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Fury as Tory MSP asks: was rape victim a prostitute?

A leading Scottish Conservative MSP is under attack for suggesting the latest victim of rape in Glasgow may have been a prostitute.

Bill Aitken, shadow minister for community safety, apologised to the woman after making the comments in an interview with the Sunday Herald.

Aitken has been a District Court Judge, Justice of the Peace and is a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Glasgow.

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He is also convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee -- which helps formulates rape laws.

Police officers and women’s organisations reacted with outrage to his claims.

Detectives from Strathclyde Police are still hunting for three men of Middle Eastern appearance who dragged the 38-year-old woman off Renfield Street in the city centre and raped her in a lane as she headed home after a night out with friends just after midnight on Thursday. It is the fourth city-centre sex attack since Christmas. Police believe different gangs are responsible.

Asked to comment on the series of so-called “lane rapes”, Aitken said: “I really think we need to know a bit more about these. They are not always as they seem to be, put it that way.”

He disputed the location of the attack, and said: “If this woman was dragged halfway through the town then it just couldn’t possibly happen. So has nobody asked her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane?

“Somebody should be asking her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane. Did she go there with somebody? ... Now, Renfrew Lane is known as a place where things happen, put it that way.”

Asked to clarify, he said: “It’s an area where a lot of the hookers take their clients. Now that may not have happened in this case. But you know ... what was happening? There’s always a lot more to these city-centre rapes than meets the eye.”

Sandy Brindley, national co-ordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland, said Aitken’s comments were “an extraordinary response to an awful crime” which created “a culture where women are scared to come forward and report a rape”.

“We are shocked,” she said. “His attitude is completely out of step with what the law says and what we should be thinking as a society. For far too long there’s been the attitude if you are involved in prostitution you cannot be a victim of rape. Women who are raped need support, not a climate that’s asking blaming questions about what they were doing.”

Aitken also said a lot of rape allegations are falsely made by drunk women -- but had no research to back this up: “The police say there’s a lot of drunken carry-ons that result in rape allegations which are subsequently dropped, put it that way,” he said.

He added: “I think there might be fear, if they are worried that somebody talks …and the word gets back to the boyfriend.”

When challenged on his comments by the Sunday Herald, Aitken denied making them until he read a transcript of the conversation. Asked whether there is a difference between the rape of women who work as prostitutes and those who don’t, he said: “Well, the prostitute has possibly put herself in a position of some vulnerability.”

Detectives in Glasgow were“incredulous”. One senior source said: “Is he saying she deserved it? It’s mind-boggling. How will that poor girl feel?”

Yesterday, Annabel Goldie, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, refused to condemn Aitken, but said she was “horrified” by the sex attack.

“Rape is an abhorrent crime for women, regardless of who the woman is,” she said.

Asked whether she would condemn Aitken, she said: “I’ve no further comment.” Asked whether she “stands by” Aitken, she turned and walked away.

SNP MSP Christina McElvie said: “These reported remarks go beyond the pale.”

Aitken’s comments came as police warned unaccompanied women about walking by night in Glasgow city centre and detectives appealed for witnesses to the “brazen” attack. Police have mounted extra patrols this weekend.

A fortnight ago two men dragged an woman aged 18 into a lane and raped her. In January a woman aged 35 was indecently assaulted and a 21-year old was attacked.

Aitken later issued a statement saying: “I did not intend to imply that the circumstances of any victim in any assault in any way lessens the horror or severity of the crime. I would have deep regret if that was portrayed as the case and apologise unreservedly to her, her family and friends for any such misconception.

“Rape, in every case, is an abhorrent violation and must always be prosecuted with the full vigour of the law.”

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