I didn’t know what an ‘incel’ was until one ploughed his van through a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto last month and catapulted the word into the global consciousness.
Incels (short for involuntary celibates) have been an internet subculture for years and are made up of men who struggle to attract sexual partners and have subsequently fomented a hatred of women and the men who date them.
They advocate a murderous revenge on anyone enjoying consenting, physical intimacy. This revenge was visited on the streets of Canada and can be measured out in the lives of ten innocent bystanders.
A warped political ideology has germinated in the dark chatrooms of this scene. There are lengthy and rambling discourses which amount to a deranged manifesto, preaching the need for a “global redistribution of sex”. This involves a sexual caste system where women will be forced to have sex with incel men as a punishment for being promiscuous or if they use too much make-up. It’s grim reading. Put simply, they believe that, for whatever reason, they are being denied their fundamental human right to have sex.
Somebody needs to break this to the incel movement: there’s no such thing . . .
Nowhere in the international conventions or treaties which enshrine human rights across this planet is there any mention of a human right to have sex. Why? Because there’s a fundamental difference between needs and wants. You need shelter, clean drinking water and access to healthcare, these are your rights. You may want sex, but no human rights lawyer is going to take the fact you aren’t getting any to Strasbourg.
Put simply, if something you want requires the enthusiastic consent of another, then you don’t have a right to it.
The most important word in that sentence is “consent”. We’ve heard that word a lot in recent months, and rightly so. The Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal which triggered the #MeToo and #IBelieveHer movements, started a much needed global debate around sexual conduct and, most importantly, consent.
In any context, consent is the difference between intimacy and harassment, it’s the difference between sex and rape. This came up several times in a debate in the Scottish Parliament this week led by Kezia Dugdale MSP on moves by the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service to compel reluctant rape victims to give evidence in court.
Their motives are clear, 1800 reported rapes last year led to only 240 prosecutions, of which only 125 resulted in convictions. Understandably, they want more cases to come to trial and part of the issue is the reluctance of victims to give evidence in court. But to my mind, compelling people who don’t want to relive that awful, dehumanising violation is no solution, nor any guarantor of justice. Kez’s motion challenged the Crown Office to think again and I supported her. That same day, Lord Carloway, the most senior judge in the land, suggested that victims should be allowed to pre-record evidence and not have to appear in court. Surely that’s a far better way of bringing cases to trial.
Whether we’re considering rape or harassment, we need to change our culture and that starts with how we raise our young people. We need to equip our children with an understanding of what an appropriate, respectful relationship looks like. Teaching young people about birth control and STDs is second nature nowadays, but when, as parents or teachers, we awkwardly ask them to carry a condom, we need to have the confidence to, in the same breath, make it clear that obtaining enthusiastic consent is just as, if not more, important.
Above all, they need to realise that there is no human right to have sex with someone if that consent is not forthcoming.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.