Independent, 10 July 2010
Anonymity for men accused of rape was introduced in 1976 but reversed in 1988 because it hampered police investigations. The proposal to reintroduce it relies on the sexist myth that women are quick to lie about rape.
Nothing is further from the truth. It is extremely hard for women to report rape, and 90 per cent never do. Those who report often say it was to protect others. But many are disbelieved or dismissed by police and prosecutors and even urged to withdraw – no wonder the conviction rate for reported rape remains 6.5 per cent.
Worse: any woman whose rapist was not pursued or convicted can be accused of making a false allegation and prosecuted, especially if she has reported rape in the past. (Since rape is common, many women are vulnerable to such charges.) Such prosecutions of women, seized on by the media, inflate the already unreliable figures on false allegations. How many of them are miscarriages of justice which no government has so far ac-knowledged, let alone addressed?
A woman in Women Against Rape raped by her boyfriend in 2006 was herself put on trial for harassment. The rapes were barely investigated. Internal police records, shown to be wildly inaccurate, described her as an "embittered mistress" who had made a false allegation. She was acquitted. Others are not so lucky. We support rape victims serving prison sentences after conviction for perverting the course of justice. One of them, Gail Sherwood, is a mother of three who reported being stalked and raped by a stranger. Another, traumatised after a previous rape and concussed, named the wrong man; she corrected herself before his name was made public, but police and CPS prosecuted her. He said in court she didn't deserve jail; he just wanted an apology.
In 2009 serial attacker John Worboys was convicted on the testimonies of 12 women. When the media published photos, up to 100 victims came forward. One said the police had laughed in her face, another was told to "Eff off, black cab drivers don't do that sort of thing". Anonymity for these rapists would have shielded them even further.
Given the injustices rape victims face, why are men accused of rape being made a special case? Accusations of terrorism, murder, domestic violence or child abuse are no less grave, and the consequences for anyone unfairly accused no less traumatic. Ask Colin Stagg. If all defendants got anonymity, open justice would end; yet openness is our biggest protection against the abuse of power.
Proposing to grant anonymity to men accused of rape is fuelling a backlash against rape victims who dare to report. It reaffirms the still-too-common belief that women should stop "making a fuss". It discourages women from coming forward, and increases the likelihood that those who do will be disbelieved and prosecuted while their attackers remain free to rape again.
But women will not be pushed back to the 1970s. The huge public outcry against this proposal is the proof.
Lisa Longstaff is a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape