On anonymity for those accused of rape

This post was written by Reuben Bard-Rosenberg on May 22, 2010
Posted Under: Criminal Justice

So today the blogosphere has been wrring and grrring over Con Dem plans to grant anonimity to rape victims. Harpymarx and Jess McCabe on the F word, and others have articulated their opposition to it.

I must say that in some ways I have been disappointed with the scope of the discussion so far. This is a subject which raises genuinely difficult issues about how we balance the rights of citizens convicted of no crime, with the need to deliver open justice. These issues are sidestepped by the excessive focus on whether those accused of rape get special treatment, insofar as those accused of other crimes do not have their anonimity protected. To much is at stake here for this issue to be reduced to one of consistency. And while opponents of the measure have asserted that more people are falsely accused of insurance fraud, it is hard to remember anybody being physically attacked and spat at in the street for fiddling their claims.

Equally the assertions that this proposed law sends out the “wrong message” leave me rather cold. Despite 13 years of silly new labour legislation, the point of laws is not to send out messages. In this matter even more than others, the actual impact on peoples lives matters far more.

So why do I oppose this measure? Firstly, because it will make a difficult-to-prosecute crime even more difficult to prosecute. As has been noted, taxi-driver-rapist john worboys may never have been convicted if many women had not come forward when details of his case were made public.

Secondly I think the British public are more intelligent than the thinking behind this laws implies. Yes, as I have noted, there have been cases of falsely accused being attacked. Yet I think that the vast majority of people are capable of differentiating between an accusation and a conviction. As such , we the people, are capable of dealing reasonably with the news that such-and-such a person has been accused of rape. We are mature enough to benefit from open justice.

More however might well be done to support those falsely accused. The fact that many real rapes do not result in conviction does not negate that fact that false claims exist, or lessen the pain they cause. One thing I might suggest is that something is done about the pitiful sentences sometimes given to false accusers. Last year, scumbag Sarah Jane Hilliard recieved a suspended sentence after putting a local man through hell with a false accusation. Considering the enormous suffering that false accusers are attempting to bring to their victims – possible life imprisonment and a permanently fucked up life – 10 years should be standard.

Equally if the Con Dems were serious about supporting the falsely accused they would scrap the Vetting And Barring Scheme. Under this scheme – which aims to protect children and vulnerable adults – people can have their careers ended and their lives ruined for sexual offences they have been found not guilty of, so long as the “balance of probabilities” are stacked against them.

Moves such as these would show genuine and necessary support for those falsely accused, without undermining the even more necessary prosecution of real rapists.

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Reader Comments


One thing that worries me about the idea of prosecuting false accusers is the potential message it sends to victims. We already have a problem with too many victims blaming themselves and being scared of coming forward. Surely handing out 10 year sentences could lead to genuine victims “self moderating” for fear of not being believed and then ending up in prison themselves?

Written By Selena on May 23rd, 2010 @ 1:00 am

Agree with Selena.

I think that the comparison with insurance fraud was probably a not particularly wise one, looking at it again, but it IS important to look at the message that this sends out. Unless I’m mistaken, in murder and peadophilia cases the defendant doesn’t get anonymity as a given – they have to be granted it because if there is fear of attack (please correct me if I’m wrong). Making anonymity compulsory in rape cases, and only rape cases, is tantamount to saying that there are quite a lot of people who deliberately lie about rape to drag the defendant’s name through the mud as an act of spite – that is a massively serious (and disgusting) political statement, and discussing it is in no way sidestepping the ‘real’ issues at stake here. Also, you talk about ‘the real impact on people’s lives mattering more’…surely the perpetuation of these myths about rape victims make it all the more likely that other victims won’t report their crimes because they won’t be believed? The message that this policy sends out does affect people’s actual lives.

I agree with you about the vetting and barring scheme, however – what a hypocritical travesty.

Written By Elly B on May 23rd, 2010 @ 2:09 am

A 10yr prison sentence would be massively punitive, a ridiculous public expense, and a travesty – those making false accusations would be serving longer than those actually committing rape. Long-term incarceration is almost always unhelpful, and difficult to justify where there isn’t a genuine risk of serious harm to the public.

I also agree with Elly. The main ‘point’ of laws may not be to send out messages, but this one does nonetheless and it is a message that we must reject. It appears to confirm the largely spurious hysteria about the prevalence of false rape accusations, and will (justifiably) heighten the perception among victims that the law in this area is geared against them, risking driving down reporting rates yet further.

At any rate, and more practically, the John Worboys point alone provides a strong enough argument against this law, and I agree with you there Reuben.

Written By Ema on May 23rd, 2010 @ 9:43 am

Thank you all for your thought provoking comments, to which I will respond more fully when I am at a computer.

Ema – I’m not convinced that a higher sentence for false accusers is necessarily a travesty. Obviously the ethics of sentencing is a complex mush of many different elements. But the injury that false accusers are attempting to inflict upon there victims – 6, 7 years in jail and probable life time unemployability – is, in my opinion, worse than rape.

Written By Reuben on May 23rd, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

I don’t think you’re in the position to make that kind of assertion and, quite frankly, it’s completely abhorrent.

Written By Selena on May 23rd, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

Reuben, I’m intrigued how you wrote that comment if you’re not at a computer :p but yes I agree with Selena again here, that’s an awful and unwise assertion to be making.

Written By Elly B on May 24th, 2010 @ 8:50 am

OK so no I have never been raped. But im not sure that anybody attacking my “awful”, “abhorrent” and “unwise” assertion has done a 7 year stretch. If we are going to adopt the principle that one only talks of that which they have personally experienced the scope of this discussion will be very narrow indeed. If one is to talk about whether one act should attract a higher sentence that another – a discussion that Ema started – one must, almost by necessity, consider the impact of crimes which one has not personally experienced.

Written By Reuben on May 24th, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

You’re right, I haven’t done a stint in prison for a crime I was wrongfully accused of. I imagine it would be awful – the ten hours I spent in a cell really were quite traumatic, and I can only imagine how awful it must be when you know that you could be in there for seven years rather than 24 hours max. But the crucial point is, none of us are making the assertion that being raped is definitely worse than being wrongfully imprisoned. You are quite explicitly saying that being raped is less horrific, something that I don’t believe you have the authority to say. Rape is seriously mentally traumatic and to fairly blithely suggest that there are many worse things that could happen is quite dismissive of rape survivors, many of whom would like to see their attackers punished and never will because of the disgustingly low conviction rate.

Written By Elly B on May 24th, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

I didn’t “blithely say that many things are worse than rape”. I said that one particular thing – something extremely traumatic and damaging – was worse than rape. As such the position is expressed was reconcilable with the idea that rape is extrmely traumatic and damaging.

Written By Reuben on May 25th, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

“But the injury that false accusers are attempting to inflict upon there victims – 6, 7 years in jail and probable life time unemployability – is, in my opinion, worse than rape.”

When you are raped, it can feel like a life sentence. you will never be rid of it, it haunts you, and can stop you enjoying life altogther. people who have been raped are 13 times more likely to commit suicide than those who have not.

I don’t think it’s at all fair to make comments like the above, or to compare two things which you have no idea about.

Written By Eve on May 25th, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

I think we’ve gone off topic and let Reuben off the hook here. He may have been flippant in his comparison, but the real shocker is that he supports 10 year prison sentences at all.

Written By richard on May 27th, 2010 @ 10:47 am

All that intellectual twaddle written by Mr Rosenburg on the burka without even a mention about safety of the conmmunity or about criminals escaping justice disguised and hidden under the burka.
Anonymity is what the burka provides, and has provided for criminals.
On this issue there seems to have been a change of tune!

Written By vincent on February 22nd, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

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