Naomi Wolf: Anonymity for rape accusers gives impunity to prosecutors

The Vagina author's odd comments on Newsnight.

Last night's Newsnight tackled the topic of rape, and featured Naomi Wolf, whose new book Vagina: A New Biography went on sale yesterday.

It was odd discussion, to say the least.

First, we heard that Wolf had previously argued that Julian Assange's accusers should be denied anonymity. In the very next sentence, however, Jeremy Paxman's voiceover segued into asking "Are there times when No doesn't really mean No?" (I can't see the link myself.)

At 2.30 minutes in, Paxman interviewed Wolf. She said:

I'm not saying that those women should be - quote unquote - unmasked. I'm saying that it serves rapists to have rape cases prosecuted under the cover of anonymity altogether, because it gives impunity to prosecutors.

Paxman points out that the law was changed here to give anonymity.

Wolf says:

It had wonderful motivations, but the upshot here is that in Britain, only 6 per cent of reported rapes, which is a small fraction of all rapes, get convicted. . . I do think, like many feminists, that rape shouldn't be stigmatised unlike any other kind of assault. . . It stigmatises women, and it allows impunity.

... The reason I know there's something very corrupt about the prosecution of the Assange case - I'm not talking about the women right now, we just don't know enough - is that it is so profoundly different from... the way rape is prosecuted for any other victim in Sweden.  

This is all very odd. Wolf has consistently expressed the opinion that because other rape complainants are poorly treated, these ones should be too. 

She went on to explain that what is alleged in the Assange case was generally dismissed by Swedish police and prosecutors, because the women "weren't innocent enough".

Hmm. Could this be the same woman who wrote this Huffington Post piece?

In that piece, Wolf does EXACTLY what she suggests the Swedish prosecutors have done to others - she dismisses the allegations because there was a previous relationship between Assange and his accusers.

(There's a rare example of an incorrect correction at the bottom of that piece, too:) 

Update and correction: The Guardian has, since I wrote this original post based on the Daily Mail, reported that the two women's complaints to Swedish police centered on the alleged misuse of or failure to use condoms, which can be illegal in Sweden.

I'll leave you to enjoy the rest of the interview, in which Wolf talks about the "brain-vagina connection", by yourselves.

Naomi Wolf on Newsnight.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.