Under current law, a man is not guilty of rape as long as he honestly believes that the woman consented.
New rules introduced into Cabinet last week by Attorney General Helen McEntee mean defendants will have to show the belief was “objectively reasonable”.
The change has been welcomed by women’s rights activists, who have always argued that the current system unduly favors rapists over victims.
But in practice, how will each party be able to demonstrate what steps have or have not been taken to actively seek informed consent throughout the process? It will still end up with the old he said/she said dilemma.
While the scales have been unfairly weighed against women in rape cases for too long, a friend I spoke to also wondered if an unintended consequence would be the end of the so-called “hook-up culture” in which people engage in casual engagement Sex detached from any emotional ties.
Without wanting to sound prudish, that might not be so bad after all. If such a culture has ever worked to the advantage of women, and it is doubtful, it certainly no longer does. It also poses risks for men.
The 15-month detention of former RTÉ political journalist Mícheál Ó Leidhin after he was found guilty of caressing the breasts of a sleeping woman in his bed, with whom he previously had consensual but limited sexual activity, is complex.
The 38-year-old lost his job and is now on the sex offenders’ register for behavior that many men, but also women, have committed at some point in their lives without feeling like predators.
Many are concerned about the verdict, especially when compared to other, arguably more serious, cases.
On the other hand, the young woman herself said the encounter hurt her sense of self and security and has since impacted every aspect of her career and personal life. It is not for anyone else to downplay or dismiss their feelings about this event.
At the very least, it should make men think more carefully about what is and isn’t acceptable in sexual relationships. It’s something they haven’t given nearly enough thought to.
Last but not least, they need to understand that women have a deep fear of what men can do to them. Once triggered, the psychological impact can be enormous.
That’s not to say that all men hurt women, but all women are certainly aware that men can hurt them. That’s why the case of former Garda Paul Moody, who was also jailed last week for the horrific and ongoing abuse of a cancer patient known only as “Nicola”, has had so much resonance.
The fact that Moody could be out in remission in two and a half years only added to the sense of unease. It came the same week that another man was sentenced to 17 years in prison for raping, assaulting and coercively controlling a woman during their six-week relationship.
He first attacked his victim on their third date after meeting her through a dating app.
This aspect of the case is worth investigating. The app in question, dubbed Plenty of Fish, has surfaced in a number of other rape cases in the UK where predators have used it to attack women.
The clock cannot be turned back; The internet is a normal part of how people meet these days, sometimes for casual sex and sometimes in search of something deeper. But it can be dangerous, and women need to be made aware of the risks.
The decoupling of sex and pregnancy that began in the 1960s gave women the freedom to explore their own desires, but every action generates a reaction, and the biggest here was the decoupling of sex from more meaningful relationships altogether.
Ignoring the natural instincts that have historically warned that sex should be approached with caution, it may have seemed like gender equality for a time. However, over time, this has led to studies consistently showing that women are happier than ever.
Radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin were ridiculed for warning of the sexual revolution at a time when most feminists automatically assumed that more promiscuity would make women happier and more fulfilled.
There’s now a compelling argument that she was in 1983 to point out: “The mothers’ silences hid a genuine, hard, unsentimental knowledge of men and intercourse, and the daughters’ outspoken sexuality hid romantic ignorance.” ”
Many young women would now agree. More than half say they don’t feel respected after a casual hookup.
The author of a recent book on the subject, Louise Perry, puts it bluntly: “You made the mistake of believing an ideology that people like (playboy chief) Hugh Hefner and Harvey Weinstein.”
Even more troubling, Perry argues that many feminists still make the mistake of believing that women suffer only because the “1960s project of sexual liberation is unfinished, not because it was always inherently flawed.” Therefore, they prescribe more and more liberties and are always surprised when their prescription does not cure the disease”.
Women have always been the gatekeepers of sex. But gatekeeping served to provide both sides with what they needed. men have sex. Women got emotional security.
Now women have no security because men can easily satisfy their urges elsewhere anyway, either by hooking up with someone else in seconds via phone apps or increasingly through internet porn.
That’s another thing Dworkin prophesied. If she were alive today, she would ask why porn is more violent and misogynistic than ever, even though the sexual revolution was so good for women.
While the Attorney General’s proposed changes to the rape law are to be welcomed as a limited rebalancing of the scales, they don’t do much to answer these deeper questions raised by the radical change in the nature of sexual relationships in recent decades.
Some of these questions may be uncomfortable for young women who still like to believe they can “have it all” and refuse to address the “paradox of diminishing female unhappiness.”
However, the mores and practices of past society – including the traditional female fear of men – exist for a reason.
We may not know why they exist, but as the late English Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, paraphrasing Edmund Burke, always argued, there must be a certain trust in this “precious legacy of wisdom,” for these customs “contain the vestiges of many attempts and fallacies and the inherited solutions to problems we all face”.
He notes that “those who adopt them cannot necessarily explain them, let alone justify them”. But we tried to reject them, and what did that get us? This week’s headlines provide a grim answer.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/if-sexual-liberty-is-such-a-good-thing-why-are-we-so-unhappy-41879511.html If sexual freedom is such a good thing, why are we so unhappy?