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 The Thatcher government – not generally known for its strong stand on women’s rights – repealed it, because it had appalling consequences.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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue