We OBJECT to plans to grant anonymity to rape defendants

At the end of May 2010, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition announced their intention to grant anonymity to Defendants in Rape cases. Following the announcement and subsequent discussion at the LFN meeting a small group of LFN members, on behalf of LFN, wrote a letter to Coalition Members expressing opposition to the proposal.

Below is the link to the coalition agreement along with a copy of the letter from LFN which was sent to all Government Ministers as well as the Opposition front bench (a list of these can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/government-and-opposition1/her-majestys-government/).

Coalition Announcement:
http://www.general-election-2010.co.uk/2010-general-election-manifestos/election-2010-coalition-government-programme.pdf

The Letter of Objection

Dear Minister,

We are writing to object to the government’s proposal to extend anonymity to rape defendants, contained in the Conservative- Liberal Democrat coalition announcement of the 20th May 2010, Page 24, Section 20 Point 8.

Extending anonymity to rape defendants, as distinct from those accused of any other crime, sends out the misleading message that false allegations of rape are common. In fact there is absolutely no reliable evidence to support the claim that false allegations of rape are any more frequent than false allegations of any other crime. Rape defendants are currently treated in law, and rightly so, in the same way as those accused of other violent crimes. Many rapists are repeat offenders and so publicity around these cases directly increases the likelihood of other victims and witnesses coming forward.

The proposal is especially dubious, given that its efficacy has been specifically considered and rejected in the recent past. In 1988, defendant anonymity provisions introduced by the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 were expressly repealed. The Criminal Law Revision Committee’s fifteenth report (Sexual Offences, Cmnd 9213, April 1984) previously had stated that the argument seeking to sustain anonymity for defendants to maintain “equality” with complainants were invalid despite any “superficial attractiveness” they may have. Defendant-anonymity proposals raised in 1999 and 2003 in Parliament have also repeatedly failed. None of the major jurisdictions of the world, including the United States of America, Australia, Canada and the countries of the European Union provide such “protections” to those accused of rape. Given the past and present realities on the prosecution of rape, continuing to pursue this agenda reflects an obstinate refusal to accept the inappropriateness of such a provision in the law.

Rape is a grossly under-reported crime. Home Office research estimates that 85% of all rapes go unreported, and that of the estimated 15% of rapes that are reported the conviction rate is just 6.5% in comparison to average conviction rate for all crime which stands at around 80%. The time between defendants being arrested and charged is every bit as important as the run-up to the trial, a crucial time in which the police gather information and determine whether or not there is adequate evidence to charge a suspect.

As you cannot fail to be aware, Britain is failing its female population with this appalling record on male violence against women. In France 16.2% of reported rapes end in a conviction, in Germany 12.5% and in Italy 48.8%. (Source: European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics, 2003.) Just as worrying are figures from the latest British Crime Survey which show a decrease in all crime across the board, except sexual violence which is up 2%.

It is disgraceful that not only is the bulk of care for sexual assault victims undertaken by charitable organisations such as Eaves and Rape Crisis, that these charities operate hand-to-mouth, and that the government consistently fails to make meaningful provision for more Sexual Assault Referral Centres. A promise in the coalition document of ‘up to 15′ more centres is not sufficient for the tens of thousands of women being raped and assaulted in the UK every year. In some parts of the UK, particularly the south-west, rape crisis centres are appallingly absent, and a sustainable funding programme for the future must be developed. Over half of the existing 38 rape crisis centres in the UK are threatened with closure. If women are to receive the support they need, these centres need money and they need it now.

We demand that immediate action is taken to improve rape conviction rates and to provide adequate and comprehensive support for rape victims. Evidence gathering must be improved, regional variations in the police treatment of victims must be abolished and all police personnel, judges and jurors must be educated to dispel the many unfounded myths surrounding rape. Such education must be rolled-out to schools in order to help counteract the development of rape culture beliefs and move towards rape prevention. Further to this where a rape trial does not end in a conviction and the complainant has not been charged with making a false allegation an obligation must be place on the media to report this outcome wholly and accurately.

Any changes to the current laws relating to rape must prioritize these issues above all else. We ask the government to discard this proposal along with any and all subsequent proposals which seek to grant anonymity to the defendant at any stage of the legal process.

On behalf of the 1,400 members of the London Feminist Network

The London Feminist Network is a campaigning organisation uniting London based feminist groups and individuals in activism. We are a free, charitable association and are funded entirely by donation.