UK

Rape And Anonymity: Should Those Accused Of Sexual Offences Be Allowed To Remain Anonymous?

03/05/2013 22:09 BST | Updated 14/05/2013 14:49 BST
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Protecting the identity of people accused of rape would be damaging and harmful both for victims and for society, campaigners have argued after it was revealed that three out of four people would be in favour of defendants remaining anonymous until they were convicted.

Under current legislation, people who complain they have been the victims of sexual offences automatically receive anonymity, but suspects do not. However according to a Comres poll commissioned by the Independent there is strong public support for changing the law.

However Sarah Green, the campaigns manager from End Violence Against Women, says protecting the identity of the accused go against fundamental principles of the British justice system.

She told the Huffington Post UK: "We are not in denial about how horrible it is to be accused of raping someone: it is a shameful and hideous crime.

“There is stigma for those accused of rape, but any stigma for those accused far outweighs the damage done to the victim if they are denied that anonymity or the damage to the community if they are prevented from coming forward, because they fear the ramifications of naming their victim.

She said that to give those accused anonymity would change a fundamental part of the system, adding that police often release the names of those accused for investigative reasons, to appeal for witnesses or to encourage other victims to come forward.

"We name suspects as part of an open justice system, to protect the community. When you look at rape in terms of research and what’s known about it, men who are inclined to commit these offences have a sense of how they can get away with it, and who won’t report it, and even if they did are unlikely to be believed.

"You just have to refer to the cases of Jimmy Savile or the Rochdale case to see the planned and strategic targeting of vulnerable victims. There are often multiple perpetrators and multiple victims.

"Is it really a good idea to conceal the identities of these men? Police often release the names of those accused for investigative reasons too, to allow other victims to come forward. It is important that the men who commit this type of crime are not allowed to get away with it."

It was an argument used by Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the society of editors after the revelation that Stuart Hall has admitted to a string of sex offences against girls and young women.

Satchwell said: "With the recent upsurge of calls for offenders to remain anonymous until convicted, it is worth noting that if Stuart Hall had not been named when he was arrested he might never have been brought to court. None of his victims knew one another.

"And now one police force is refusing to name people who have been charged. There is a huge danger of secret justice replacing the rights of the public, and indeed defendants, back to Magna Carta. It is time someone put a stop to this frightening trend."

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is eager to stop papers naming people who are arrested, proposing a view argued by Maura McGowan, chairman of the Bar Council, in February.

Green says it is often implied in such discussions that there are lots of false accusations and that "women make these allegations casually."

"But people don’t come forward as it is a crime with such stigma," she said.

"False allegations are no higher for sexual offences than any other crime and when they are made they often involve vulnerable people. “

Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions has also acknowledged that a a large number of false allegations was a commonplace myth. He told the Guardian in March the “misplaced belief" was "rife.. and can lead to injustice for victims."

Stephen Cooper, who founded the site falsely accused.co.uk after being cleared of sexual offences himself, believes women should keep their anonymity but the defendant should also be allowed to remain anonymous.

He told the Huffington Post UK he did not condone sexual offences and stressed that when they had been committed, the person should be punished. However he also said the system should give equal rights to those accused and those making the accusation.

“Being accused of sexual offences causes such a stigma, straight away the underdog is the accused.

"The word victim is used prior to the conviction and if that person is found guilty the stigma further forties itself: people think the person got away with it when that’s not the case.

"I have seen 141 innocent people falsely accused over 25 years, malicious accusations made through jealousy or for financial reasons. There’s even a site dedicated to helping people find out how much compensation people can get for being raped. Because of the Jimmy Savile situation people are coming out the woodwork.

"Jimmy Savile is dead and he can’t defend himself but people will always say now there’s no smoke without fire. The system should be equal."

Jill Saward, who became the first UK rape victim to waive her right to anonymity in 1990, said: "People do not understand the danger involved in sexual violence, and don't see the need to protect people from it," she said.

"I am very sad that people seem to think that protecting men is often more important than protecting those who, for whatever reason, end up victims."