DSK: The Great Divider

Everyone has something to say about DSK's visit to Cambridge. But why do we insist on being so offensive towards each other?

First, I want to thank the feminazi protesters who attempted to illegally enter the Union last night, but settled for spoiling the evening with hours of mindless, shouty chanting.  Next, I want to thank the brave souls who shredded the placard of the one protester who had the nerve to see things differently. And finally, a massive thank you to the rape-apologist misogynists who, ignoring the feelings of the many victims of sexual assault, chose to invite, listen to, and legitimise a man who walks free purely on the basis of legal technicality. Thank you for playing your part in a culture where women’s voices are silenced by powerful men like DSK.

The strangest thing about the ongoing DSK debate is that both sides actually have very reasonable positions, but seem determined to see each other as scum. Students on both sides have described their opponents with almost wilful misunderstanding. They’ve labelled each other as rape apologists, wanktivists, Marxists, sexists, bleeding hearts, heartless bastards… the list goes on.

Nobody’s sitting on the fence in the DSK debate

Claiming that the people who invited DSK to speak are rape apologists is unbelievably offensive, but it is no worse than suggesting that protesters (some of whom have experienced sexual abuse) should stop getting their knickers in a twist. The subject of this debate may be offensive, but this doesn’t mean that we should feel the need to argue in an offensive manner. It would be naive to argue that the issues surrounding DSK’s visit to the Union are black and white, and yet everyone seems to have opted for simple-minded ‘pick a side’ mentality.

Whatever happened to respectful disagreement and polite debate?

However much you love free speech, you should make an effort to protect those who may find it deeply offensive and upsetting. However much you hate the patriarchy, you should hesitate before accusing individuals of complicity in rape culture, or of courting controversy at the victims’ expense. Instead of painting ourselves into opposing ideological corners, we should have used DSK’s visit as an opportunity to engage in meaningful debate.

Everyone has been so busy doing their jobs – some people very well – that they have forgotten to communicate with each other. The Union booked a speaker who many people were interested in seeing. The CUSU Women’s Officer (along with many like-minded supporters) objected, and helped to raise awareness about the wider problems of rape within our society. The Union maintained moral neutrality, and the protesters spoke out against injustice.

All of these reactions have done some good. If it wasn’t for the combined actions of the Union and the protesters, how many students would be familiar with the details of the Nafissatou Diallo case? How many would be aware of the shockingly low rates of rape conviction?

I only hope that the next time something like this happens, we can achieve as much without villifying those who see things differently to us.

  • Stealer's Wheel

    Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…

  • Polite Debater

    Could someone clarify to me exactly what statistic is being discussed when people mention the "shockingly low rape conviction rate"? Is it number of convictions per case that makes it to court, per arrest, per victim who comes forward?

    Also how does the sampling for this statistic account for false positives (unjust convictions), false negatives (when a rapist gets off scot free) and the reporting bias (victims may be reluctant to come forward, or indeed some may make false allegations)?

    To my mind, for the rape conviction rate to be a valid point of discussion in this context, it would have to be defined as the quotient "men convicted of rape"/"men who have committed rape". But the problem is, unless you know, factually, with absolute certainty, which men have and have not committed rape, there are going to be some massive error bars on the denominator.

    To sum up, and to illustrate my point, consider a situation where 5% of all men who were tried for rape are convicted. Naively one could suggest that this is a very low rate, but if some omniscient power (NB none of the parties in this discussion are omniscient powers, I feel it's important to reiterate that…) informed you that only 5.5% of all defendants in cases of rape actually committed the crime they are on trial for, you would say that a 90% conviction rate of the guilty is pretty damned good. In the absence of omniscient powers, can we really say with confidence that the rape conviction rate is "shockingly low", or indeed that it isn't?

    • British Crime Survey

      The 2006-07 British Crime Survey reports that 1 in every 200 women suffered from rape in that period – in a year.

      It also showed that only 800 people were convicted of rape crimes that same year, meaning that less than 1 in every 100 rape survivors were able to convict their attacker.

      The survey is the main one used for crime by the UK authorities, and is very thorough. If you're interested in the many, many ways that the surveyors try to eliminate over- and under-reporting of crimes, look at the technical document available online at the British Crime Survey (Home Office) webpage.

    • Figures

      The oft quoted "shockingly low rape conviction rate" is 6% of reported rapes result in someone being prosecuted for rape. Interestingly, most crime conviction rates are calculated using the ratio of cases brought to trial vs number of convictions. When calculated in this way, the rape conviction rate rises to 58%.

      Source: http://fullfact.org/blog/rape_conviction%20rate_s

      • context

        "The attrition rate figure has been the cause of considerable concern, and attempts to reduce it are behind many of the reforms that have been introduced in recent years."

        why might the attrition rate and its reduction be of considerable concern? perhaps because lots of people, including notorious diehard feminist, Ken Clarke, accept that there are considerable and unusual barriers (social and cultural but legal and institutional as well) to rape survivors who seek to further a prosecution.

    • British Crime Survey

      The 2006-07 British Crime Survey reports that 1 in every 200 women suffered from rape in that period – in a year.

      It also showed that only 800 people were convicted of rape crimes that same year, meaning that less than 1 in every 100 rape survivors were able to convict their attacker.

      The British Crime Survey is main source of information on crime used by the UK authorities. If you want more information on the very, very thorough methods they use to prevent over- or under-reporting, I suggest you visit the British Crime Survey (Home Office) webpage.

      • Jen

        Even if these figures are correct, your analysis is flawed. Rape is often under-reported to the police. If people don't report the crime, how can they expect it to be prosecuted? It's analogous to the argument that Cambridge doesn't admit enough state school pupils, when the problem is actually that Cambridge can't admit people who don't apply.

        • Not exactly

          That's why people talk about 'rape culture'. It's not specifically a problem with the justice system but with the whole culture that surrounds victims of rape both before and after they report a crime (if they do at all).

          • Confused

            I agree that the culture needs to change, I think the focus on conviction rates isn't the way to go about it though. Obviously it's often going to be hard to convict rapists, it's often a case of your-word-against-mine, and the only way to get all the rapists would be to also convict a lot of innocent people.

            The feeling of a rapist walking free is, I'm sure, almost unbearable for the victim, but innocent people being charged is also terrible – people have been ostracised from their communities, attacked, even killed, based on false accusations of rape. We need a cultural shift, not just a lowering of the bar when it comes to sufficient evidence of guilt.

            • Polite Debater

              Yeah, that's what I was trying to say – the rape conviction rate is not a good metric for society's attitude towards rape or for gender equality in general (if any of you saw Eigengrau at Queens' last week, a straw feminist character cited the low rape conviction rate as an example that women had not achieved equality. Wut.). I just took a very long-winded way of saying it.

              You also make a good (if unpopular in the context of this discussion) point – accusing someone of rape is a mark for life, which is why charges are not brought lightly.

  • Free Speech?

    Who hates free speech? I swear everybody likes free speech

    • Logic Friend

      Everyone professes a love of free speech.

      Some people's actions betray their real values.

    • Nah,

      I hate it. It's hard when you're always right but people keep disagreeing.

  • Cue

    psycho feminist comments

    • Mr. U. R. A. Tosser

      You obviously don't get what the article was trying to argue.

    • Alex Rosewater

      14 thumbs down and yet look what's happened. Feminazis are so predictable in their biase and irrationality.

  • Apathetic

    This is the case is a lot of political debates, where one side is quick to label the other as evil or completely stupid, and their arguments baseless.

    The people who are on the fence happen to be either less vocal, or their middle-ground arguments are not extreme enough to be noticed and perhaps don't feel the need to even bother trying.

  • What on earth..

    … is a wanktivist?

    • You know,

      A protosster, a conscientious objerktor, a rub-bell, a faptivist, a tugguerilla, a dickssident, a master debater.

      Stroking it to the man, resisting the fapscists, roughing up the Pigs (in blankets). Power to the pee-pole! 'Vive la Rubvolution!'


      (Yes I have an essay due.)

  • freedom

    I cannot see how the Union's position, which was that they are (and have to be) morally neutral on their speakers but accept peaceful protests, is equivalent to assaulting police officers whilst attempting to break in to a building.

  • ISpeakForTheStudents

    I don't agree, Leo.

    If anyone would come up to you and say: "The earth is flat, right?" you wouldn't try to have a meaningful dialogue, right? That'd just be silly, because we KNOW for a FACT that the earth is not flat.

