On granting those accused of rape anonymity.

24 May

I recall, many moons ago, seeing an up and coming stand up comedian performing in the West end of Glasgow. “I was walking by a demonstration”, he said, “so I asked what they were demonstrating against.” Apparently, the lady with the megaphone replied “Rape”, leading the comic to question “…but come on, nobody surely advocates rape?” Indeed, it’s not the sort of thing one would actively encourage. If anything, most people would be steadfastly against the promotion of rape, suggesting that this demonstration (if it ever happened) was merely preaching to the converted, but very loudly. In the interests of completeness, the demonstrator replied “Rapists.”.

Skip forward to 2010, and the new Government are supposedly looking to introduce anonymity at rape trials for the accused as well as the accusers.


It really should go without saying that the accusers ought to retain their anonymity. Fact is, without it a lot of people would not go to court. Sadly, there are some men and women (thankfully decreasing in number) who believe that victims of rape “ask for it”, be it through the clothes they wear, the way they act, and so on. Asking to be raped is, frankly, counter-intuitive. That would be consent, one would have thought.

However, is it really right that the accused, whether found innocent or guilty, can be named and shamed? I wouldn’t have thought so. I don’t agree with the idea that, by ensuring equality in the courtroom, the rights of the accused somehow automatically trump those accusing. I don’t buy the argument that, by granting anonymity, you’re somehow letting a rapist away with it, back onto the streets, to attack again. By making it equally anonymous, yet allowing media scrutiny, we can concentrate on the case, the testimony, and a balanced argument from all sides that a jury can reach a fair, reliable verdict.

It’s often mentioned that the UK has a shamefully low ratio of prosecutions to convictions. This may well be true. There probably are people who are guilty of rape who are found innocent, or in Scotland “not proven”. However, this is where the real dilemma lies – in Britain, we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Rape, sadly, is difficult to prove – you have to prove that a) sexual intercourse happened and b) that it wasn’t consensual. In many cases, with sex being mostly a private affair, you’re unlikely to get witnesses to corroborate either the defendant or the accusers versions of events.

There should be a better way of conducting rape trials whilst keeping them fair, and keeping the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. I do not have an answer as to what you could do – maybe allow stronger cross-examination in court, for instance, or maybe pressure the accused for an admission through showing them the effects that rape has on their victims, their families, and other survivors in graphic detail. I’m no expert, but the one thing we CANNOT do is gerrymander the crime statistics in an authoritarian manner until one day, we’re happy with the results. Where does that leave us? What if the results were a lot nearer the prosecution/conviction ratio for most other crimes, yet serious miscarriages of justice were still happening? Would we have a better off judicial system for it? I doubt it.

Also, please note how I’ve broadly referred to the accusers in potential rape trials as accusers, not victims. It is unhelpful, in my view, to presuppose the verdict in such cases. However, to go back to the comedian I mentioned at the beginning, I do not wish to leave anyone with the impression that I am unsympathetic to the victims of rape. I cannot begin to imagine the horrors of being raped, nor would I wish my worst enemies to be subjected to that ordeal. However, just like the comedian, it seems ludicrous to think that by holding views contrary to the well-meaning but outspoken baying mob, that I am somehow complicit in trying to get a rapist to walk the streets a free person.

(This is broadly a response to http://tiny.cc/9ru6n, incidentally. It’s not a subject that I feel particularly comfortable writing about, or seeing on the news, however I do feel sufficiently strongly that I felt a response was necessary.)


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