Trigger Warning: Rape
The issue of rape and sexual assault has been big news in the last year, with convictions against formerly beloved presenter Rolf Harris, media spinster Max Clifford and the release of rapist Ched Evans on license. Given the increased scrutiny of public figures in the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal, it was inevitable that the issue of defendant anonymity in cases of rape and sexual assault would rear its ugly head again. Not only is this debate a fundamental waste of precious time that could be better spent addressing our scandalously low rape conviction rates, it is also outright dangerous.
The last few years have seen a break on the decade’s long silence of the victims of opportunistic celebrities. These men hid in plain sight, relying on their status as national treasures to protect them from being exposed for what they truly are. Victims have included celebrities such as Vanessa Feltz and Linda Nolan. Even they felt powerless when faced with the challenge of exposing these beloved national treasures. What hope did less well known victims have? Would the case against Rolf Harris have made it anywhere near a courtroom if other victims had not seen the coverage and decided to come forward? The defendant doesn’t have to be a celebrity for this rule to apply. Would a conviction against “Black Cab Rapist” John Worboys have been secured without a public appeal for more victims to come forward?
Of course, there are cases where an arrest is made and no further action is taken. For the small number of men who are falsely accused, I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this must be. However is it worth letting guilty people walk free in order to protect the reputations of a small number of falsely accused men. But, wait a minute, aren’t all men accused of rape ostracised from their families and communities, never to work again? That’s what the tabloids would like us to believe, but just take a look at a few examples and you will see that this is not necessarily the case. Even men convicted of rape seem to be treated sympathetically. Coronation Street star Michael Le Vell was accused of sexual assault in 2011, but the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. Not only did he return to his previous role in the popular soap, The Sun printed a front page denouncement of his accuser, branding her “ Le Vell’s Devil Woman”(They covered her eyes with black dots in the picture though, we all know how committed The Sun are to victim anonymity). Ched Evans, who hasn’t even served his full sentence, is being fought over by football clubs for the privilege of having a convicted rapist play for them. Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two young men charged with the rape of a fellow student in Steubenville, had their crimes covered up by locals scared that they would be too much of a loss to their high school football team. National media reported that two young men’s lived had been ruined. Their victim was demonised by the community.
Once we begin to take a look at some real life cases, we see a different story appear. Of course that is not to minimise the experience of anyone whose life has been affected by an unfounded allegation. The press does not treat those accused of rape kindly, and that is the crux of the issue. Our problem is not a lack of anonymity, but a media which encourages a kind of flames and pitchforks style mob mentality when it comes to alleged cases of sexual assault. Even the supposedly unbiased BBC are now in on the act, ordering cameras to Cliff Richards house after claims were made that he had sexually assaulted women while at the peak of his career. As the popular saying goes, sex (or rape in this case) sells, and no journalist is going to miss out on the shot of a scoop that big. But of course when the claims are not substantiated and the defendant released without charge, the nasty feminists are to blame for dragging a poor innocent man’s name through the mud. Making sense? No I don’t think so either.
This is not the first time we have had this debate. In fact, defendant anonymity was introduced in the 1976 Sexual Offences (amendment) Act. It was repealed in 1988 due to a lack of evidence that a rape accusation had any more effect on the defendant than accusations of other crimes. Victim anonymity remained in place, for good reason. You only have to look at the recent example of Ched Evan’s victim to see that. Not only has she had to move away from her home, she has also had to be given an entire new identity thanks to an internet hate campaign run by Ched Evans loyal fans.
One important fact has been side lined in favour of this debate. The fact that one in four women in the UK has been raped or sexually assaulted. While we have been busy debating anonymity for a small number of men, rape conviction rates have fallen in England and Wales. That should be enough to make us all rethink our strategy.
In the meantime, men are still more likely to be killed by an asteroid or comet than be falsely accused of rape. So guys, if you’ve been reading too many copies of The Sun and spend your life in constant fear of a false rape accusation, calm down. You’ll probably be fine.
In fact, men are more likely to be raped themselves than falsely accused of rape.
Now can we focus on what’s important please?