From MPs, to QCs to the Daily Mail, the call to grant anonymity to men accused of rape until they are proven guilty is an idea that has steadfastly refused to disappear. If one listened to the call of these groups, one could believe that false accusations are rife, with men constantly living in terror of being falsely accused by some conniving woman, maliciously crying rape.
This vision is not borne out by reality. The truth about rape in the UK is that the criminal justice system is failing women at all levels, with only around 5.7 per cent of reported cases resulting in a conviction for the rapist. The reality of the situation is distorted, and as a result the extent of the damage to women’s lives hidden.
Providing those accused with anonymity was UK policy from 1976 when it was introduced under Labour, later repealed by the Conservatives in 1988. This was not the end of the policy though, making it into Liberal Democrat party policy in 2006 and again proposed in 2010 by the coalition government. Not only do the implications of this policy work to perpetuate harmful myths about victims lying, but it also obstructs the process of justice. The police need to be able to reveal the identity of alleged rapists to ensure their investigations are successful, and to allow other potential victims to step forward.
Women often fear that they will not be believed when they go to the police, with prosecutions being unsuccessful due to a lack of witnesses creating a ‘my word against his’ scenario when giving evidence. But rape can be, and often is, a serial crime. A lack of witnesses can be combatted by multiple accusers, whose stories overlap and thus are able to create an accurate pattern of behaviour of the rapist. Women, who might have carried the rape as their burden for their entire lives in the fear they will not be believed, are given the courage to come forward when they see that other women have. This is borne out time and time again: Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris, John Worboys (the ‘black cab’ rapist), Bill Cosby, and the Rochdale case. This list is not exhaustive, but is a small reflection on how publicising the identity of the alleged rapist helps lead to justice for victims. If there was anonymity for alleged rapists, then in any of these cases mentioned, one victim may have not been enough to secure a conviction. It was the combined evidence and testimonies of these women that led to justice.
What is implicit in the policy is that the rate of false accusations for rape are higher than any other crime, and thus that women are likely to lie about their assaults.
This myth leads to women feeling unable to come forward to the police and unwilling to tell family and friends. When the prevailing consensus is that false accusations are rife, police feel a pressure to ascertain ‘true’ accusations, achieving this through harsh questioning and aggressive tactics. This again deters women from going to the police. Already, statistics show only around 15 per cent of those who are victims of sexual violence choose to report the crime to the police. It is not unfeasible to assume this figure would lessen under the policy discussed.
Nobody is denying that false accusations of rape are incredibly traumatic for those involved. However, a false accusation of any crime — e.g, terrorism, murder or violent assault — would be equally distressing.
Yet there is no corresponding justice movement calling for anonymity of those crimes. Not only this, but once the accused men are cleared through the courts they are met with overwhelming public support. Paul Gambaccini was able to return to hosting his Radio 2 show after police dropped allegations of sexual offences, and Nigel Evans is able to continue his work as MP for Ribble Valley after being acquitted on suspicion of rape and sexual assault.
We must remember the distinction between the victimhood of a woman who has been raped and the victimhood of a man who has been falsely accused of rape. They not are in no way analogous, and the system of anonymity and legal processes must reflect this.
Image credit: Joe Gratz