Britain Proposes Granting Rape Defendants Anonymity

[Trigger warning for sexual assault law.]

As one of its first orders of business, Britain's new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has proposed a policy that would ban the public identification of people accused of rape. Victims advocates in the UK have reacted negatively to the proposed ban, noting that there is potential to discourage survivors from coming forward and that the ban tacitly reinforces the erroneous narrative about the prevalence of false rape allegations.

Paul Mendelle QC, a prominent defense attorney and chair of the Criminal Bar Association, also quite rightly noted that a failure to publicly identify defendants undermines transparency: "In general, trials should be open to public scrutiny, so that justice may not only be done but be seen to be done. Anonymous trials run counter to that principle."

So there are the primary arguments against the proposed ban, which are wholly compelling.

But… I nonetheless have mixed feelings about granting anonymity to rape defendants—because there is some inherent value to survivors of rape in their alleged attackers not being publicly identified. It will help protect victims' identities, for a start, which is no small thing, especially to accusers who desperately want to remain anonymous. Women who are assaulted by men who are famous, for example, will not have the crushing weight of an international media bearing down on them as they try to protect their privacy. They will be insulated from the usual disgusting charges of fame- and fortune-seeking.

That has the capacity to actually encourage victims to come forward.

But… Back on the other hand again, it's easy to imagine how the guarantee of anonymity works in the favor of serial assaulters in particular. Consider the case of Ben Roethlisberger, for instance, who has been thrice accused of sexual assault with no charges yet filed. It is, in my estimation, important that information is public, for a variety of reasons.

And then there is this: What support I have for the proposed ban by virtue of its potential to work in survivors' favor, is struck through with a steely bolt of regret based on the knowledge that the policy was designed to shield accused rapists, rather than their victims.

What I'm left with is this: Britain has a 6.5% conviction rate for rape. Surely there are more urgent reforms that need to be made with regard to sex crimes than shielding the accused.

[H/T to Shakers Gegi, Fox in the Snow, and RG.]

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