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.

Getty
Show Hide image

BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.