England and Wales Move to Grant Anonymity to Rape Defendants

by Cara on May 21, 2010

in courts, Europe, International, media, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

In England and Wales, there’s a plan underway to grant anonymity to those who are accused of rape but have not been convicted.

Yes, under this plan, the name of the alleged victim would not be the only one withheld from public knowledge for reasons of safety and privacy. And understandably, local anti-rape activists have not responded well.

There has been growing pressure to change the law for defendants amid claims false allegations ruin the lives of innocent people.

The coalition Government yesterday pledged to extend the current ban on identifying victims in rape cases to defendants as well.

It would mean only those convicted of rape would ever be named but the controversial move last night split opinion.

Rape support groups said it was an “insult” that would discourage victims from reporting attacks but those have been falsely accused welcomed the decision as long overdue.

The pledge was included in the Government’s detailed coalition agreement which also revealed plans for a complete review of sentencing policy, raising the prospect of an end to short term prison sentences.

It also pledged to give anonymity to teachers facing accusations of assault or other offences by their own pupils.

It comes amid concerns careers are ruined by staff who are victims of malicious and false allegation from their students.

Officials last night refused to give further details on how the rape defendant ban would work but victims are currently afforded protection for life from the moment they report a rape.

There has been growing pressure to change the law for defendants amid claims false allegations ruin the lives of innocent people.

I, for one, am really just incredibly tired of the myth that the anonymity granted to rape survivors is some kind of special privilege. In reality, it’s a “privilege” I’d be more than willing to give up — because a world in which anonymity for rape survivors is not needed is a world that views a rape accusation as serious and credible, and a rape survivor as a victim who bears no blame or public shame and who is worthy of support.

In this world, rape accusers are harassed. They are called liars and whores, accused of filing false charges, shouted at in public, socially ostracized, looked upon as spoiled or ruined, and told that they are to blame for what happened. They often feel the need to leave their colleges, quit their jobs, or even move house just to escape the abuse. In this world, being a rape accuser is wrongly made into a shameful business. In this world, rape survivors are not supposed to hold their heads high — they’re supposed to hide away and cry, and apologize to the world. Rape accusers need anonymity as a protection from having their lives ripped apart any further than they already were by rape.

And the claim that being falsely accused of rape is just as bad as being raped — which plenty of supporters of this reform make (wade into any comments at your own risk), and which the plan itself implies — is a slap in the face to rape victims.

No one is denying that being accused of a crime you did not commit is an upsetting and potentially even traumatizing event. But it’s also a far less common one than rape. Further, with the relatively rare and still only sometimes exception of stranger rapes, accused rapists tend to be granted much stronger support systems than accusers, as rape myths prevail and no one wants to believe that their “nice” friend/son/brother/coworker/partner could be a rapist. And frankly, I just refuse to believe that those who are falsely accused of rape — not even convicted, just accused! — and are tried and vindicated in the judicial system face the same risk of a “ruined” life as someone whose bodily autonomy and personal worth has been violently violated in what is usually a gendered hate crime that faces great social stigma. Indeed, I personally propose a moratorium on the useless and inflammatory claim that anything is “as bad as being raped.”  (There are other words, and other analogies!) But in those cases where similarly high levels of trauma are likely, such as those where false accusations are based in racism, this law would probably do little to help, and might even hinder, making it harder for racial justice advocates to media watch and proactively volunteer their support and assistance.

It also strikes me as incredibly disingenuous to suggest that those who are falsely accused of rape are more likely to become social outcasts and have their lives ruined than those falsely accused of murder. Yet, alleged murderers aren’t being considered in this proposal. What I see to be the main difference between these two groups is who is doing the accusing. In murder trials, the victim is dead — he or she cannot accuse anyone, and is usually the police who decide which party to accuse. In a rape trial (that is not also a murder trial), the victim is alive — and with the exception of some stranger rapes or rapes committed while the victim was unconscious, it is the victim, usually the woman, who points to the accused.

