Aitken accused of undermining progress to tackle rape

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by Jolene Cargill

Bill Aitken MSP has come under fresh attack from a rape charity for implying that a gang rape victim in Glasgow was a prostitute.

Rape Crisis Scotland have accused the Conservative MSP of making ill judged comments that seriously undermined recent progress on rape convictions in Scotland.

Aitken made the controversial comments in an interview with a journalist from the Sunday Herald who called the MSP for a statement after a woman was dragged into a lane and gang-raped by three men.  The attack was the latest of a string of four separate gang rapes in the city centre since Christmas.

National Coordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland Sandy Brindley said, “We are shocked and angry at his response to an absolutely awful crime and surprised this story has not been picked up by more newspapers.  What would it be like for the victim to hear what he said?  It’s precisely this attitude that makes it hard for women to come forward.  He automatically focused the blame on the victim here.  And you can’t get a clearer situation than a woman being raped by strangers.

“On the one hand, we have seen the Government’s approach starting to make a difference.  The number of cases going to Court has gone up significantly to over 40%.  But what use is that when you have a politician voicing this kind of attitude?  Legal reform on its own can have little impact; we must tackle misinformed public attitudes that are still prevalent, especially in the justice system.”

Aitken, a former Justice of the Peace, has issued an ‘unreserved’ apology following the story in the Sunday Herald.

But he has come under fire for going on to imply that drunk women regularly made false rape allegations.  Ms Brindley said, “His reference to drunk women making up rape is just an example of trotting out an uninformed opinion, totally unsupported by evidence.  What’s most disappointing is not only that he holds these attitudes generally, but that he is so confident as to volunteer them.”

The criticism from Rape Crisis Scotland comes amid growing political pressure on Aitken to resign as Convener of the Justice Committee.  Alex Salmond is the latest to speak out against Aitken, who is also shadow minister for community safety.  The First Minister told the Mumsnet forum this week that the veteran Tory MSP had a ‘dreadful attitude’ to rape crimes.

On a live web chat he said, “I deprecate Bill Aitkens’ reported comments, which were rightly greeted with outrage from both general public and across the political spectrum.  I don’t think they really represented his views, and in fairness, he did apologise later.  However, it does illustrate two dangers.

“Firstly, the implicit assumptions betrayed a dreadful attitude to the serious crime of rape, which is abhorrent for any person.  Secondly, the temptation of politicians to occasionally shoot first and think later.  It can cause deep hurt and upset.”

This follows criticism from the Labour Deputy Leader, Johann Lamont, who said “No woman is ever to blame for rape and we need to challenge these attitudes by turning the focus on the male perpetrators”.

A growing Facebook group is also calling for Aitken to be removed from his role as convenor of the justice committee, which helps formulate rape laws.  Members have written to the committee calling for a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Aitken.

The Conservative MSP said what he said was misinterpreted.  In a full statement he issued to the Sunday Herald after they printed the story about his comments, Aitken said, “I accept that I asked the journalist about the circumstances of the case but I did not intend to imply that the circumstances of any victim in any assault in any way lessens the horror or severity of the crime.  I would have deep regret if that was portrayed as the case and apologise unreservedly to her, her family and friends for any such misconception.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives Leader Annabel Goldie said, “He has issued a full and unreserved apology and he has a fearless reputation for speaking up for all victims of crime.”