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Helen Mirren’s recent comments about date rape tap into something Molly discussed in her post called Sex, Consent and Expectations.

I’ve always liked Helen Mirren. To me, she has always seemed like a woman in total control of her own career, unlike the slew of robot actresses happy to be the Hollywood equivalent of a Malibu Stacey doll (“Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl!”). Here is a woman who can flit from risqué flicks like Caligula and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover to effortless Shakespearian heroines with the blink of a heavy-lidded eye. And she has never considered TV too shabby, especially when Prime Suspect made her such a recognised star. So as a long time fan, I’m hugely disappointed with her recent remarks about date rape. In an interview with GQ magazine, Mirren confessed to her own experiences of rape, but then questions the validity of whether you can claim it as such when “a woman voluntarily ends up in a man’s bedroom with her clothes off”. She goes on to say that while these incidents weren’t brutal or violent, they consisted of being “locked in a room and made to have sex against my will.” Eh, sorry, but the last time I checked, force and lack of consent in sex equals rape.

In the same week, the Irish Rape Crisis Centre’s Annual report warned that fewer victims are stepping forward to report their rapes. In the GQ interview Dame Helen admits that she didn’t go to the police about the attacks, revealing that while a woman “has a right to say no at the last second…I don’t think she can have that man in court under those circumstances.” Why the hell not? Anyone who says no to sex in any situation – even at the last second – and has their objection overruled is a victim of rape. Once consent is removed, it isn’t an act of free will; it’s a crime. And a crime of that seriousness should most definitely land the perpetrator in court. We can all understand that Helen Mirren’s experiences took place 40 years ago when the world was a different place. But then, as now, victims still run the risk of not being believed, especially if the Prosecution in court wants to run a fine toothcomb over their character, lifestyle, the company they keep and their relationship history.

Mirren’s comments are even more surprising given the type of steely roles she has played. From the ballsy DCI Jane Tennison to no-nonsense monarchs (Elizabeths 1 & 2), you assume that in real life she is rarely intimidated. Contemporary audiences have never been more receptive to the thoughts and opinions of those in the public eye. Given the totemic position of celebrities these days, Dame Helen’s comments are, at best a drawback for rape victims who are reluctant to speak out, at worst downright miscalculated and dangerous.

Everyone has the right to say no to sex, just as every rape victim should have the right to prosecute their rapist. And a smart woman like Dame Helen should know that.

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