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October 19th, 2012

The discourse of rape has been on many tongues lately; from high-profile politicians to celebrities to liberation groups, there has been controversy over the definition of term.

The National Union of Students (NUS) found itself in this position last Wednesday, when a motion on the subject was proposed by the Women’s Campaign.

Heavy media coverage of the allegations against Julian Assange has ensured that the issue remains in the spotlight. The Wikileaks founder is alleged to have raped and molested two females in 2010, but has successfully sought asylum in the Ecuadorian assembly on the premise that he believes he will extradited to the USA for separate offences relating to the aforementioned website.

It’s a case which has sparked wider debate and dispute in the public sphere, bringing the definition of rape under scrutiny. Todd Akin, a supporter of USA Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney, said that women can prevent pregnancy in “a legitimate rape” and, thus, conceiving a child is rare. Furthermore, George Galloway, Respect MP for Bradford West, ludicrously referred to a man inserting his penis into a sleeping woman as “bad sexual etiquette”. Thankfully, these comments sparked global outrage, but in many circumstances, compassion and understanding was offered to both rapists and those who spoke of rape as above, so-called rape apologists. The usual, shameful excuses were trotted out; that women put themselves in provocative situations via dress or body language, and that rape is excusable if the victim is in a relationship with the perpetrator.

Consequently, the NUS Women’s Campaign called for no more, presenting a motion to the NUS’ National Executive Council (NEC) calling for the long-standing no-platform policy (which previously only covered fascists) to be extended to cover rape apologists. However, several NEC members (including Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ Officer) proposed an amendment requesting that the NUS support Assange’s request for a guarantee from the Swedish authorities that he would not be extradited to the USA. It was also argued that the no-platform policy should remain as it is, due to the unique threat fascist pose to liberation students and democratic structures. That six NEC members left the room in tears over comments made in the debate is indicative of its severity and the issue’s importance.

Mercifully, the motion passed with twenty four votes to six. Kelley Temple, NUS Women’s Officer said that the “NUS believes that there is a culture of undermining rape victims and rejects attempts to glorify, joke about or dismiss rape. The motion passed confirms that NUS shall not offer a platform to speakers who are rape deniers of apologists, or support events where such individuals speak.” Aaron Kiely was unavailable for comment.

This is great step forward for the movement, but also for culture in general. It is fortunate that the array of ignorant comments made throughout the past few months has at least led to one progressive piece of anti-rape legislation. No means no, and there are no exceptions.

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Honestly, I can say that the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony was no less than impressive and inspiring; a fantastic recollection of the lows and the highs of British history.