Crime in the eye of the beholder

“Pestering women in street to be outlawed,” screamed a front-page headline in The Telegraph.

Criminals have always been with us

In response, my good friend, the Rev. Peter Mullen, wrote a witty letter to the editor, saying: “Quite right too. I’ve been too often the victim of these pestering women!”

Peter is right, unfortunately. Mordant laughter and fervent prayer are the only defences we have left against the massed offensive on our sanity. As Seneca put it presciently, “None of this can be helped, but all of it can be despised.”

Just to think that the great common law of England, the cornerstone of our civilisation, could produce such an ugly stillborn offspring. For this new law is not only subversive in content and intent, but also rotten as far as jurisprudence goes.

Those in the vanguard of modernity know that, if they want to conquer, they need to divide. The greatest fault they can turn into a fissure would split mankind right down the middle, by alienating the sexes.  

Some of those objectionable individuals may push in that direction with deliberate premeditation. Most don’t because they don’t have to: neither do dogs need to make a conscious decision to chase cats, nor cats to run away from dogs or else try to scratch their eyes out. Such actions are coded in their DNA.

That’s why I’ve stopped wondering if those pursuing such evil ends do so wittingly or unwittingly. It simply doesn’t matter. They’ve been doing rather well though.

It’s not just homosexuals, but also homosexuality that enjoys equal rights. The institution of marriage has been severely compromised by legalised homonuptials. A man can declare himself a woman and vice versa on a mere say-so (thus women’s dressing rooms, lavatories and prisons have been penetrated by burly males seeking to do the man thing). A husband raising even his voice, not his hand, against his wife may get a visit from the boys in blue. Complimenting a female colleague on her appearance may lead the offender to industrial tribunal; kissing a woman without explicit permission, to prison.

The definition of rape has been broadened to include any intercourse where a man fails to obtain an unequivocally stated prior consent, ideally in a notarised letter of intent. A woman undressing and indulging in inventive foreplay before actual intercourse can land a man in prison if he fails to stop in mid-stroke.

My friends who teach at universities know they can’t stay alone in the room with a female student without risking a spurious charge of rape. For the same reason, male doctors have to have a nurse present when examining a woman patient.

Put all such outrages together, add those I’ve left out, and the subversive intent begins to shine through. Rather than regarding themselves as complementary, the sexes increasingly look at each other with suspicion, often antipathy. All the normal interplay between them has been curtailed if not downright destroyed.

The new law dovetails with this general tendency nicely. But this law isn’t just subversive. It’s bad.

Good proscriptive laws define the proscribed offences tightly. Bad ones are open-ended, potentially to criminalise greater and greater swathes of humanity. The great legal minds of modernity, such as Lenin, understood this perfectly.

In that spirit, he contemplated the proposed new article prescribing the death penalty for anyone “complicit in any conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet republic”. Lenin knew in his bone marrow that something was missing.

He took his trusted blue pencil out and, after the word ‘complicit’, added “or capable of being complicit”. He looked at his handiwork and knew it was good. So edited, the new article could get every Soviet citizen shot.

This seems to be the model our jurists see as legal perfection. For it’s impossible to define precisely exactly what constitutes ‘pestering’. Obviously, grabbing the more jutting attractions of a strange woman on a bus would qualify. But such behaviour is already covered by existing laws, with no help necessary, thank you very much.

One suspects that pestering will be defined the same way as racial insults are: anything the putative victim sees as such.

Suppose for the sake of argument that a man tries to pick up a pretty girl in the street. This supposition is easy for me to make because I had committed that crime hundreds of times (with a lamentable lack of success) by the time I left my teens.

Let’s imagine he says: “Excuse me for bothering you, but I sense we have much in common. Would you like to have a drink with me one evening?” Is that pestering? Yes? No? Perhaps not yet.

But what if she says no and he rephrases his proposition, committing the well-known fallacy of doing the same thing, but expecting a different result. His new phrasing is as polite as the first time around, so is that pestering?

You see what I’m driving at? The only tight definition of pestering has to be in the eye of the beholder. Some girls say no the first time of asking, but yes after a repetition or two. Some will say no even after multiple repetitions, but still like having been asked. Others will be mortally insulted at ‘Excuse me’, still others at merely an appreciative glance.

The potential for abuse of justice is vast, as it is with every bad law, and it hurts me to think that the great English common law has had to come to this.

So yes, Peter, we can laugh. What the hell else can we do? After all, grown men don’t cry.

6 thoughts on “Crime in the eye of the beholder”

  1. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all creatures are equal, that they are endowed somehow, someway, by something with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. But foremost, all creatures have the right never to suffer hearing, seeing, or feeling anything that they do not agree with or MIGHT find offensive. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Creatures, deriving their tyrannical powers from the wind…

  2. Among men of my generation, it is quite clearly understood that attempting to ‘chat up’ a strange woman in the street is an act so audacious as to border the insane. The age of so called ‘social media’ put an end to that sort of thing. This law is presumably aimed at those louche Gen-Xers who still think it’s 1999. Or perhaps this new law is to curtail the amorous zeal of recent arrivals to these shores whose culture is rather less modern. But it’s quite possible that in their case, a blind eye shall be turned.

    1. You make me sound even older than I am, which is old enough, thank you. In my day, chatting up was a normal daily activity to Moscow. However, when I tried to do the same thing in New York, I found most women got scared and ran away. It could have been my shaggy beard and a generally disreputable fresh-off-the-boat look, or perhaps chatting up was already not the done thing. I then moved to Houston, and there the problem didn’t arise: it’s hard to chat up a woman from one car to the other, and nobody ever walked. There, all my frustrations laid bare.

  3. But laugh we should, everything feels much better then. In my youth days (1960th in Sweden) the “chat up” places were the dans halls (no discos i Sweden at the time). And boy, had the cops had a field day on Saturday nights if such laws applied.

  4. My advice to any man accused of such an offence is to announce that he identifies as a woman. He will then be able to accuse his accuser of the worst of all crimes, transphobia.

    Next time you see your friend Fr Mullen please tell him that at least one reader of the Salisbury Review misses his contributions. They were the best things in it.

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