Anonymity of rape victims
It is a well established legal principle under the laws of England and Wales that those individuals who have been the subject of a rape under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 should be provided with anonymity during the investigations and subsequent case.
What is meant by the term anonymity?
If an individual has a right of anonymity it means that they have a right to remain anonymous to the general public, this means that they will be unable to be named in any reports which are released to the general public through the press.
What is the reasoning behind the principle of anonymity?
The main reason behind this principle was the factor that it was felt that the victim has already suffered the physical and emotional abuse following the rape that if allegations concerning her sexual history, behaviour, clothing or even questions that she may have asked for it were aired in the media then she would be forced to suffer even more emotional abuse.
Being named acting as a deterrent to come forward and report the crime
If the victim felt that following the reporting of their case in the press there would be certain issues dredged up about their character then this may be seen as a real deterrent for reporting the case in the first place.
The law regarding anonymity of rape victims is therefore in place to provide the victim with the adequate protection which they require but also to ensure that the case will be reported in the first place and also that the victim will appear in court during the trial.
Is there a situation whereby it is felt that anonymity for the victim in rape cases should not apply?
When dealing with such a criminal act it should always be assumed that the victim is telling the truth, however, this is not always the case. During a recent case in 2006 a woman falsely accused a man of rape with this becoming apparent in the appeal following a prison sentence with the man successfully acquitted of all charges. However, the woman who falsely accused him was provided with anonymity whereas he was not meaning that his name has been dragged through the mud due to her false accusations but when it was found that it was in fact the woman who was at fault she was still able to be protected. Many feel that in this situation the anonymity should be lifted.
Is the defendant in a criminal case of rape able to remain anonymous?
Under the current Criminal Justice System operated in England and Wales the defendant in a rape case is not provided with anonymity. However, under the recently published coalition agreement for the UK Government it has been stated that the government plan to introduce anonymity for the defendant as well as the victim.
Will anonymity apply once the defendant has been convicted?
It is not yet clear what the full operation of the new law will be but it is felt that the anonymity will be lifted once the defendant has been convicted. This means that during the trial they will be provided with anonymity as they have not yet been found guilty. Following a guilty verdict the ban on the naming of them will be lifted.
What is the reasoning behind providing the defendant with anonymity?
One of the main reasons for this is to deal with cases like the one outlined above whereby the defendant may have been falsely accused. In cases where the charges have been dropped before the case goes to court and the defendant found not guilty their name will already have become associated with the crime which will count against them in the views of society.
Has it always been the case that the defendant was able to be named in the case?
The Sexual Offences Act 1970 first introduced anonymity for those accused of rape but this was repealed in 1988 enabling defendants to be named.
What was the main reason for the law being changed?
The reasoning for the law being repealed at the end of the 80’s was that it was discouraging women to come forward in rape cases.
Has the recent stated planned change to the law been met with criticism?
The recent stated planned change to the law has been met with much criticism from women’s rights groups as it is felt that it will again discourage women who have been raped to come forward and report the crime.
Why would this be the case?
This is felt to be the case as if the accused is given legal anonymity for the reasons that the accusations may well be false it is thought that women who have in fact been raped will view the law as already presuming that the allegations will be false. As rape is such an emotional crime many will not come forward if they do not believe the law to be on their side.
Has there been any other criticism of the proposed change in the law?
Other criticisms centre on the issue of why should men accused of rape receive more legal protection than others who are accused of other violent crimes such as murder or violent assaults. The question being asked is why should there be any difference in a case of rape than in any other cases.
When will these laws come into place?
Currently it is unsure as to the date of when this proposed law change will come in effect.