Sunday, 17 February 2013

Anonymity for rape defendants - bad idea in 1975, 2010 and now

Anonymity for rape defendants is a bad idea that benefits one key group of people – rapists.

It was a bad idea in 1975, when it was how rape cases were conducted. In 1975, lest we forget, men still had the legal right to rape their wives (they had this right until 1990). It was a bad idea in 2010 when the new coalition government tried to bring it back into law. And it will be a bad idea now, as the Chair of the Bar Council in England argues for it again.

Anonymity for rape defendants, and only for rape defendants, is a policy that has its roots solely in misogyny. It is a policy based on the belief that women routinely and maliciously lie about rape in a way that no other crime gets lied about. But this belief is entirely false.

The idea is justified by its supporters because of the stigma of a rape accusation. But if that was really the case, then anonymity would apply to all violent crime. There is stigma attached to an accusation of murder. No crime carries more stigma than child abuse (I’ll argue later as to why all these crimes should carry a stigma). The only reason rape is singled out is because of this pernicious belief that women are just making it up in order to hurt men.

But we know this isn’t true. Earlier this year the latest stats on rape and sexual violence were released. They found that 500,000 people had experienced sexual violence, including 69,000 women raped. They also found that only 2910 incidents were reported and only 1070 led to conviction. We also know that false accusations of rape make up about 3% of reported rapes. This number is no more than false accusations of any other crime.

So the facts tell us that rape is a huge problem affecting tens of thousands of women every year, and that, whilst awful, false accusations are a small problem affecting a handful of men each year.

But our perception is very different. The perception – fuelled by media reporting and a terribly low conviction rate – is that women routinely lie about rape and therefore something must be done to punish women. When instead, I believe we need to be taking steps to encourage a higher reporting rate and a higher conviction rate.

The evidence is there to prove that naming rape defendants is a sensible policy that encourages reporting and that leads to convictions. We can see from the statistics that rape reporting is low. However, when a prolific rapist is named, like John Worboys, it helps women who have been attacked by him feel confident to come forward. Once his identity was known, around 70 women came forward reporting attacks – reports that helped convict him. These women might have come forward before and not been believed, or they might have not come forward for all the reasons why women don’t feel able to report rape. Many of us don’t always realise that rapists might rape more than once. Therefore victims might feel alone, isolated and, thanks to rape culture, start blaming themselves. Understanding that he was attacking other women, that he was a serial rapist helped women feel able to go to the police and report it. Naming Worboys meant that he was finally, after years of terrorising women, convicted.

If he hadn’t been named, he might still be attacking women today. The police might still be dismissing reports – which they did at the time.

Worboys is just one example – there are many, many more. But if anonymity for rape defendants had been in place in 2007 the simple truth is it would have benefited him and it would have harmed the tens of women he attacked.

The argument that we should have anonymity because there is a ‘stigma’ attached to an accusation of rape is quite frankly stupid. Of course there should be a stigma attached to an accusation of rape – just as there should be a stigma attached to all the crimes I’ve mentioned. Rape is a horrible, violent crime deliberately committed against another person. It is a crime that can lead to PTSD, serious mental and physical health problems and much more. It is a crime that can lead to suicide, as we have so tragically seen over the last few weeks.

One would hope that attaching a stigma to such a terrible crime would reduce offending rates. However as the rape stats show, we all too often let rapists attack women with impunity. We let rapists get away with it more than 90% of the time. How else was Unilad able to write that rape made ‘pretty good odds’ when the reporting rate was so low?

We need to make sure there is more of a stigma attached to rape, not less. Anonymity suggests that it’s more important to protect the reputation of rapists than it is to protect the lives of women. I know that it is “justified” in order to protect the falsely accused men but the fact is there are far, far more rapists and far, far more rape victims than there are men who are falsely accused.

If we were really concerned about the rights of the false accused (as of course we should be – that is why it is recognised as a serious crime), then we wouldn’t be singling out rape. The only reason rape is singled out is the simple, misogynistic belief that women lie. That women just make this stuff up. And we know that this is untrue.

The other argument is that because we allow anonymity for victims and survivors of rape, defendants should get the same. But this is simply ridiculous. A victim has not been accused of any crime. Naming her will not help convict her rapist. And if we think there’s a stigma attached to the accused, then god knows we’ve seen what the impact of naming a victim can have. When the woman who was raped by Ched Evans was named online she was eventually forced to flee from her home after being bombarded with death threats. She was twice victimised because quite frankly, in that case, there seemed to be no stigma at all attached to being a convicted rapist.

This is a proposal that panders to the tabloid press who gleefully report failed convictions as ‘false accusations’ (even when the women has not been charged or convicted with that crime – e.g. Diallo). It’s a proposal that upholds misogynistic beliefs that rape isn’t that common and that what is common is women lying about rape. All the evidence, all the statistics show this to be factually incorrect. So much of the evidence proves that naming rape defendants helps encourage reporting and leads to convictions.

We cannot propose or make laws based on women-hating myths. We’re in a real crisis of violence against women in this country. There are 500,000 sexual assaults every year including 69,000 women raped and yet there are only 1070 convictions. Only 2910 reported. This is not the time to be making laws that protect alleged rapists. This is the time to be doing everything we can possibly do to end violence against women and girls. This is the time to be doing everything we can to create an environment where women and girls feel confident reporting rape to the police – confident that they will be listened to, believed and that their rapist will go to jail.

In 2010 Parliament threw out the bill that proposed anonymity for rape defendants based on all the ideas I talk about here.

Let’s keep it that way.

Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999
National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247


Forty Shades Of Grey said...

Great post Sian, just wondering if you know if that 3% false accusation figure includes 'accusing one person of the crime of another because of mistaken identity' or 'went to the police station to report rape but it was actually an accusation of a lesser crime -i.e. sexual assault'?

Unknown said...


It also benefits people who are innocent -- even if that's 1% of the cases, innocent people of whatever gender must be protected.

While the %age conviction rates for rape are appalling, the principle of law should state "innocent until proven guilty".

With the trial-by-tabloid we have in this country at the moment, that doesn't happen in many, many cases. Even being charged of the crime is tantamount to guilt in the eyes of many and can ruin entire lives.

Not all men accused of rape are rapists, and for that reason, naming them before a verdict is a punishment that some innocent people will receive, but do not deserve.

I am against naming defendants for the same reason I am against the death penalty -- once issued, it cannot be taken back.

The principle of "innocent until proven guilty" must remain.

Under the current climate which, more or less states "no smoke without fire" even when a person is declared innocent after the fact, innocent people's rights will be trampled on by the media.

There must be better ways to make real criminals pay than to make innocent individuals suffer.

There is no justification for naming and shaming someone without proof they committed a crime.

northernheckler said...

I pretty much agree on this - It's very odd that there should be such a clamour for anonymity for this particular crime - and not for so many others, which carry just as great a stigma.

there is still a problem though - and just because it's only 3% - and just because it's not a problem confined to accusations of rape doesn't make that problem go away. I'm a school teacher and I've known people have their careers severely derailed by totally fabricated accusations from kids, kids who to be honest did not understand the seriousness of the rubbish they were coming out with.

I'm well aware that the number of kids who have stayed silent in the face of abuse from trusted adults is likely to be far far larger - it still doesn't make it easier for those wrongly accused. It's not an easy situation

However - in terms of proportionate response you're absolutely right in my opinion.

Just one thing - and I don't have my thoughts sorted on this so I'd appreciate your take on this - someone very close to me recently reported a historic rape. One of the reasons she's waited so long (many years) to report this is that the rapist was a friend of her close family and her extended family. Whilst she has lost touch with her own family to some extent, they are still in contact with this man's family. If this goes to court - and it may well - she is still frightened that her own family may see this as a malicious accusation - against someone they still see as a friend.

