Rape – The Question of Anonymity

Recently Maura McGowen, Chairman of the Bar, raised her head above the parapet and suggested that the idea of anonymity for those facing Rape allegations should be given consideration. Of course there was controversy there always is when sexual offences are being discussed. And that’s exactly the point. Being accused of rape must be every man’s worst nightmare. Worse in so many ways than murder, one might think. In the case of virtually all other offences, once one is acquitted the general public take the view that you’re innocent – or they just forget about it. The stigma of a rape allegation goes on and on. Even when the result is not just an acquittal but a resounding proof that you’re not guilty, it’s still there. People remember.

The effects are not just gossip either. Once arrested (or even suspected) of this crime it’s on your record. You won’t work with children or vulnerable adults in the future – just in case. The Criminal Records Bureaux will see to that.

By contrast what is the modern view of those raped? Do we see victims of this crime as being dirty or promiscuous or somehow sullied for life? I respectfully suggest we do not. Rape tends to elicit feelings of anger and revulsion but not towards the victim. The idea that a woman’s value is diminished because of this sexual act is so arcane as to be the stuff of novels and films set in bygone eras. We are amazed by such attitudes.

Yet complainants in rape cases are given anonymity automatically. Why? Once upon a time, when defence barristers would suggest that a woman was asking for it and juries would agree that the wearing of short skirt meant she was up for it it was understandable that a victim needed to have her identity protected. Today those questions cannot be asked, those suggestions not made and frankly if they were made do we honestly think a modern jury would agree? Does the Daily Tabloid really take the view that all rape victims are harlots?

We do not talk about rape. Those who have been the victim of rape do not discuss it which just perpetuates the idea that you’re on your own, that there’s something wrong with you. Couldn’t this be what is really at the root of rape victims not coming forward? Isn’t it more likely that victims would think they would be believed if being raped was something people admitted to?

Allowing the complainant anonymity in all cases perpetuates the idea that being raped is something to be ashamed of. Clearly it is not. Raping someone is something to be ashamed of.

Given the modern viewpoint – huge stigma for the man, sympathy for the woman, perhaps anonymity for the defendant is actually more justified than for the complainant.

Of course there may well be cases where the current position is justified – where other victims might come forward or where the accused is a well liked public figure where the complainant might be persecuted if her identity was disclosed. Whenever this debate raises its head everyone seems to forget that we do not have to have all or nothing. Why not allow both parties anonymity up to PCMH, with the court considering the matter as party of the case management at that point? If it is the sort of case where other victims are likely to come forward then he loses his anonymity. If she doesn’t feel able to give evidence without it then its a special measure.

And defendants’ anonymity only lasts as far as conviction. If he’s convicted his name surely could be proclaimed from the rooftops.

Despite figures bandied about by campaign groups I haven’t seen any in regard to the effect today of allowing the complainant anonymity. Does it bring more victims forward? Whilst it’s not pleasant to have your workmates know what happened to you that’s also true of being mugged or assaulted by your husband and yet we don’t worry about that. In most cases the name of the complainant is known to the Defendant before proceedings and in all cases is known by the time of the court case.

I’d like to see some research being done to see what effect having anonymity actually has on victims coming forward in this day and age. I don’t suggest we withdraw complainant anonymity before that research is done. But if there is any risk that leaving that anonymity in place perpetuates the myth that if you are raped it is somehow your own fault then it needs removing. Being raped is not something anyone should be ashamed of. Ever.

About The Author

Kirstin Beswick is a Barrister and member of Central Chambers. She is highly regarded as a criminal Barrister and enjoys a loyal following from both professional and lay clients alike. To read Kirstin’s entry in Chambers please click here.