All entries for Wednesday 02 June 2010

June 02, 2010

Debating Anonymity for Rape Defendants: Reponse to Comments on the Letter to my MP.

Follow-up to Letter to Chris White, MP for Leamington, on the law to give anonymity to rape defendants from The Midnight Heart

OK, I have a few points. (I would note though in passing that Karl, the person who took issue with my letter, has some awful misconceptions about what feminism is.)

1. Rapists tend to be men
If you want to get down to it, what I research is sexual violence, which is something that tends to happen to women more. As Mollie Whalen writes:

The vast majority of the entire range of sexually violent acts on our society is perpetrated by adult heterosexual males on females of all races, social classes, ages, and sexualities. The second highest incidence of sexual violence is perpetrated by adult heterosexual males on other males – either adult gay male or male children. (p. 137 in Counseling to End Violence Against Women)

Given this fact, I see no problem in researching this area specifically in relation to women, though actually I do include male survivors and child survivors of sexual violence in my research too. I’m afraid that it is simply not correct to say that ‘Men are the primary victims of all violence from men & women alike’, and it is certainly not accurate to suggest that feminists are only interested in women’s rights. You suggest that in seeking to prevent anonymity for rape defendants, I am seeking a situation where ‘women benefit over men’, but I would point out that denying this kind of anonymity would also benefit male survivors of rape.

2. Clarification of Conviction Rates
The conviction rate for rape cases is around 6%. This figure has not been made up – it comes from a respected Home Office report titled ‘A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases’ by Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett and Linda Regan. This is what it says:

Home Office figures show an ongoing decline in the conviction rate for reported rape cases, putting it at an all-time low of 5.6 per cent in 2002. This year-on-year increase in attrition represents a justice gap that the government has pledged to address. (p. 10)

The debate regarding the 6% figure emerged because Baroness Stern pointed out that after a rapist is charged, 60% are convicted, but it is important to note that many simply are never charged with the crime. Kelly, Lovett and Regan admit this saying:

All UK studies of attrition in rape cases concur that the highest proportion of cases is lost at the earliest stages, with between half and two-thirds dropping out at the investigative stage, and withdrawal by complainants one of the most important elements. (p. 12)

This simply doesn’t happen with other kinds of crimes and it is just not good enough, especially when the large majority of rape cases go unreported. The reason for having a special method for looking at rape conviction rates is precisely because it is a crime that so often goes unreported in a way that does not apply to other crimes like assault, burglary etc.

3. Clarification of Rates of False Allegations

Feminist researchers do include false rape allegations in their research. Kelly, Lovett and Regan who wrote ‘A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape’ write the following:

There are false allegations, and possibly slightly more than some researchers and support agencies have suggested. However, at maximum they constitute nine per cent and probably closer to three per cent of all reported cases. (p. 99)

This is what Baroness Stern described too: the “one in ten” figure reported by the newspapers, but remember that this means that 90% of women are telling the truth. I would also add that these figures are not very different from the rates of false allegations for other crimes, but with no other crime is there so much focus on whether the victim is telling the truth or not.

4. Widespread Mistrust of Women Reporting Rape

I’m afraid that there is widespread mistrust of women reporting a rape. In a British poll conducted by Amnesty International in 2006, substantial numbers of respondents blamed the survivor for her own rape if she was drunk (37%), if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing (26%), or if she had many sexual partners (22%). Juries are also less likely to find a rapist guilty in cases where the assailant is known to the woman, where a weapon has not used or where the rape survivor has not sustained incapacitating physical injury. All of these responses reveal the power of rape myths surrounding women’s consent to sexual acts and these myths are reflected in the media.

5. Why Women Need the Opportunity to Come Forward While a Case is Being Held

Prosecution of rape cases often depends on the ability of the rape survivor to testify in a convincing manner. This can be extremely difficult, however, in the face of hostile defence legal strategies like “whacking”, where the defence lawyer seeks to intimidate and humiliate the survivor in order to discredit her (or him). If more victims of a rapist that is being tried come forward during the case, there is a greater chance that the jury will believe the rape survivor’s story. If the defendant has anonymity, it’s possible that his name will never be broadcast. Would John Worboys, “the black cab rapist”, or others like him, have been convicted as a serial rapist if so many courageous women survivors had not come forward after reading about him in the news?

6. There Should Either Be Anonymity for All or for None – Not Just for Rape Defendants

My final point would be to ask you why rape defendants in particular need anonymity. If defendants are going to be given anonymity, then it should apply to all defendants – murder defendants, GBH defendants, burglary defendants etc. But hardly anyone is suggesting that. The fact is that there is a huge paranoia about false rape allegations to the extent that defendants of rape are being given special privileges. You say that you would not want to see your son’s life destroyed by a rape allegation, but equally, I would not want a daughter’s or a son’s rapist to go unpunished.


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“Zona de plagas donde la dormida come / lentamente / su corazón de medianoche” – Alejandra Pizarnik

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