For sex, first sign on the dotted line

The U.K. intends to strengthen rape laws. Are they going too far?

Published October 16, 2006 8:39PM (EDT)

A proposal to tighten rape laws in the U.K. attempts to codify the sometimes nebulous territory of drunken exploits, allowing a jury to deem a woman's intoxicated consent to sex as meaningless, according to Asian News International. The recent push among legislators is clearly well-intentioned, but it isn't a clear slam dunk for women's rights; in fact, some argue it would seriously erode men's rights.

Solicitor General Mike O'Brien argues that the current law needs to be amended to allow prosecutors to successfully convict rapists who purposefully get women drunk before attacking them. "The issue becomes particularly difficult when there is alcohol involved," O'Brien said. "What we have to do is to find ways of ensuring that when a rape occurs, the rapist is convicted, but that we don't create miscarriages of justice." Understandably, that's exactly what critics are afraid will happen.

Currently, a woman is considered incapable of consent only if she is unconscious. That seems an inadequate formula, but, according to ANI, the new proposal could go as far as to declare an intoxicated woman incapable of meaningful consent, period. It's unclear how that precept would be applied to men. For instance: Would an intoxicated man be considered capable of consenting to sex with a sober woman?

George McAuley, chairman of the U.K. Men's Movement, imagines men having to obtain a signed contract of consent before having sex (an idea parodied here) or cataloguing video proof of their partners' explicit consent. "Radical feminists within the Labour party have made consensual heterosexual sex a dangerous minefield. The changes in legislation will increase the number of innocent men convicted of rape," McAuley said. "It means men will have to get a consent form signed, dated and countersigned in triplicate before they make love. This legislation is deliberately designed to put more men behind bars."

I'm skeptical that U.K. feminists -- even of the most radical stripe -- are driven by a desire to jail innocent men. But there is a question over whether this proposal might have that unintended result. Of course, without seeing the finalized proposal, it's hard to know exactly how far the legalese will be taken. The fact that only one in 19 men were convicted for the 14,449 rape allegations in the U.K. last year should sound a shocking alarm bell. But there's plenty of room for a response that doesn't jeopardize men's rights as well.

This post has been corrected since it was originally published.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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