A woman holds a banner as she takes part in a "slut walk" in London in 2012. Photo: Getty
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Nigel Evans and Ben Sullivan are wrong: rape suspects should not be given anonymity

From 1976 until 1988, both sides in sexual cases had anonymity. The Thatcher government – not generally known for its strong stand on women’s rights – repealed it, because it had appalling consequences.

The fashionable thing to do on being cleared of rape these days is to walk free from the courtroom or police station and loudly issue a public statement calling for those accused of rape to be granted anonymity by the courts because of your “ordeal”.

The former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans did – and now he’s been followed in this campaign by the former President of the Oxford Union, Ben Sullivan, of “banter squadron” fame. In a particularly classy move, the Mail on Sunday ran an interview with Sullivan with the headline “DEVASTATED BY OXFORD RAPE LIES”. The headline struck me because it so brilliantly demonstrates why anonymity should not be extended to those accused of rape. All that anonymising alleged perpetrators does is institutionalise the belief that people often lie about being raped.

The recent spate of cases that have been thrown out have provided stacks of ammunition to the sorts of Men’s Rights Activists who make me ashamed to have testicles. Offering legal protection to the accused suggests that lying about being raped is common; that rape victims are vindictive. That’s total bollocks.

In actual fact, false rape claims are far lower than they are for other crimes, and are very low in general – a man is about 42 times more likely to accidentally poison himself with a household chemical than be falsely accused of rape.

At the other end of the spectrum, I suspect there are some people who think “I could definitely have been a rapist that one time with that drunk girl”, and like the idea that their mum would probably never find out what they did, even if the woman involved did go to the police.

The “I don’t want my mum or boss – or constituents – knowing I’ve been accused of rape” argument is the main one advanced by Sullivan, Evans and their ilk – the argument is that being accused of rape is incredibly damaging to your reputation. 

Well, frankly, good. The only way rape rates will fall is if people stop committing rapes, and to do that, both victims and perpetrators have to be convinced that the justice system works. Would it be such a terrible world if (let's face it) white men in positions of power felt a little more chilled by the idea that if they aren’t 100 per cent sure the other person wants to have sex, they might be arrested for rape? Is not getting your cock out unless you have enthusiastic consent really a challenge? Ultimately, we need to foster a culture where the fear of raping someone is real.

Also, it’s not like this is some untried legal frontier. From 1976 until 1988, both sides in sexual cases had anonymity. The Thatcher government – not generally known for its strong stand on women’s rights – repealed it, because it had appalling consequences. Among other things, it meant that the public could not be warned when an accused rapist went on the run before conviction – as he was merely accused, he couldn’t be named.

It also prevented public appeals for information, which are crucial in catching serial rapists. For example, John Worboys, the “black cab rapist”, was identified as a serial offender after publicity around his trial made more survivors come forward. This isn’t a one-off example – the pathology of rape is that it’s often not a one-off crime, and as many as 90 per cent of rapes are thought to be carried out by serial attackers. Indeed the only way the stats on the number of rapes per year can be true is either if a small number of men carry out a gargantuan, monstrous number of rapes, or if most men do one or two in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, I believe the stats – although I’d rather believe the former explanation.

Ultimately, anonymity for suspects helps rapists at the expense of rape victims. That’s why we shouldn’t listen to Ben Sullivan, or Nigel Evans.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.