Helen Mirren has won awards and a knighthood for her portrayal of strong, confident women in some of cinema and television's most memorable moments over the past couple decades. Now Mirren has provoked a different type of furor after airing her views on sex attackers.
In an interview with former British tabloid newspaper editor Piers Morgan in the October edition of men's monthly GQ, the 63-year-old actress suggested that women who are date-raped should not expect their attackers to be charged.
Mirren, who starred in the television police drama Prime Suspect as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, said that a rape would occur if a woman, voluntarily engaging in sexual activity, said "no" at the last moment. But, she added, "I don't think she can have a man into court under those circumstances."
Mirren goes on to say that date-rape is a "tricky area" and "one of the subtle parts of the men/women relationship that has to be negotiated and worked out between them."
She told GQ she had herself been date-raped several times in her late teens and early 20s. "I was (date-raped), yes. A couple of times." But she did not report the assaults because "you couldn't do that in those days."
Her comments brought angry reactions from anti-rape campaigners in the U.K. "Dame Helen's comments are not only disappointing, but unhelpful and dangerous," says Katie Russell, from the Rape Crisis Federation of England and Wales. "In practice, only a tiny minority of women report to the police and this is in part because they fear not being believed or find themselves blamed for their experiences. Attitudes such as those attributed to Helen Mirren only serve to exacerbate this situation."
Russell said that because rape is still a taboo in our society, "on the one hand, Helen Mirren's willingness to talk publicly about her experiences should be welcomed. At the same time, her apparent attitudes are a perfect illustration of why widespread education about the realities of sexual violence is desperately needed."
On her own experience of being date-raped, Mirren told GQ: "I went to a convent school until I was 18 and had never spent a night away from home, or gone to parties. So I was very innocent when I went to college in London and I was living on my own. And I found guys were horrible, mean, rude, insulting and so without feeling."
Young women today were better at standing up for themselves, she said. "I love the fierceness of young girls nowadays, and the way they just say f___ off, because I wish I'd been taught to say f___ off when I was younger. I wish I'd had those words in my arsenal of self-defence."
"It is undoubtedly less difficult for women who've been raped to disclose their experiences today than it was when Mirren was a teenager," says Russell. "Nonetheless, only 15% of women who use Rape Crisis services have reported to the police so there is clearly some way to go before the majority of women feel comfortable or confident to come forward."
The star actress also confessed that she used to enjoyed snorting cocaine in the 1980s but gave up the class-A drug when "they caught Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, in the early eighties," making money with the drug is South America.
"And I read that in the paper, and all the cards fell into place and I saw how my little sniff of cocaine at a party had an absolute direct route to this f___ing horrible man in South America."