rarely uttered before the 1980s, in the way that the term 'seksualforbryder' is forbidden in Norway, being as it is on a par with the N-word in English in terms of the unsayable.

So the meaning has changed, expanded, and common sense is trying to return the meaning of the word to a more specialised place, reserved for very serious, planned, violent attacks: the unacceptable, not every regretted one-night stand every time there's a hot story in the media.

By Sean Bw Parker

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