By Chaminda Jayanetti
Ukip leader Nigel Farage has adopted a strategy of “weaponising” rape in the run-up to this month’s referendum on EU membership.
He told yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that “the nuclear bomb this time would be about Cologne”, in reference to the widespread alleged sexual assaults and rapes in Cologne and other European cities on New Year’s Eve.
He said that women would be at risk from the “cultural” differences between British society and immigrants, according to the Telegraph.
Farage has been blowing this dog whistle all year. In the immediate wake of the New Year’s Eve attacks, he issued dire warnings that the perpetrators could get EU citizenship and then move to Britain:
“What you can’t do is take away from ordinary folk out there scenes such as Cologne and saying to themselves in three years’ time all these people will have EU passports and will be able to come to Britain,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show back in January.
Farage has been sidelined by the official Vote Leave pro-Brexit campaign – indeed, other Leave campaigners were swift to condemn his remarks – but Vote Leave’s notoriously temperamental campaign director (and former adviser to Michael Gove) Dominic Cummings was playing a similar tune in January, tweeting: “EU law = once Cologne sex abusers get citizenship they can fly to UK & there’s nothing we can do. #VoteLeave = safer choice.”
It says a lot about the dire level of debate in the EU referendum campaign that it has come to this – rape as an electoral pitch.
The claims, of course, are nonsense. Whilst legal processes against those accused of rape and sexual assault on New Year’s Eve continue, they are irrelevant to Britain’s EU membership. Most of the accused are not EU nationals. In many EU member states, immigrants cannot claim citizenship if they have been convicted of a serious crime – such as rape. But even if they escape conviction, what makes anyone believe that they will spend years settling down in one country, finding work, learning the language, building a life there, simply to move to Britain at the first opportunity? It is nonsense.
What is also nonsense is the idea that “British culture” is a model in its approach to rape and abuse of women. To the extent that any one country has an all-encompassing “culture”, there is plenty of misogyny and violence against women in British society as it is.
But what is most shameless about Farage’s grandstanding is its hypocrisy. If there is one political party in Britain that does not care about protecting women from abuse, it’s Ukip. We need only look at the past utterances of some of its leading figures and supporters for evidence.
“The victim surely shares a part of the responsibility”
First, there’s the Ukip MEP Roger Helmer. In 2011 he argued that whilst victims of what he called “stranger rape” were entirely blameless, the same was not true of “date rape” victims.
In a blog post, he gave an example of an ambush and rape committed by a stranger – “stranger rape” – and then followed it up with an example of date rape:
“Imagine that a woman voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment,” Helmer wrote, “voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naïvely expecting merely a cuddle. But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says ‘Stop!’ The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on.”
Helmer said that in this instance, whilst the boyfriend should be convicted and punished, “the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind”.
Helmer was subsequently selected as Ukip’s candidate for the Newark by-election in 2014, which the party had targeted as winnable.
“Once a woman accepts, she accepts”
But even this is nothing on Demetri Marchessini, who donated £15,000 to Ukip in 2013. He has stated that rape within marriage is not actually rape, along with a raft of misogynist, racist and homophobic comments spanning many years.
In 2014 he told Channel 4 News: “When you get married you promise to look after the other person for the rest of their life. If you make love on Friday and make love Sunday, you can’t say Saturday is rape. Once a woman accepts, she accepts and especially when she makes a vow on her wedding day.”
Ukip distanced itself from his views – but Neil Hamilton, then-chairman of Ukip, did not rule out accepting further donations from him: “It’s not dirty money. He has got eccentric views. We don’t endorse those views [but] what he says is not illegal.” Marchessini, an ageing Greek businessman, has not made any registered donations to Ukip since.
Ukip MEP Jill Seymour hasn’t strayed anywhere near this territory, but when in 2015 she called for anonymity for rape suspects unless and until they are convicted, she was going against the calls of charities supporting rape victims.
When the newly elected coalition government considered introducing anonymity for rape suspects in 2010, a vast coalition of women’s campaign groups and domestic violence charities lined up to argue against the changes, such that the plans were eventually dropped.
One such organisation, Rights of Women, warned in 2010 (pdf) that rape suspect anonymity – of the kind later demanded by Seymour – would hamper police investigations, reinforce myths about the prevalence of false rape accusations, deter women from reporting rape, and send a message that women would not be believed.
No other offence guarantees anonymity for suspects, and naming rape suspects can lead other victims to come forward – rape being a crime that is often hard to prove unless multiple victims testify.
Rights of Women wrote: “By singling out those accused of rape as in need of special protection, when there is no evidence to justify this position, the Government is sending a clear message to all women that if they report rape to the police they will not be believed.”
Do as we say, not as we do
Ukip’s biggest electoral impact has been in the European Parliament, but the contingent of Ukip MEPs has been less than enthusiastic about voting for measures to help tackle violence against women.
The ‘Exposing Ukip’ site is perhaps not the most impartial of sources, but its account of Ukip voting patterns on this issue is fully referenced and evidenced.
As the site reports, in February 2013 Ukip’s MEPs abstained on a motion entitled ‘Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls’. Then, in February 2014, they abstained on a motion entitled ‘Combating violence against women’.
But before that, in April 2011, the European Parliament voted on an ‘EU policy framework to fight violence against women’. The full details of the motion are here. It set out a comprehensive approach to violence against women, taking in the full gamut of public services and also seeking to ensure the needs of victims were met.
Notably – given Farage’s grandstanding over “cultural differences” – the motion explicitly committed “to reject any reference to cultural, traditional or religious practices as a mitigating factor in cases of violence against women”.
For whatever imaginable reason, six of Ukip’s eight MEPs – including Farage himself – voted against the policy. Of the other two, one didn’t vote and the other didn’t turn up.
Perhaps, for some people, rape only matters when you can make the most of it.
Note: Sentinel News is neutral in the EU membership referendum.