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 The Thatcher government – not generally known for its strong stand on women’s rights – repealed it, because it had appalling consequences.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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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain