Freedom of speech seems to be a broadly misunderstood concept.

When you believe in freedom of speech and fight to protect it you are not just defending yourself, you are fighting for the right of other people to say things you don’t agree with. A person who supports censorship can not claim to support freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is one of the human rights granted to citizens in progressive countries. We consider it important. As such, it was shocking to see feminists@law rallying a protest to the London School of Economics (LSE) Department of Law’s recent debate called “Is Rape Different?” It should concern academia that feminist lawyers don’t support free speech. They seem to hold myths about freedom.

The October 30th, 2013 debate was led by Helen Reece, based on an article she wrote concerning deeply flawed rape myth studies and other feminist rhetoric which currently informs the law. LSE’s event description explains the subject thus:

Rape is a heinous crime, and many people believe the conduct and outcome of rape cases insufficiently reflect this heinousness. As a result, rape complainants are treated differently; distinct rules of evidence have been developed; and measures to tackle rape myths are in place. But is all this helpful? Rape is a serious crime but is it a special crime, demanding special treatment? Do our rule of law and fairness pay a price? In this first debate in LSE Department of Law’s ‘Debating Law’ series, LSE academic Helen Reece leads a debate on whether or not rape is in this sense special.

The speakers who questioned rape as a special sort of crime were Helen Reece, reader of Law at LSE, and Barbara Hewson, barrister in Hardwicke Chambers. In favour of rape as a uniquely vile crime were Jennifer Temkin, professor at City Law School, and Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for CPS North West.

You’ll notice that both sides of the debate had two equally qualified representatives.

The protest now taking place is quite clear in the reason for complaint: people are talking about Reece and Hewson and no one is talking about Temkin and Afzal. The short story — the feminists feel they lost the debate. We all know what happens when a feminist feels bad: The world must stop and do something to fix it.

Specifically, on November 14th, feminists@law declared

We deplore LSE Law’s decision to give a platform to Reece and Hewson’s dangerous and unsupported views and its failure to engage responsibly with the public on such an important and sensitive issue as rape.

They mulled over all the possible courses of action to compensate for the fact that “their views received significantly less media attention” and came up with a solution.

With such a wide audience, we believe there is an onus on the LSE Law Department to ensure that the ideas that are being disseminated do not feed dangerous stereotypes about women being responsible for the sexual violence perpetuated against them.
We invite readers to add their names in support of this statement, using the ‘Add Comment’ function below.

Normally, when a university lecture or event is protested it is a singular speaker who the protesters claim are disseminating “hate speech”. This was not a lecture, it was a debate in which four competing points of view were given equal time. Even Jay-Z seems to understand free speech better than feminist lawyers. “We change people through conversation, not through censorship.”

It’s a sad state of affairs when a rapper would make a better lawyer than a feminist trained in law.

One of the criticisms leveled against LSE by Sarah Keenan and Yvette Russell on is that LSE defended the debate. It was Barbara Hewson’s presentation that got the most media coverage and LSE failed to apologize for inviting her.

“The @LSELaw account responded defensively to criticism of its decision to host Hewson insisting that she was only one of four panellists and that her views were balanced by the opposing arguments of Temkin and Afzal, and urging critics and the wider public to download the podcast, watch the video and ‘make up your own mind’”

The other complaint was that LSE highly publicized the debate and intentionally chose a controversial subject to get a bigger response from the public. It seems like, for once, feminists were hoping nobody would listen to them. We must put these complaints in context. The feminist point of view was equally given a chance to convince the public that rape is different from other crimes. If they’d used this opportunity better or gotten a better result they would not be, right now, complaining about the publicity.

After creating a twitstorm about the debate the feminists also criticized LSE for using twitter.

I can’t think of a single speaker who agrees to a debate and hopes nobody listens to it or hears about it later. If anything, this farcical reaction is a great chance to learn about which people we don’t want to hire when organizing events.

The emphatic rejection of any discussion about rape and rape laws that feminists cling to is based on the premise that women need to know that they will be believed when they report a rape. In Hewson’s reply she takes the time to remind these lawyers about how the law works.

This [victimization] ideology dominates official thinking about rape and sexual abuse to a point where the police actively solicit allegations with the promise, ‘You will be believed’. This militates against the idea that allegations need to be investigated.

Luke Gittos, Law Editor, followed up on Spiked with an article on November 20th entitled “We must be free to question rape laws”.

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 wilful distortion of the truth is one of the issues to which Helen Reece is attempting to bring attention. The rape myth surveys that she de-constructed in her initial article were all peer reviewed. That such shoddy academic work can not only pass peer review but become incorporated into decisions about legal reform is reason for alarm. The need for freedom of speech in academia is best proven by the existence of unsupported feminist rhetoric as the accepted worldview.

Academic studies require peer review and RMA surveys have not been properly scrutinized because the manipulated results adhere to popular myths about rape myths. If we are to let these studies influence the legal system, as they demand we do, Helen presents important concerns to be addressed about the research being submitted as fact.

While Jennifer Temkin despaired in the LSE debate that “it beggars belief” we are discussing whether or not rape is different, what’s really astounding is that we are stuck explaining the importance of free speech to a bunch of lawyers. These outraged feminists are highly educated in the very topic at hand and they just don’t seem interested in either truth or justice.

Is rape different? Watch the debate.

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