Now the very nature of the relationships between the families is clearly part of the structure that this man hid behind to perpetrate his crime - he knew that it was unlikely that she'd make any public fuss about it. Yet even now it's a massive worry - and I suspect that she'd be less worried if his name were not made public until after any court proceedings were successful - What do you think.

sian and crooked rib said...

I'm not sure I'm afraid, I find it quite tricky to find the stats! Will have a delve around...

The Goldfish said...

Thanks for this, Sian.

I think as well as the fact that most rapes are committed by multiple rapists, I think there'd be a massive conflict between victims getting the help they need to recover and getting justice.

After all, most victims know the rapist, and when folks talk about their experiences of rape, they currently can say, "my ex-boyfriend, my wife, my boss, my teacher..." in order to tell the story of their experience. If formally accused rapists had legal anonymity, then it would be a crime to give away information which would, very quickly, allow someone to work out who you were talking about. Bloggers who have written about their experiences of rape behind a shield of anonymity would have to double up that anonymity or not speak at all. Famous people, whose personal experiences can be particularly helpful for those who have undergone the same trauma, would be able to say very little, because it would be so easy for someone to dig into their past and guess who was being implicated (this has caused enough trouble and controversy when famous women - like Ulrika Johnson and Katie Price - have spoken publicly about rapes without naming their rapists).

If a case didn't get anywhere - and anyone whose been involved with victims of any crime knows that cases are dropped for many different infuriating reasons - then a victim could be in a position where they could never really describe what happened to them, for fear of giving away the identity of the person they accused. It's not like you're allowed to break the law because you're talking to your therapist, a support group, a close friend or a romantic partner who you need to tell about the past rape because it's a trauma and they need to understand post-traumatic reactions.

In fact, some victims may feel that it would be better to sacrifice both their own anonymity and the prospect of criminal justice by telling their stories direct to the press - especially if their rapist is a powerful person whose power makes them particularly dangerous. And that is not in the interest of justice.

All this having said, it is important to note that some rape survivors do support these ideas; Ghekinette has written eloquently in support of anonymity for the accused. I don't agree with her, but her perspective doesn't come from one which mistrusts women.

Forty Shades Of Grey said...

Forgot to mention that I read the transcript of the Parliament debate in 2010, it was pretty useful and really changed my mind about how I felt on the issue. It's a bit long but worth a read.


Naming males who have been charged with committing rape/male sexual violence against women does not 'shame the male charged' because he has not been yet been tried before a court.

However, if we believe naming males charged with rape/male sexual violence is wrong then all women and men charged with any crime should not be named. But if this were to happen the supposed transparency of justice in action would not be seen to be undertaken.

Some commentators have obviously not read Sian's article because she succinctly states why female victims of men's sexual violence are accorded anonymity and that is because the female victim is always 'shamed' by malestream media and our male supremacist system.

The Ched Evans case is just one example of how embedded misogyny justifies claims the female victim was lying despite fact Evans was convicted of rape.

The real reason why this old claim that males charged with rape/male sexual violence should be accorded anonymity, is because men continue to believe most women are innate liars whereas males never, ever lie do they? Males rarely commit sexual violence against women do they, despite overwhelming evidence male violence against women is pandemic.

Female victims of male sexual violence have been accorded anonymity because malestream media always wages a vendetta against the female victim and she is always depicted as a liar and/or is a nymphomaniac who is taking revenge against a male who supposedly spurned her sexual advances. All of these are patriarchal reversals used to justify mens' continuing pseudo sex right to females of all ages. Ergo 'rape is as rare as the unicorn' according to those individuals who continue to claim numerous men are being falsely charged with raping/subjecting women to male sexual violence.

Perhaps victims of crimes should be charged with 'perverting course of justice' if and when the male defendant is acquitted of crime he has been charged with. After all if male defendant is acquitted this obviously means the victim is an innate liar!!