    The same principle follows for people who disagree with my friends and I. The correct course of action for me to take isn't to say that they are wrong and try to argue with them, the only thing I am to do is to punch them in the face and shout "rape apologist" at them until they get tinnitus.

    • smu

      The very idea of free speech guarantees (IMHO) that someone who states that the Earth is flat ought not to be as you put it "punched in the face until they get tinnitus". Rather than that, the onus of proof stays with him, i.e. he has to provide evidence to support his claim, which happens to be contrary to common opinion, which obviously would be rather hard.

      What we know for a fact, is a fact only inasmuch, as the evidence supports it.
      So while you might consider the testimony of his alleged victim sufficient to be sure of his guilt, I think it is inappropriate to try to impose that view on the Union Society, which has to remain neutral, especially that Mr DSK, technically is a free and innocent man.

      • oh gad

        it's ironic mate. though the fact that you didn't get it, despite agreeing with his underlying message, suggests that the joke isn't very funny aymore

        • Oh yes


    • Jokes..

      This tired parody shit is getting really boring now..

      • Fail

        The thumbs are telling you otherwise.

    • umm,

      you don't speak for me.

  • but

    giving a platform to a rich and powerful man who has admitted sexual assault is not maintaining moral neutrality

    • Yes

      It is

    • Really?

      Neutrality would mean giving a platform to anyone that Union members want to listen to, regardless of any other factors. Removing a platform because of unproven allegations, or even a criminal conviction, would not be neutral, but would be discriminatory.

    • Tristram

      Hello. This is the first time I've commented on the Tab.

      I'd like to know: has DSK admitted to commiting a sexual assualt on anyone? If so, when? I'm not saying your comment is wrong, but I had been under the impression that in New York v. Strauss-Kahn he admitted to consensual sexual acts with Diallo, but denied sexual assualt.

      I know he has been involved in other controversies and scandals in the past – was it in one of these other occasions that he admitted to commiting an act of sexual assault?

  • Seriously…

    "Whatever happened to respectful disagreement and polite debate?"

    Try using them next time you're being raped. They're not enough then, and they're not enough when people want the issue of rape to be given the attention it deserves.

    • Also seriously

      I'm not entirely sure that's the context in which he was suggesting that one uses polite debate.

      I also think it's possible that conflating talking about rape with being raped might be marginally fallacious.

  • RDGB

    "Thank you for playing your part in a culture where women’s voices are silenced by powerful men like DSK."

    The protest yesterday evening followed a conversation that afternoon between Cath Elliott, journalist and women's rights activist, and Douglas Wigdor, Nafissatou Diallo’s attorney. The CUSU organised for Douglas Wigdor to fly out to Cambridge especially for the event. Both speakers spoke not only on DSK, but more generally on the significance of International Women's Day and laws to do with sexual abuse. It was an open event, free to all, attended by international media including German and French media. Questions were opened to the floor, and a constructive, informative and insightful discussion about safeguarding women's rights and challenging misogynistic cultures ensued.

    Your article mentions nothing of this.

    Thank you for taking part in a culture where women's voices are silenced by powerful men like DSK.

    • Fail

      Yeah, I believe he's referring to The Union there…

    • Superfail

      Love how you've decided what's missing in the article and then write that last sentence like it's a logical conclusion. Some people's lack of brains astounds me.

    • LPR

      Dear RDGB,

      I'm not sure if you understand that that was directed at the Union, but either way your comment is a lovely example of the insulting nonsense that inspired this article.

      I didn't know about Cath Elliott, though I had heard that Douglas Wigdor was speaking. I wasn't (to my knowledge) invited to this event, but I'm very glad that it happened. As you'd be able to work out, if you read my article and are not stupid. I wrote about the valuable contribution the protest campaign had made in raising awareness about rape and conviction rates.

      And yet your conclusion is that I'm taking part in a culture where women's voices are silenced?

      I'm sure it's very easy for idiots like you to 'debate' when everyone agrees with you. Why not try doing it with those involved in the Union (or their supporters) who were trying to defend free speech, a neutral platform, the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' or whatever other motivations they may have had. Try doing that without just offensively (and inaccurately) calling them controversy-courting rape apologists.

