December 14, 2021 - 2:20pm

When JK Rowling was an aspiring author, writing about a boy wizard in Edinburgh cafes, I don’t suppose she imagined she would one day find herself arguing in public about whether ‘women’ can commit rape. Yet in the last few days she has had to call out Police Scotland for an admission that they plan to allow male rapists to ‘identify’ as women, skewing — some would say falsifying — crime statistics. In a tweet, Rowling quoted George Orwell, comparing the proposal to Party slogans in Nineteen Eighty-Four: ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.’

It’s an apt comparison, and very damaging to the increasingly absurd demands of trans activists, which is why it called down another torrent of abuse on her head. Gender extremists hate Rowling not just because she is famous and has a platform, but because her barbs hit home. She uses language precisely, avoiding ad feminam abuse and hyperbole, while they — how can I put this politely? — do not.

Rowling says she has received so many death threats she could paper her house with them, yet she has behaved with dignity and decency throughout. She gives the lie to the frequently repeated claim that the debate over trans rights — more accurately women’s rights, which are under attack from all directions — is ‘toxic on both sides’. What’s more, it’s clear that many people agree with her.

According to opinion polls, most Scots believe trans people should be free to live as they please, but they don’t agree with a key section of the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform bill, which would allow people to self-ID without a doctor’s report. The new law would make it easier to ‘change sex’ — a physical impossibility — than to get a driving licence or adopt a child. It will also, as Rowling’s tweet pointed out, permit male sex offenders to be described in court as ‘she’ — and demand to be housed in women’s prisons.

Police Scotland admitted as much in a response to a question from a former SNP justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, about how they would deal with rapists when the new law comes into force. Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie confirmed that a rapist who was ‘born male, but who identifies as a female’ could be recorded as a woman without even going through the process of getting a gender recognition certificate. This is already happening in England and Wales, where a staggering 436 male-bodied sex offenders were classified as women between 2012 and 2018.

Rowling’s intervention is crucial because this issue, more than trans-identified males demanding to use women’s toilets or changing rooms, is one that exercises a wide swathe of opinion. People baulk at the prospect of vulnerable women prisoners, many of them victims of domestic violence, being forced to share intimate spaces with men who have been convicted of serious sex offences. Rowling has experienced domestic abuse herself, so she knows how unpalatable this is. She also knows exactly how and when to intervene — and that makes her a very dangerous adversary.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.