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Rape victims, the accused and media circuses


men, petition, rape accused, anonymity, women's groups, protest, naming vital, other victims, Witnesses who came forward did so because they saw there were other accusations, and it was not just them.

Earlier this week a group of well-known men launched a petition calling for anonymity for sexual offence suspects, renewing a debate that women’s rights groups have had to argue before.

DJ Paul Gambaccini was arrested over sexual abuse allegations in 2013 in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. He said he lived under a “cloud of suspicion” until the case was dropped.

Sir Cliff Richard’s Berkshire home was raided by South Yorkshire Police in 2014 as part of an investigation into an allegation of historical sexual assault. He was not arrested or charged with any offence and he later successfully sued the BBC for breach of privacy.

The campaign group  behind the petition, Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform (FAIR), was founded by Daniel Janner QC, whose father, Lord Janner, was charged with 22 sexual offences, but ruled unfit to stand trial shortly before he died.

Both defendants and complainants in rape cases were granted anonymity 1976, but Parliament repealed anonymity for defendants 12 years later.

The group has launched a parliamentary petition calling for those suspected of sexual offences to be given anonymity until they are charged unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Police guidance states that people investigated for a crime must not be named until charge, unless there is a “legitimate policing purpose to do so” like public safety warnings about wanted people.

And the College of Policing said, it cannot “prevent the media relying on information from sources outside the police in order to confirm identities”.

The campaign has, however,  been spreading false and dangerous myths that complainants – the majority of whom are women – lie about rape. Gambaccini has been talking of a “false allegation crisis” and that the current law encourages “everyone from liars to lunatics to make some false accusations and get in on the action”.

This although research by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has found that in a period where more than 5,500 rape cases were prosecuted, only 35 people were prosecuted for making a false allegation, which was no higher for sexual offences than for any other crime type.

But 85,000 women are raped each year in England and Wales. Only 1.7 per cent of reported rapes are prosecuted and just 13 per cent of reported rapes end in a conviction.

The real story is that rape and sexual assault is commonplace and our society turns a blind eye to the harm that women and girls suffer every day.

But, as the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) wrote in a letter on this issue in 2016, many women’s groups believe the call for defendant anonymity is a classic example of where the cause of a problem is misattributed.

The harm that those who are accused and acquitted feel is, one part of the letter pointed out, a result not of the fact of being named but of terrible media representation of sexual violence cases, accompanied by a collective failure to uphold the presumption of innocence – which also harms abuse survivors.

And, the letter continued, ‘for people who are high profile there is perhaps the added complication of police-media relations which might be exploitative.

‘We should all stand up and tackle these problems – media sensationalism and protecting the presumption of innocence – but it is of the utmost importance that police retain the ability to name a suspect when they have good investigative reasons to do so.

‘We know that in the cases of Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall for example, witnesses who came forward did so because they saw there were other accusations and until that time had believed they were the only victim.

‘It is a terrible fact of Jimmy Savile’s prolific offending that so many of his victims have said ‘I thought I was the only one’ (followed by ‘who would believe someone like me anyway?’)

‘The police have discretion over naming suspects and do not always do so; they might choose not to name, for example, in a case where a suspect has a vulnerability.

‘We should not forget the other holder of power here – the news editor who decides to front page, to use photos, to insinuate, and who is rarely held accountable for this.

‘Those calling for defendant anonymity sometimes cite opinion polls which show majority public support for what sounds like a ‘common sense’ measure.

‘But when the Government looked at re-introducing defendant anonymity in 2012 they threw it out after legal advice showed the measure was likely to have a detrimental impact on justice for rape overall.

‘We want more discussion of rape and justice, not less.

‘We want more openness and ever better practice by police and the courts in rape cases.

‘We want the media to change the way it reports on rape.

‘We desperately need a huge increase in provision of specialist counselling and support services for survivors of sexual abuse.

‘And in the long term, we don’t want anonymity for defendants because we don’t want it for those who allege rape either – because one day we will have eradicated the shame of being raped, and made this offence one which can be openly tested in court like all others.’

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