Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sweet FA

Still stuck in the depths of essay misery I have resorted to listening to radio one to make the day go faster. It made me smile to hear about Minnie Crutwell who has enlisted Tessa Jowell’s help in petitioning the Football Association about rules that ban mixed sex teams after the age of 12. I remember the same issue filling me and my friends with fury at first and middle school and in fact we had an enthusiastic trainee teacher who set up a girls’ football team which I loved playing in. Without him we would not have been able to continue playing.

The argument for this rule is one of physical strength – at 12 it is assumed girls are no longer strong enough to compete alongside boys. I was interested to read that England has the most restrictive gender division in the sport in Europe. It goes without saying that although women’s football is a growing sport it does not receive anywhere near the same recognition as the male side of the sport. It may be argued that dividing teams along gender lines at an early age prevents women’s football being viewed as inferior if women at a later age join a single sex team. However my experience of the sport was that, although theoretically I could play in a women only team, the number of these teams is limited. A passionate teacher helped us out at middle school but there was no such opportunity once I reached high school. The rule does seem unduly restrictive with an unconvincing justification, but I see little prospect of it being changed, if for no other reason than it hasn’t changed since I was playing football 11 years ago.
When speaking to my cousins (aged 7 and 9) recently I discovered that even at primary school they are not allowed the opportunity to play football in P.E. The boys play games and the girls do physical education. The situation was the same when I was at school, although on request (and I did request) girls could play with the boys. If you did not ask though you were consigned to mindless exercises involving from what I can remember bean bags and hula hoops. I am amazed that these gender divisions in sport persist even at such a young age, but also pleased that girls continue to fight against the odds to attain equality in a system which tries its hardest to divide.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Drunken consent ...

I have been writing an essay on copyright protection on the internet which has filled me with a passionate hatred of the place and following on from that a reluctance to blog. However the news today was so interesting that I just couldn’t resist.

I woke up to much discussion of the rape law on radio 4 this morning. In November a High Court ruling received extensive media attention as the headlines screamed “drunken consent is still consent”. In this case the woman in question had passed out in a corridor and could not recall whether she had consented. The offence of rape as it currently stands (Sexual Offences Act 2003) requires that the offender intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with his penis, that the victim does not consent and that the offender does not reasonably believe the victim consents. A person is said to consent if they agree by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. As I see it this raises a couple of questions in relation to this case. Firstly ‘agree by choice’ implies activity rather than passivity – is it possible to consent by not disagreeing? Secondly, what state of inebriety is required before the individual is said to lack capacity to make the choice? If the victim is ‘stupified or overpowered’ i.e. unconscious there is a rebuttable presumption that they did not consent. However there are degrees of drunkenness and this is an area of law fraught with problems.

I find myself torn between two positions. Firstly in this High Court case it seemed there was genuine, reasonable doubt about whether consent was given and I firmly believe in a legal system that does not convict where there is reasonable doubt about whether the defendant was guilty of the crime. As the claimant introduced doubts and uncertainties in her evidence I feel that the right decision was probably made (although I must note I have only read newspaper reports of the case). However the infamous direction to the jury that ‘drunken consent is still consent’ seems suspect. There surely must reach a point where drunken consent is not valid consent. I was discussing this with someone earlier today who suggested that levels of drunkenness should be taken into consideration. Therefore where a victim was extremely drunk and the defendant sober it should lean towards a finding of no consent, and alternatively where both were equally drunk it should lean towards a finding of consent. I feel that there is something lacking in this solution, and the person who suggested it agreed that it did little to address the problem.

Thus it was interesting to hear that the government is initiating an awareness raising campaign informing men that they must ensure a woman has consented to sex. It is great to see that the government recognises there is a problem but nevertheless worrying that we live in a country where men may not realise that if they have sex with a woman without consent it will be rape. The new law made a valiant effort to rectify this and the requirements for consent with capacity seem on paper to be a great step forward, but this is not being put into practice. Conviction rates for rape are appalling and it seems there is still much to be done, socially and in the law, before any change to this will occur. This area is so complex and problematic that a brief advertising campaign will do little to change the situation and seems perhaps to be merely a token gesture. Rape itself and rape trials run to the heart of the misogynistic or patriarchal attitudes that still subsist in our society and the solution to this problem seems far from clear.