Germaine Greer Stirs Furor With Call for Lighter Rape Penalty

Germaine Greer’s speech at the Hays festival has stirred controversy.

LONDON — The Australian author and academic Germaine Greer, one of the most contrarian voices on feminism, has stirred a furor by dismissing rape as “bad sex” and calling for a lower penalty for perpetrators of sexual assault.

Critics said she had crossed a line with remarks that could damage a movement seeking to hold more assailants accountable and empower rape survivors to speak out.

Ms. Greer, 79 — perhaps best known for the 1970 best seller “The Female Eunuch” — made the comments on Wednesday at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in Wales. Many in the audience walked out, visibly upset.

Declaring the criminal justice system in need of an overhaul because arguments over consent had hobbled the ability to secure convictions in rape trials, she suggested not viewing rape as a violent crime.

“Most rapes don’t involve any injury whatsoever,” she said. “Centuries of writing and thinking about rape — as inflicted by men on women — have got us nowhere.” Rape, she said, should be viewed as a “lazy, careless and insensitive” act.

“Every time a man rolls over on his exhausted wife and insists on enjoying his conjugal rights, he is raping her,” she said. “It will never end up in a court of law.” She added, “Instead of thinking of rape as a spectacularly violent crime — and some rapes are — think about it as nonconsensual, that is, bad sex.”

She said the penalty should be 200 hours of community service: “If we are going to say trust us, believe us, if we do say that our accusation should stand as evidence, then we have to reduce the tariff for rape.” (In England, the maximum sentence for rape can be life in prison.)

At one point, Ms. Greer said the punishment could be an “r” tattooed to the rapist’s hand, arm or cheek.

She expressed pessimism about the case against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was indicted in Manhattan on Wednesday on rape charges — the culmination of what many described as decades of predatory behavior. Ms. Greer predicted that the only winners would be lawyers.

Ms. Greer has a history of incendiary remarks, including a 2015 statement that transgender women were “not women.”

“Her comments are hugely harmful to women,” Natalie Collins, a gender justice specialist, said in an interview on Thursday. “They collude with rape and demean and diminish the very awful crime of rape.” She said that while she agreed with Ms. Greer that the justice system does not deal fairly with sexual violence, a lesser sentence was not the solution.

A spokeswoman for the charity Rape Crisis England & Wales denounced Ms. Greer’s statements, saying, “Rape is an inherently violent crime, regardless of whether visible external injuries are sustained.”

One rape survivor, Emily Hunt, noted that Ms. Greer was publishing a new book on rape this year. “I think she is trying to sell a book,” she said on the BBC’s “Victoria Derbyshire Show.”

“I know in order to cut through in this day and age, you need to say something quite provocative,” she added, “and I guess she has done that and we are all talking about it, but I’m not buying her book.”

Several women’s activists say it may be time to ignore Ms. Greer’s opinions, but Ms. Collins said that doing so would exacerbate the denigration of older women in feminism.

“There is a temptation to call her ‘the crazy old aunt’ and dismiss her views,” Ms. Collins said. “But I wouldn’t want to do that because she has made a huge contribution to feminism and fought many battles, and we have to find ways to honor the legacy of people that say and do things that we find problematic in feminism.”

Ms. Greer, anticipating criticism, said, “I can hear the feminists screaming at me, ‘You’re trivializing rape!’” She reminded her audience she had been brutally raped as a young woman.

Gemma Murray, 32, a rape survivor and activist, said she understood why some walked out, but she tried to empathize with Ms. Greer.

“People forget that the woman making these comments was herself raped when she was just 18,” Ms. Murray said. “Everyone deals with the trauma differently, and perhaps her coping mechanism is denial and dismissal of the fact that the experience has impacted her life.”

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