      I'm sure you felt very witty quoting my article back at me, completely missing the point, that I was objecting to the insulting way in which statements like that were made. Have a big thumbs up, and go fuck yourself.

      Best wishes,
      Leo Parker-Rees

  • Cranberry Juice

    helps with periods… Maybe they should hand some out outside the Union.

    • HA!


    • nooo

      cranberry juice helps with CYSTITIS. the other woman-bits thing. confusing isn't it?

      • that comment

        is a casual but good example of why the terms of this debate are unequal. Feminist views reduced to supposedly biologically-induced irrationality for lolz. an extreme, but you rarely see it happen the other way round.

        • Except

          That that's not true is it? The number of times I've heard men's views attributed to testosterone/thinking with their penis/innate male competition/aggressiveness is uncountable. Both are harmful. Both should stop. Pretending that only one exists helps noone.

        • Bollocks!

          Men are often blamed for being testosterone-driven, but we just get over it and get on with life.

        • why are

          women always moaning?

          • I asked the same

            about your mother

  • "Feminazi"?

    Whatever happened to respectful disagreement and polite debate?

    • *Sigh*

      You've missed the point of the opening paragraph: bundle all the insults each side used into one block so it's painfully obvious just how ridiculous it all was.

      • So I did.

        Sorry. Bit jaded recently. It's a nice change.

  • Great Article

    … except for 'villifying'. That was less great.

    • http://img.tfd.com/dorland/villus_villi-intestinales.jpg Activist

      This is what they turned us into.

  • Gandhi

    Leo Parker-Rees, my friend. Don't waste words on people with no ears. Instead, wear underwear on your face and parade around town in a thong–you'll get the attention you need like that.

  • Union Member

    But the Union is a private club – CUSU (or anyone else) has no justification for attempting to intervene in our speakers agenda. If it's Union members complaining who we've invited, fair enough, but change it by getting a position on the committee, not trying to disrupt what they're doing. But if you're going to be offended by a speaker, then don't go!

    On a side note, if CUSU have actually paid for people to fly to Cambridge to speak about it, they waste even more of our money than I thought.

    • They…

      … didn't pay for flights.

  • Nica article…

    Leo, but as someone has already mentioned, there was a very reasonable discussion at the law faculty earlier that day. For some reason every time there's a protest students seem to feel the need to re-enact the poll-tax riots. The ripping up of the free-speech placard and generally appalling behaviour of the protesters actually went someway to undermine a hugely important issue, allowing those who took the time to show their anger to be the butt of the usual feminist backlash jokes. It is the people making those comments (see various poor taste period gags above) who need to be convinced that the rape culture is damaging, and while anger is the only emotion that any reasonable person can come to, we need to engage in reasoned debate to help change things for the better.

    • Logic Friend


  • Man

    "[E]veryone seems to have opted for simple-minded ‘pick a side’ mentality.
    Whatever happened to respectful disagreement and polite debate?"

    Were you at the meeting outside the Union where a number of assembled students came and related their stories of sexual abuse? That was an extraordinary moment of exchange, sharing, bravery, and anger. As it turns out, it is very hard to have a 'polite debate' with a male who does not really know what women have to face, and the extraordinary prevalence of sexual abuse (of people of all genders).

    I'm sure you mean well, but I would recommend actually talking to people (perhaps you have, I don't know) who have experienced sexual abuse–you will then understand what they mean by 'rape apologism', and the offence and distress that it can cause. I also recommend this article, responding to Phil Sheppard's piece in TCS. http://thegreatunrest.net/2012/03/08/we-should-no

    • Woman

      "As it turns out, it is very hard to have a 'polite debate' with a male who does not really know what women have to face"

      Try harder then. Or, you know, just rip up opposing placards and do criminal damage to the Union fence, wasting thousands of pounds by necessitating a prolonged police presence. Either or, really.

  • Thank you…

    …for this article, Leo. Pretty much what I've been thinking – I agree with the Union for inviting DSK and letting him speak, but there were important arguments against it and it's a good thing they were raised by various parties. The issue, with feminism as with so many other movements, is that the least informed/most opinionated and closed-minded few are always by far the loudest and detract attention from the real issue in hand (the fact that rape victims are often ignored/ridiculed in testimony etc).

  • LPR

    I want him in my cleavage.

  • Wasn't he

    found not guilty?

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