Academic and writer Germaine Greer has been heavily criticised after she suggested the punishment for rape should be reduced.
Speaking at the Hay Festival on Wednesday, Greer said some rape cases should be considered as “non-consensual… bad sex” rather than “spectacularly violent crime” as most “don’t involve any injury whatsoever”.
Claiming the legal system cannot cope, Greer said lessening the severity of the punishment for rapists – to community service and possibly an “r” tattoo branding the perpetrator – could result in an increase in the number of rape cases successfully prosecuted.
On social media there was widespread anger at her remarks, where some condemned the “Female Eunuch” author as a “rape apologist”.
Professor Tanja Bueltmann, an historian at Northumbria University, was among those who criticised Greer, asking that the Australian academic “stop calling herself a feminist because she very clearly isn’t”.
I call for Germaine Greer to stop calling herself a feminist. Because she very clearly isn’t. And the hailing of her as one needs to stop. It should have stopped a long time ago, really, but now is certainly a good time to really do it. https://t.co/VZPOh2IiYP
— Prof Tanja Bueltmann (@cliodiaspora) May 30, 2018
End of Twitter post by @cliodiaspora
But others said Greer’s views were consistent with those she has voiced in the course of her career.
Her comments at the literary festival, ahead of the publication of her new book, On Rape, reportedly prompted some audience members to walk out.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates 20% of women, equivalent to an estimated 3.4 million female victims, have experienced sexual assault since the age of 16.
“I want to turn the discourse about rape upside down,” Greer told the audience in Hay-on-Wye. “We are not getting anywhere approaching it down the tunnel of history.
“Most rapes don’t involve any injury whatsoever. We are told that it is a sexually violent crime… [that] it is one of the most violent crimes in the world.
“Most rape is just lazy, just careless, insensitive. Every time a man rolls over on his exhausted wife and insists on enjoying his conjugal rights he is raping her. It will never end up in a court of law.
“Instead of thinking of rape as a spectacularly violent crime, and some rapes are, think about it as non-consensual – that is, bad sex. Sex where there is no communication, no tenderness, no mention of love.
“If we are going to say ‘trust us, believe us’, if we do say that our accusation should stand as evidence, then we do have to reduce the tariff for rape.”
Greer anticipated her remarks were likely to prove controversial.
“It is moments like these, I can hear the feminists screaming at me: ‘You’re trivialising rape’.
“You might want to believe that the penis is a lethal weapon and that all women live in fear of that lethal weapon… We don’t live in terror of the penis.”
Greer has spoken about her own experience of rape. When she was 18, she was violently raped by a man at a party. She never reported the crime to the police.
Speaking on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “I think Germaine Greer is doing what a lot of feminists are trying to do, which is draw attention to the prevalence of rape and to do something about the horrific conviction rate that we have.
“She says we should be looking at making sentences more lenient as a trade-off for saying ‘just believe us’ – what we should be doing instead is looking at how the criminal justice system lets women down.”
Rape survivor and campaigner Emily Hunt was more sceptical.
“I think she’s trying to sell a book,” she said. “I know that in order to cut through in this day and age you need to say something quite provocative and I guess she has done that and we are all talking about it. But I’m not buying her book.”
Ms Greer has previously sparked controversy when she accused some of the women who came forward in the wake of the #MeToo movement of “whingeing”.