Letter to Chris White, MP for Leamington, on the law to give anonymity to rape defendants
Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/anonymity-rape-defendants
Dear Chris White,
You are now my MP and I have a problem which I would like some help with. I am an academic researching in the field of violence against women and I am strongly opposed to the proposed move to give anonymity to rape defendants.
Rape conviction rates are still under 10% and most rapists “get away” with their crimes. The failure to properly prosecute rape cases and convict rapists tends to be attributed to two factors: the prevalence of “rape myths” in public opinion and the judicial system; and the intimidating tactics of defence teams in rape cases which refocus the attention of the judge and jury on the moral fibre of the rape survivor rather than the rapist. Juries can be influenced too by their perception of the victim’s character, behaviour and possible drug or alcohol use. 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 more likely to find a rapist guilty in cases where the assailant is a stranger, where a weapon is used or where the rape survivor has sustained physical injury. All of these responses reveal the power of rape myths surrounding women’s consent to sexual acts.
Passing a law to give rape defendants anonymity would boost the widely held belief that most women who report rape are lying. Such a law cannot be defended either with an argument about false accusations of rape, because the latest research on false rape allegations has found that the figures are around the same as with other crimes, but no one is suggesting that all defendants have anonymity.In addition, in the UK, if a woman is found to have made a malicious accusation of rape, she loses the right to anonymity and media coverage of false allegations far outweighs reports of men arrested for rape. Finally, I would suggest that in recent cases of serial rapists, the publication of rape defendants’ names has encouraged other rape survivors (who previously were too ashamed or frightened) to come forward (e.g. the John Worboys case ).
I hope that these facts clarify matters. In addition, as my MP, I hope that you will represent my view and refuse to pass this retrograde law, which only compounds the problems that already exist in trying and convicting rapists.
Dr. Zoë Brigley Thompson