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.