The discussion around issues related to rape is now so rife with intellectual bigotry and dishonesty that it is hard to know where to begin dissecting it. It is no underestimation to say that a portion of those contributing to this debate are engaged in a wilful distortion of the truth and a cowardly drive to close down any challenge to their false consensus.
This was evident last month, following the London School of Economics’ decision to host a debate titled ‘Is Rape Different?’. I attended, along with over 300 others. Speaking at the debate was Helen Reece, an academic at the LSE and author of the important article ‘Rape myths: is elite opinion right and public opinion wrong?’. Reece appeared alongside barrister and spiked contributor Barbara Hewson, Crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal, and City Law School professor Jennifer Temkin.
The debate has since provoked predictable ‘there is no debate!’ uproar from people with nothing better to do on Twitter. But such is the hysteria around the discussion of rape and rape laws that the outrage of the Twittersphere has been allowed to spill into the world of academia. The journal Feminists at Law, based at Kent Law School, has launched a petition for the LSE to ‘ensure that the ideas disseminated [at the debate] do not feed dangerous stereotypes about women being responsible for the sexual violence perpetuated against them’. The petition has been signed by around 85 people. Another journal published something similar, criticising the decision of the LSE to host the debate and saying it was symptomatic of a neoliberal impact agenda in higher education.
What this reaction reveals is a desire to restrict discussion around rape. We are seeing the cult-like elevation of one inalienable ‘truth’ above all others. This ‘truth’ is that we live in an age where rape is part of everyday culture, and where those in power are doing nothing to stop it. Anyone who dares question this prevailing orthodoxy on rape is guilty of a chauvinistic heresy, attributable to their immersion in a controlling patriarchal society.
It is precisely this climate of ‘you can’t say that’ which universities have traditionally challenged in the name of robust open debate. The LSE took the admirable decision to host the debate entirely in the public realm, even publishing the discussion as a video online. In doing so, it demonstrated a commitment to the traditional role of the university in leading and promoting public discussion.