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On Anonymity for Those Accused of Rape in England and Wales

Posted by Curt on Wednesday, 2 June 2010

A few weeks ago, a proposal was made to grant anonymity to those accused of rape in England and Wales, just like how accusers of rape are granted anonymity there.  This was a Liberal Democrat proposition from the very start that, with their coalition government with the Tories (conservatives), they were able to bring into parliament and it appears very likely to pass (only 53 or so MPs, most from the Labour party I believe, have announced their opposition to this proposed law, out of something like 600+ MPs).  Not surprisingly, men’s rights groups and those sympathetic to it have been all over this proposal, relentlessly advocating for its passage, with the False Rape Society calling it the most important issue they’re faced with.  Feminists, likewise, have been giving it some attention as well, where the reception is varied from mixed feelings to outright anger.

Allow me to say upfront that I support this proposal.  At first I was a little wary of supporting it because I tend to advocate for the absolute freedom of the press, where this law would obviously put a limit on that by not allowing the news to name who the rape defendants are (just like how they can’t name who the rape accuser is now); but after some thought, I don’t think it is as big a deal as it might seem.  Stories regarding the accusation can still be printed with fake names (or even without naming anyone at all), thus not actually limiting the press in any serious manner.  It won’t infringe on any civil liberties.

Combined with this, the law would help protect the identities of those individuals accused of rape until they are convicted (where the press could then name them without any worries of legal repercussions).  This, in my mind, would further the “innocent until proven guilty” clause that the American and British criminal justice systems are based upon and that I believe anybody who values justice should advocate.  I would also extend this to an individual’s reputation – no individual’s reputation should be damaged for a crime they were not convicted of.  This does not necessarily mean they were innocent of that crime, but it does mean they were found not to be guilty of it and hence their name shouldn’t suffer a hit as if they were found guilty.  To say that it should is absolutely heinous and falls for the logical fallacy of proving one’s innocence, or proving a negative.

Durham, NC: Home to Duke University

Rape accusations happens to be regarded as among the worst crimes a person can commit, and rightfully so, thus one can be certain that being accused of rape can seriously damage one’s reputation even if not found guilty.  Remember the whole alleged rape controversy surrounding Duke Lacrosse some four years ago?  The media made such a frenzy out of it that some were calling for their heads when the whole thing turned out to be a farce (although some stubbornly refused to admit such after their calls for a witch hunt despite the overwhelming evidence against their case).  Simply put, false rape accusations (not necessarily lies by the accuser, mind you) are a serious problem whether you’d like to admit it or not and it would be in the best interests of anybody who desires a just society to fight it.

I’m going to quote some arguments put out by one feminist against the passage of this law that I feel best represents a few of the basic ideas behind what a lot of other feminists have been arguing and refute them to the best of my ability.

“There is just no evidence that the number of false allegations is remotely high enough to justify such a move [granting anonymity to rape defendants.”

Funny enough, nobody really knows for sure exactly how many rape allegations there really are.  As a result, I won’t attempt to argue how many there are.  But I can tell you that the adverse impact a false rape accusation can have on an individual is brutal – this is reason enough to support the move.

“What [granting anonymity to all rape defendants] will do though is further the myth that women do cry rape for fun.”

I fail to see any evidence that might suggest this.  Simply because the defendant would be granted anonymity hardly means that the victim’s testimony is to be doubted automatically.  I’d reverse this question – if rape accusers are granted anonymity because the argument is that they need that protection (thus implying they are victimized), would it mean that any who have been accused of rape should always viewed as guilty, conviction or not?

Using this logic, you may as well consider our entire criminal justice system sexist in that it assumes all defendants are innocent until proving guilty, thus applying skepticism to the accuser’s testimony.  Because rape accusations rely on testimony to a far greater extent than most other crimes, there is usually not enough evidence to support the accuser’s case and thus one of the big reasons why rape cases are dropped at a much higher rate than most other cases and yes, a number of rapists do walk free as a result.

I see feminists complain about this all the time – but what can we do besides forcing the defendant to prove his or her own innocence?  I’m sorry, but I’d much rather live in a society where 20 rapists, murderers, and other dangerous individuals are let free rather than see one individual convicted of a crime they did not commit.  I don’t say this because I hate women – I say this simply because a society which sacrifices innocents as collateral to fight a crime like rape is not a just society, and thus one I would never want to live in.  I’d fear a society that carelessly imprisoned innocents far more than I’d fear a society with a higher number of dangerous individuals roaming around.

“They are not proposing anonymity for any other crime.”

Maybe they ought to?  Honestly, if you support anonymity for defendants for all crimes, you should support this.  Not doing so would be akin to not supporting a law that would grant homosexuals full equality to heterosexuals in society because it didn’t also grant transgendered individuals the same.

Or perhaps this quote’s underlying point was an attempt to imply misogyny, as people are looking at rape accusations first?  Honestly, rape is very difficult to compare with most other crimes – as I’ve mentioned, rape relies on the testimony of the accuser far more than most other crimes do.  With a murder, there’s some record of a person missing (and often a body that corresponds to that individual).  With theft, there’s some record of something having been stolen.  With rape, there’s little to no records much of the time.  And this is not the fault of our justice system or those who have been raped; it is simply the nature of the crime.  A person’s having been violated by rape is impossible to quantify and is quite abstract (hence why many children have a difficult time fully comprehending how horrid rape is), thus making it unable to be used to reconstruct the scene of the crime very easily.  The result is that when it turns into a “he said, she said” issue, many people are inclined to dismiss it based on the grounds of lack of overwhelming proof, and combine that with the consequences a false rape accusation can have on one’s life (which is unique to many other crimes), it makes complete sense why people would go after rape first for anonymity.  Blaming it on a hatred of women is ridiculous, in my opinion.

There’s many more arguments that have been made against this proposal, and if you do disagree with it, I encourage you to put forth your argument here.  In any case, I support granting anonymity to defendants of rape accusations.  I’ve made my case.

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2 Responses to “On Anonymity for Those Accused of Rape in England and Wales”

  1. Alan Dunleavy said

    You have neglected what I consider to be the most compelling argument against the granting of anonymity. By that I am referring to the fact that if the defendent has anonymity it prevents people coming forward and providing additional information and testimony.
    Many rapes don’t get reported or brought to court and so many rapists get away with it. In the case of serial rapists, there would be no way to prosecute them of serial rape unless multiple people could come forward. If everyone accused of rape was granted anonymity then only one accuser can contribute in any one case.
    Many women don’t feel confident coming forward about rape because they fear not being believed or being blamed. But if they see their rapist accused by someone else they’ll be more confident about making their accusation.
    Look at the case of John Worboys, a black-cab rapist who was eventually convicted for sexual attacks on 12 women. If he had anonymity the sentence would only have been for one attack.
    Anonymity prevents people coming forward and therefore obstructs the justice system.

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