#iBelieveHer Rape Myths 101: AKA Why Granting Anonymity To Rape Defendants Harms Survivors And Conviction Rates *Trigger Warning*

Rape Myth: If the woman accusing rape gets anonymity, surely the defendant should, too? 

There’s a variation of the above question, which suggests that the woman pressing charges should also be named. This argument was flung around the internet shortly after Ched Evans’ conviction. Today, I saw this argument doing the rounds again.

In 2010, around the time of the general elections, the issue of anonymity for defendants of rape charges was heavily debated in parliament. This is the issue I’ll be discussing. The other is just… well… stupid. Despite what the rape apologists would prefer, the claimant is not the one on trial.

In order to put forward this blog post, I’ve been reading the House Of Commons debate from June 7, 2010. In the opening speech, Clare Flint raised the issue that every 34 minutes, a rape is reported to the police in the UK. Flint carried on to raise the issue that only one in twenty reported rapes ends in a conviction. That’s around 5%. (*Note: A further 5 – 7% end in a related conviction, but not a conviction for rape)

Between Flint and Meg Munn, both of Labour, the issue was raised that many rape survivors do not report, but may later come forward upon learning that their rapist has attacked someone else. Flint brought to light the case of Jon Worboys, and raised the fact that the publicity from his case saw a further 85 survivors of his attack come forward, thus securing his conviction. Indeed, the blanket of anonymity is a dangerous one, especially in the case of such an under-reported crime.

But by focusing on granting anonymity to rape defendants, those in favour of such a move suggest that they believe women who report their rapes are unreliable, a myth that serves to discredit rape survivors, and one which prevents many survivors from reporting. I’ve yet to hear a call for anonymity for those accused of murder, or child abuse. Only rape, it seems, is forgivable enough for the perpetrator to be hidden away. Despite the infamous myth about women consistently lying about rape, research has continually proven that the rate for false rape allegations remains at around the same as the rate for false allegations of other crimes. But when’s the last time you accused a mugging victim of lying?

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4 thoughts on “#iBelieveHer Rape Myths 101: AKA Why Granting Anonymity To Rape Defendants Harms Survivors And Conviction Rates *Trigger Warning*

  1. Hm. I actually *have* argued that all defendants should be anonymous no matter what the crime, for the simple reason that they are innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps a system such as the Scottish ‘not proven’ would allow for the release of the name in most cases except when the defendant has been proven innocent?

    It makes me uncomfortable that innocent people, though apparently a small percentage of the accused, are being named and shamed. This seems to be using the conviction rate to suggest that rape is a special kind of crime for which people are guilty until they are proven innocent. It seems to me that the innocent rule should apply to all crimes – surely it is more important the more heinous the crime that a wrongly accused person not be vilified by the public before the case is heard in court?

    Your point about alerting those who haven’t reported to do so is an angle I hadn’t thought about. I wasn’t aware that it made such a difference. Perhaps a local police appeal when a rapist is caught for other victims to come forward, without mentioning the name on the poster? Maybe this is naive.

    I don’t think it suggests ‘the victims are liars’ to keep the accused secret, if that’s not the case when it is done for other crimes. There *is* a problem of people assuming that rape victims are liars but that is separate from this issue. Obviously not all accusations are true (for whatever reason), just like with any crime, so there is definitely fallout from this. Each solution has its problems.

    • Hi Claire, thanks for your comment.

      I can understand your viewpoint re innocent until proven guilty. However, I believe that the “innocent until proven guilty” argument is one that is complex, and leaves a lot of room for abuse of the course of justice. Whereas you make the argument for the “Not Proven” verdict, I do believe that verdict could be equally problematic, and risks leading to an area where we see a drop in the conviction rate. I may, however be wrong, and I do need to check up on the conviction rate for rape in Scotland.

      It’s worth noting that the “innocent until proven guilty” stance is or the state, not the personal. Where crimes against the person are committed, it is in the interests of the public to know who the accused is. We see a pitiful attrition rate for rape, as mentioned above. Open courts, it is worth noting, are more capable of preventing miscarriages of justice; a notion I believe the “anonymity for defendants” brigade forget. For example, you have a defendant, accused of a crime. However, the police have arrested the wrong man. In naming the defendant, there’s the added possibility in miscarriages of justice that an overlooked witness could come forward. In providing anonymity for the defendant, in the rare cases of a miscarriage of justice, the defendant is prevented from any overlooked witnesses coming forward.

      It’s worth noting that the number of miscarriages of justice is small, in comparison. I don’t have figures for this, and am attempting to find such from official sources. But what is regularly forgotten, it seems, is that for a defendant to be charged (and thus appear in court), criteria need to be met. More can be found at the CPS Guide to Prosecuting Rape, particularly over pages 11 – 13. . http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/prosecuting_rape.pdf

      Regards,
      Frothy

  2. This one causes me no end of grief. I appreciate there is some argument that only rape is treated this way and thus it suggests that victims are untrustworthy, but I also know that I felt unable to report my first rape soon enough after the attack to have forensics because he was famous (by proxy) and the tabloids would have leapt on it like starving dogs and the details about him that sold papers would have identified me in my job, my street, my life and caused me even more difficulty and abuse than I got. So I hesitated due to self preservation and he then got a free pass to keep raping because there was no definitive proof.

    Also I’m not sure why the Worboys case always gets used as an example here. There were reporting restrictions on the case until conviction because the Met were self investigating it and 5 other cases to form the basis of restructuring Sapphire and thus neither Worboys or Kirk Reid were named til after conviction, at which point other women were asked to come forward and other charges were bandied about, but that was a PR move by the Met and nothing more. (In my experience with them I also worry that the present system actually allows them to make mistakes and hide behind them.)

    I really don’t know what the answer on anonymity is. Both sides have positives and negatives. I think it all hinges on general rape culture but the line that women only do it to ruin men’s lives plays right into that and oh god, I’m back to being totally confused and not sure what the answer is…

  3. “Perhaps a system such as the Scottish ‘not proven’ would allow for the release of the name in most cases except when the defendant has been proven innocent?” – This is a misunderstanding. The third verdict is a historical accident and is functionally indistinguishable from ‘not guilty’. If some juries return ‘not proven’ in contradistinction to ‘not guilty’ in order to perform some expressive function they are mistaken in doing so; if they are directed that there is a difference by the judge then that’s grounds for a re-trial. It would never, nor should it ever, be tied

    The feelings of victims in the event of a non-conviction is largely irrelevant; just as you would not be able to fire someone or refuse to hire them on the strength of their being accused but not convicted of a crime, from the point of view of the state if you are not found guilty of committing a crime then you didn’t do it. This however needs to be balanced by a realistic apprehension of the difficulty of encouraging people to bring forward accusations or fresh evidence in on-going investigations. This is especially true if e.g. 1) someone with stronger evidence is unwilling to come forward with an accusation against someone of high social standing but might be willing to do so if aware there are other accusations against them even if (especially if) the evidence in the earlier accusations is insufficient to ultimately secure a conviction (we saw this so much recently that it is truly bizarre people are talking about anonymity for the accused in the wake of it) or 2) cases which require similar facts of multiple cases to secure convictions against particularly cautious offenders. In both these cases breaking through the unwillingness of people to make accusations, which is a problem in general but is particularly problematic in the case of sexual offenses, is necessary in order to actually secure convictions. If the only arguments in favour of anonymity are ‘people believe if you are accused then you must be guilty’ and ‘people read the tabloids’ then educate people about the legal system and discourage them from reading the tabloids. Or if you can’t run a functional justice system in a world where they exist, ban the tabloids.

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