There has been a furore over government plans to grant anonymity to those accused of rape (their accusers already have their identity protected). A number of feminists have come out and argued that this simply tilts the scales further in favour of men, as it gives the impression that rape defendants need special protection. There are also fears that not naming the accused would stop other women coming forward if they heard about a trial, and so it would be harder to convict serial rapists like John Warboys.
Obviously, this change is better for the men accused of rape (which is good, as they are innocent until proven guilty), but could it be better for women too? Perhaps. We know from studies that some people are willing to blame the rape victim (or at least partially blame her), for the rape. This, combined with a perception that some rape victims are lying and desperate for attention, is likely to have a negative impact on some jurors, thus making them less likely to convict. Anonymity would eliminate the notion that a woman is seeking publicity, making some on the jury more sympathetic to their claims.
Whether anonymity would benefit women who have made it to court is a minor debate though compared to the wider issues surrounding rape. One of the biggest issues is the misinformation put out by many commentators about the low conviction rate for rape (’94% of rapes don’t end in conviction’ is the standard line). The rape conviction rate is then compared unfavourably to conviction rates for other crimes. Yet this is a myth. The conviction rate for rape is between 50-60%, which is higher than for most other crimes. The conviction rate is the percentage of cases brought to trial that end in a conviction. What both commentators and politicians do is use the attrition rate for rape (number of convictions as a percentage of number of reported crimes), whilst using the conviction rate for all other crimes. As Baroness Stern (appointed by Harriet Harman to lead a review of rape) pointed out, misleading references to the attrition/conviction rate actually discourage women from coming forward to report rapes.
Secondly is the issue of the help women receive when they are reporting a rape. As Baroness Stern’s review noted, there are a number of things the police could do a great deal better. Many women who waited several weeks to report a rape (understandably, given the horrific nature of such a crime), were treated with suspicion and dismissive comments. Others felt that lack of a specialist support officer hampered their chances of recovering and ensuring that the rapist was brought to justice. Baroness Stern recommended more specialist advisers, greater training, and more ‘intelligence-led’ policing.
The third issue is the attitudes surrounding rape. As I mentioned above, there still is a culture of victim-blaming surrounding rape. Just to note: rape is never a victim’s fault, and no means no. Yet we are still a situation where high-profile women feel able to defend date rape on the basis that once a woman is in a man’s bedroom and kissing him she loses any rights she might have had over her own body. There is also still a stereotype of the rapist lurking in the bushes, while in reality the majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.
There’s a lot to do regarding rape, particularly in terms of better provisioning for victims (both pre and post trial), changing mentalities and more accurate information about statistics. I don’t see anonymity of defendants as a step back, but rather a proposal that will benefit both victims and the accused.
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Filed in: Sex equality