Does the Domestic Abuse Bill signal a change to ‘patriarchal’ rape laws?

Feb 28, 2021

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Solicitor Advocate Syvil Lloyd Morris, co-founder of Bastian Lloyd Morris Associates, assesses the current law that means women cannot be convicted alone of rape.

I ADMIT to the fact that the timing of this article has a tinge of dramatic irony about it, falling so contingent as it does to International Women’s Day (March 8) and National Justice Week, which begins on March 5. 

The subject of such irony? The fact that, in the UK, a woman cannot be convicted of raping either a man or another woman, except as an “aider and abettor” in a joint enterprise. This is because of how the offence of rape is defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. 

Syvil Lloyd Morris

Essentially women, as a matter of law, do not have the necessary “biological parts” to commit the offence. Put more pompously, if not more elegantly, the 2003 Act makes non-consensual penile penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth the main element of the offence. 

Legal academics describe this approach as being “phallo-centric” or “phallo-genic”. This is not an example of the law being “chivalrous”, however. It is an example of the law being patriarchal. 

Women can, of course, sexually assault men and also other women. A quick survey of the year to date’s ‘red top’ newspapers will confirm this. And the hapless victims of those female perpetrators may well define their experiences – morally at least – in terms of having been ‘raped’.

Think of the situation where a man, against his will, has been forced, coerced or compelled by a woman to engage in penetrative sexual intercourse with her. 

Does it matter that their female assailants cannot legally be prosecuted for rape? The short answer is “Probably” because the maximum sentence for rape is life whereas the maximum sentence for sexual assault is ten years. 

There is, in fact, a specific offence of ‘sexual assault by penetration’, which can be committed by both men and women. That offence also carries a life sentence but it is separate and distinct to the offence of rape. 

And it does not help men who feel as though they have been raped but cannot have the moral or psychological satisfaction of knowing that  their assailant has been convicted of rape.

Indeed, there are some popular – if wholly misconceived – myths around the issue of women sexually assaulting men, the worst being that such assaults are “less serious” or somehow “more welcomed” by the victim.

This discriminatory stereotype is aided and abetted by the one about the testosterone-filled male, who is “always up for it”.

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All of this pontificating brings me to the rather odd case of the female college professor of ethics, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 30-year-old man with learning disabilities who “had the mental capacity of a toddler” and was non-verbal. 

Married with two children, the professor had “fallen in love” with her victim while “treating” him with a controversial communication method called ‘facilitated communication’. To form a mental picture of the method, think Ouija boards spelling out messages. A prosecution expert described the method as an example of “pseudo-science” and “anti-science”.

In 2015 the professor received a 12-year prison sentence, although she has been recently released. 

The other curious case is the one about a lesbian woman who in 2015 was convicted of three counts of sexual assault by penetration.

Described as “an imaginative, inventive and accomplished liar”, she had somehow hoodwinked her impressionable victim into always wearing a blindfold for dates (which included visits to the cinema), as well as for any sexual activity. 

One of the sensational highlights of the trial, was Defence Counsel dramatically parading a large pink strap-on prosthetic before the jury, apparently in an attempt to argue that the unfortunate victim must have realised that her amorous liaisons  were not with a real man. 

The jury was not impressed. Neither was the judge. Eight years custody, ‘don’t pass go’.

Let’s leave the last word to the victim of our “accomplished liar”. In a victim impact’ statement she eloquently wrote “You raped my life, my heart and my soul”. 

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which is wending its way through Parliament, includes sexual abuse in the definition of domestic violence. This makes it clear that sexual abuse may be perpetrated by women as well as by men. 

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