Briefing by Women Against Rape, for debate in House of Commons, 8 July 2010
The public outcry has forced the government to back down from their plan to grant men accused of rape anonymity until they are convicted. But the proposed compromise -- of anonymity unless or until the man’s charged -- is still unacceptable. It would:
• Deny any fellow victims of the same man crucial information which might enable them to come forward;
• Hinder police searching for a wanted suspect, e.g. his photo wouldn’t be allowed on public appeals such as Crimewatch; and
• Discriminate in favour of men accused of rape, by granting them special protection not available to anyone else accused of a serious violent crime. This would send a message that all rape reports should be regarded with suspicion, reinforcing the bias rape victims face when reporting, and further discouraging them from coming forward.
We need a full retraction of the original proposal. We also need a long hard look at why it was put forward in the first place, when anti-rape organisations as well as the police are opposed to it, and every Parliamentary investigation has come out against it, including a recent Home Affairs committee that David Cameron sat on.
There seem to be two pernicious lies at the source of this proposal.
1. “Women lie about rape.”
The lie that “rape is an allegation easily to be made” (dating from 17th Century Lord Chief Justice Hale), and that false reports of rape are particularly common.
If women find it so easy to cry ‘rape’, why are 90% of rapes never reported? Most women are reluctant to come forward, and those who do are often driven by deep concern to protect others from a similar attack.
There are no reliable statistics, but even the police have repeatedly said that false allegations are very rare. The latest Home Office research found that some officers are still so prejudiced as to think that up to 50% of rape reports are lies, yet only about 3% of rape allegations are false, which is lower than false reports for some other crimes. But the figure is likely to be still lower, as the report also found that the police sometimes wrongly recorded rapes as false when the victim pulled out of a prosecution. You wouldn’t guess that from the Daily Mail, whose sensationalist reports blow false allegations out of all proportion.
Women are telling us they are increasingly afraid that if they report rape they’ll be disbelieved and prosecuted. We have been working with a number of convicted rape survivors, like Gail Sherwood who was prosecuted and imprisoned for two years after being accused of making false allegations. We have every reason to believe these women are innocent and should never have been prosecuted. They are often the victims of botched police investigations, and are then treated harshly by the courts. They are put on trial, losing their own anonymity and given substantial prison sentences (two years seems to be standard), compounding their trauma – a tragedy for them and their families, especially their children, and for all of us. A woman who has been raped more than once, including in childhood, is more likely to be accused of making it up.
Some prosecutors have a policy against charging women for making false allegations of rape, because they can’t know whether she withdrew under pressure from her attacker or her family.
Some women are now even questioning whether they dare complain to the IPCC about negligent handling of rape cases – will they then be accused?
2. “Being accused of rape is a special case.”
The lie that in rape cases, women have the advantage because we are anonymous while the man is not, so anonymity for the accused would make the system fairer.
In fact, the woman has none of the protections rightly afforded to the accused: she does not have her own lawyer, character witnesses or a chance to see case papers beforehand, and must rely on a prosecutor who doesn’t know her. She is effectively put on trial but often cannot answer accusations against her. She is only a “witness”. The particular reasons why rape victims need anonymity are now well known. This is by definition a crime committed by men against women and girls (although men and boys can also be victims of other men). Unlike other victims of crime, rape victims can expect to be doubted, judged, blamed and stigmatised. The defendant, however, is in no worse position than anyone accused of a serious crime such as terrorism, child abuse or murder. Yet no one, not even the accused, is advocating that men accused of such crimes should be anonymous.
The idea that, with a 6.5% conviction rate for reported rape, the scales of justice are skewed in favour of the woman is absurd, and further proof of the deeply misogynist roots of this proposal.
So many rapists have got away with it over the years that those who are caught consider themselves unlucky – they are outraged and blame women for their misfortune. And they’ve had the ear of the police, the media, the courts and some parliamentarians. They have succeeded in mounting a pernicious campaign regarding false allegations which threatens to undermine any progress rape victims have made in the past 30 years.
In fact, it is women who need protecting, first from violent men – rape, sexual assaults and domestic violence are common crimes – and then from the criminal justice system which continues to be biased against women. Why in this context, is the government singling out men accused of rape for special protection?
It seems that when it comes to rape, men matter more than women. On radio and TV repeatedly presenters have interrupted when we try to point out the devastation of being raped and never seeing justice. “We’re not talking about that”, they say. Why not? They go on about the terrible impact on men falsely accused, but rarely consider the devastating impact of being raped and never getting justice. Suicide and other self-harm are far more common among rape victims than among men accused of rape.
In recent decades, having fought and won anonymity for rape survivors, more women have been able to report. Increasingly women are refusing to accept that rape is something we have to put up with. We are now facing a backlash against those of us who dare to speak out. Anonymity for men accused of rape was binned in 1988 because it deterred victims. To reintroduce it now would legitimise the current witch-hunt that labels women as “wicked liars”. Back to the ‘70s? No way.
email@example.com - 020 7482 2496 - www.womenagainstrape.net