Women Against Rape Briefing to Parliament:
Why we oppose proposals to make people accused of rape anonymous
(amendment to Policing and Crime Bill – Lords Report Stage 7/12 Dec 2016)
Following the closure of several investigations into allegations of sexual violence by celebrities and VIPs, there has been another media frenzy and lobby of Parliament for anonymity for those accused of sex crimes.
There are three main reasons why WAR opposes anonymity for sex crimes.
1. It would make rape defendants different in law from people accused of other crimes. The main argument for this exceptionalism is that rape is uniquely stigmatising, that the public believes there is no smoke without fire and therefore even if the person is never charged, their reputation is damaged and they may suffer serious repercussions. Of course it is terrible to be wrongly accused of a crime. But many other crimes attract a lot of stigma too: terrorism, child murder, animal cruelty . . . to name a few. It is not the fault of rape victims that some media outlets and members of the public ignore the principle of innocent until proven guilty. The law should not be changed on that basis.
2. It would hamper investigations rather than encourage victims to come forward. People accused of rape were granted anonymity in the 1976 Sexual Offences Act, but that was repealed in 1988 after the police complained that it was hampering investigations. By now we should have learnt from the Jimmy Savile scandal, the conviction of Stephen Port for the murder of four gay men and the latest revelations by footballers alleging they were sexually abused as children by coaches. It is clear that many violent men are sexual predators who attack more than one person. They are often only prosecuted when more than one victim comes forward with information confirming the allegations against the same man. Despite more victims reporting nowadays, many others are too traumatised or scared to report, and only get the courage to come forward when they hear of another victim of the same man. Anonymity would make it harder to get the evidence. In many cases, there may not be enough evidence to charge a man with the rape or sexual assault of one person, so a charge may not be laid until other victims come forward. We have noted increasing numbers of trials with several victims, but we know from our daily casework that there are many others that have still to come to light.
We understand that politicians are concerned about balancing the rights of the accuser and the accused. We are concerned too. There is no justice or protection for rape survivors if the wrong men are accused and/or convicted. But anonymity for the accused is not the way to tackle this problem. We urge you to be equally concerned that rape occurs on a mass scale, a crime mainly done by adult men to children and women. Many victims are for good reason still too scared to come forward for fear of disbelief, exposure and lack of protection from perpetrators. And despite a doubling of rape reports to police in the last four years (reported by HMIC), the conviction rate is not improving. Justice still eludes the vast majority of rape survivors – 85% of rape is unreported and the conviction rate for convicted rape is less than 6%.
Some women have been subjected to a public witch hunt, with journalists and social media claiming that because charges were dropped or the man was acquitted, the complainant must have made a false allegation. This is both ignorant and dangerous. There is a huge difference between charges being dropped or an acquittal and a false allegation. Look how long it took and how many women and children had to come forward before Worboys or any of those accused of child rape and sexual assault in Oxford, Rochdale, Rotherham . . . were finally convicted. Those who advocate anonymity for rape defendants seem much less concerned with the frequent witch-hunting rape victims face.
3. It would reinforce the myth that women and children commonly lie about rape. There is a widespread sexist belief that lots of allegations of rape are false – this is totally untrue. Only 2% of reported rapes are false (speech by Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London 2012). In fact, we believe the figure to be even lower as we know that it is not unusual for women to be bullied by police to retract their allegation; some then find themselves prosecuted for Perverting the Course of Justice even though they are innocent rape victims. Southwark Sapphire was found guilty of this in 2012 after one woman was forced to retract her allegation of rape by her husband. Two years later, her husband went on to kill their children. Had the police taken her rape complaint seriously, her children might not be dead. Many rape victims are prosecuted for making a false accusation after a biased police investigation, such as in the case of Layla Ibrahim, whose miscarriage of justice has been lodged with the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Many rapes are closed by the police without even CPS consultation. Sometimes we have to complain when evidence is lost, neglected or not tested, witnesses aren’t contacted, and more attention is paid to the victim’s behaviour, over lines of enquiry that point towards a defendant’s guilt.
Instead of assuming that most women who report rape are liars, why don’t we assume that most men arrested for a sexual offence deny it? A Sapphire (rape specialist) detective told us she had never arrested and interviewed a man accused of rape who admitted their guilt. Stuart Hall initially denied the allegations of one woman as “pernicious, callous, cruel and spurious”. If he had had anonymity he would have probably taken the stand denying his guilt and secured an acquittal. But when he was named other women came to the police and told them of more assaults. After that, he had no choice but to plead guilty. To initially call his first victim a liar is something that happens to many other victims who report rape or other violent crimes – this is far more widespread than a false report.
7 December 2016