And that’s what this comes down to: whether or not women can be believed. The fact is that false reports of rape are made at about the same rate as every other crime — and no one has been able to prove otherwise without seriously  distorting the numbers. But only rape accusers are made suspect. And with rape accusers being overwhelmingly women, women are made suspect. What anonymity for rape accusers says is that rape survivors deserve to be protected from a misogynistic rape culture that would otherwise attack them. What anonymity for those accused of rape says is that men need to be protected from vindictive, lying whores. Not to mention a society so punitive as to think rape is bad!

The thing is, this has been tried before. As the article notes, it was tried from 1976 to 1988. What was the reason it was repealed? Feminist man-hating? No — the fact that it made victims less likely to report.

And who can blame them? With a 6% conviction rate, victims really don’t have a whole lot to hope for, other than a public record of the accused’s alleged crime and a warning to potential future victims. Without even that much — and with most rape allegations going ignored by the media, anyway, it’s already a pretty long shot — how many will decide that reporting is just not worth it? How many will lose an avenue through which to make public what was done to them? And how many rapists won’t even face the most basic, minimal punishment of being socially ostracized from those few informed and wise enough to know that rape accusers are almost always telling the truth and rapists almost always go free?

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{ 4 comments }

1 Clarence May 22, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Well:

Whether you want to hear it or not, false rape accusations happen, and innocent people are sometimes maimed or killed as a result. And if they are innocent yet convicted they face repeat assaults and rapes in prison. I’ve got plenty of links if you want them. Another thing you overlook is that some percentage of false accusers -and I’m not saying most accusations are false- rely on the fact they are granted anonymity and face little or no punishment for false accusations to smear someone’s name and reputation.

I think its only fair that either both parties are named or neither party is named.

2 Cara May 22, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Clarence –

False convictions are a serious issue, but they are not an issue with the question of whether or not this plan is a good idea. Not even remotely. Because as soon as someone is convicted, they will be named. This plan only deals with accusations that have not (yet) resulted in a conviction. To bring up false convictions is to obscure the real point of what this plan is about, as well as the fact that it does nothing to prevent false convictions.

Secondly, if you want to talk about false accusers, then you’ll really need to note that a vast majority of false accusations don’t name a rapist. They involve stranger rape, not acquaintance rape, because the accuser is almost always looking for attention, not to see an innocent man convicted. And yes, those found to make false accusations do face punishment. They’re put on trial themselves, and I’m pretty sure see a much higher conviction rate than rapists.

And whether you want to hear about it not, either of your two plans will result in fewer actual rapes being reported. I own that I’m fine with all accused parties being named, because they are merely accused, with the understanding that every once in a rather rare while, one of those accused people will be innocent. So you need to own the consequences of your position as well.

3 bing May 26, 2010 at 2:38 am

Clarence. Dude. Your post disgusts me. Someone falsely accused of theft, or forging checks, could ALSO be convicted. And abused while in custody. And so on, and so on. That is NOT grounds for giving them anonymity.

The cliche that those who have been raped are violated again when they press charges – that is real. And that is a massive roadblock for justice.

There are very real reasons to give accusers anonymity. Unless you actually believe that ALL ACCUSED CRIMINALS deserve anonymity, however, you have presented absolutely zero, nil, zilch, nada to support your idea other than some “feeling” you have that it’d be “fair.” Is it coincidence that your version of “fair” protects rapists by the score for the tiny off-chance that some virtuous, honorable, sadly victimized male would be anonymous? Is it? Or have you honestly *not thought about reality*?

Don’t bother to reply. Please. The question is purely rhetorical.

4 jose jones May 30, 2010 at 11:27 pm

I agree with your post, and the prospect of granting anonymity to rape defendents is particularly scary if it results in a reduction of rape reports.

Something that bothers me, and I am not sure how to deal with it, is how I am to react about someone who has been accused of rape, and was subsequently not charged due to a lack of evidence. In Australia, there was a case where a relatively high-profile football player was accused of rape, there was an investigation but he was never charged. He wasn’t found guilty, but he wasn’t found not guilty either! The idea of him as a perpetrator is strong in my mind and others — an opposition coach recently cause a bit of kerfuffle by calling him a “f*cking rapist” to his face.

I hate the notion that there may be a woman out there that was not protected by our rape laws and has to endure the sight of this player across the media. But I also don’t like the fact that I have this notion that the player is a rapist which is based on very little, and that is something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

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