Friday 5 July 2019

No, accused rapists should absolutely not be given anonymity – this is why

It is clearly not the right idea to make it even more difficult for women to pluck up the courage to report their assault

Cliff Richard, Stephen Fry, DJ Paul Gambaccini are amongst other male celebrities campaigning for anonymity for suspects in sexual offences cases. The group called Fair (Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform) has launched a parliamentary petition today calling for those suspected of sexual offences to be given anonymity until they are charged unless there are exceptional circumstances. Once 100,000 signatures are reached, parliament will consider whether to debate the issue.

The campaign is peddling false and dangerous myths that complainants (the majority of whom are women) lie about rape. DJ Paul Gambaccini warns of a “false allegation crisis” and that the current law encourages “everyone from liars to lunatics to make some false accusations and get in on the action”.

The evidence speaks for itself: 85,000 women are raped each year in England and Wales, only 1.7 per cent of reported rapes are prosecuted and just 13 per cent of reported rapes end in a conviction. The real story is that rape and sexual assault is commonplace and our society turns a blind eye to the harm that women and girls suffer every day. While a tiny number of false complaints of sexual offences are made, a suspect’s identity should never be concealed. Here’s five reasons against anonymity for suspects.
A change in the law would be a vicious power play in re-defining what it means to be a victim of rape ( AFP )
1. Naming suspects encourages more victims to come forward
When a suspect is named, other victims are likely to come forward to report assaults perpetrated by the same suspect. Ex-presenter, Stuart Hall, was jailed in 2013 after admitting to indecently assaulting 13 girls between 1967 and 1985. Black cab driver, John Worboys, was convicted in 2009 for attacks on 12 women but police say there may be over 100 victims of sexual abuse. Ex-entertainer, Rolf Harris, was jailed for sexual assaults against children in 2014.

The public naming of Hall, Worboys and Harris resulted in more victims coming forward. It is not uncommon for perpetrators to abuse multiple victims over a period of time. Hearing that a suspect is under investigation can give other victims the confidence they need to report cases to the police.

2. It is very rare that complainants lie
The key argument asserting the need for anonymity of suspects in sexual offences cases is that complainants lie. But not every failed conviction means that the complainant was lying. It just means that the prosecution has not proved guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”. Sexual offences cases are usually difficult to evidence because it’s “her word” against “his word”.

Men are more likely to be raped than be falsely accused of rape. Only 3 per cent of rape cases are false. When alleged false rape or sexual assault complaints are made, the police and the CPS are even quicker to prosecute such cases than in the US. The CPS even has special guidance on prosecuting individuals, mainly women, for false allegations of rape and/or domestic abuse.

The consequences are dire, as women and girls are reluctant to report incidents of rape or sexual assault for fear of being disbelieved and prosecuted. Eleanor de Freitas committed suicide three days before the start of her trial for perverting the course of justice for allegedly making a false accusation of rape.

3. Unlike suspects, complainants need life-long anonymity 
Campaigners contend that it is unfair and unjust that complainants receive life-time anonymity whilst suspects are named publicly. Rape and sexual offences are the most under-reported crimes – anonymity is granted so as to encourage victims to report cases.

The same logic applies to cases of female genital mutilation where complainants are granted life-long anonymity, and yet nobody complains about that.

Imagine a world in which complainant’s identities were made public – their life would be a living hell. The complainant in the Ched Evans initial rape trial and later re-trial was named thousands of times on social media. The woman was forced to relocate from her hometown and change her identity.

4. Anonymity for the accused was tried, tested and failed
The same tired arguments supporting anonymity for suspects in sexual offences cases have been rehearsed over the last several decades. From 1976 until 1988, the accused was granted the same anonymity as the complainant in rape cases. Anonymity legislation for accused rapists was later repealed in 1988, on the grounds that being accused of rape was no different from being accused of other serious crimes and did not warrant special treatment.

The repeal in 1988 followed the Criminal Law Revision Committee report in 1984, which said that the argument about equality between rape defendants and complainants was not valid “despite its superficial attractiveness”.

Some argue that the comparison should be made not between a rape defendant and alleged victim, but between a rape defendant and a defendant charged with another serious crime. But there are no celebrity campaigns for anonymity for suspects in terrorism or murder cases, yet the gravity of the crime and the stigma associated with such offences are often as significant as sexual offences. The difference is the gendered dynamic of rape: the majority of victims are women and the perpetrators are men. A change in the law would be a vicious power play in re-defining what it means to be a victim of rape.

5. Open justice for everyone
As End Violence Against Women states in their open letter to the campaign, “it is vital that we have a system of law, from police through to courts, which is open and transparent” and that means naming a person accused of any crime. The police have discretion in naming those accused and in some cases the police decide against naming suspects, for example, if they have particular vulnerabilities. In some cases, the media has demonised suspects without sufficient evidence. In those cases, tabloids ought to be held accountable for their actions but that is a very different issue to arguing for blanket anonymity for suspects until they are charged.

(Source: Independent)

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