Thursday, 20 May 2010

How did protecting rape defendants get onto the agenda?

Have you read the latest volume of the government’s coalition agreement? No? Perhaps you should, because there are things buried in it that were not in any manifesto, but that suddenly, and without debate, seem to have become government policy.

The agreement is 36 pages long, but you have to wade through to the 24th page to find – buried in the Justice section – the sentence which simply says:’ We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants’. 

Sorry? How did that get there, then? It can't have been in the original negotiations, because they seem to have been about manifesto promises, and this wasn't one. Yet there they are - nine little words promising a radical change to the justice system. Other issues are being kicked into the long grass - commissions and inquiries proliferate - but not this one. This one is worded with firm intent.
And if it is implemented, trials for rape will again become the only ones at which the defendant is afforded the same protection as the victim. I say ‘again’ because this is an idea which has been tried before – introduced by the Labour government in 1976, it was abolished by Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1988. 

When we retweeted someone’s comment on this earlier we got a response which said ‘This sort of idiotic rant is why Labour lost - the new law would only make the rights of Men and Women EQUAL !’ (his capitals). 
Equal? What equality is there in being raped, and then being treated as though there was a significant chance of you yourself being the criminal rather than your attacker? Rape is already a notoriously difficult crime to prosecute, and many go unreported because women often lack confidence in the system. 
And they’re right to do so. Only 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction, and there is evidence that we are increasingly drifting back to a situation in which women themselves are blamed if they are assaulted.  
Of course there are a very small number of women who lie about rape –  people lie about all sorts of things - but there are far more women who see their attackers walk free, or who simply never report the assault because they are afraid they will not be believed. To treat all women as though they are potential liars is offensive, and sends them a message to the effect that  if they're raped they're going to need to produce a much higher standard of evidence than is normally required in trials for, say, robbery or murder, and that if the prosecution fails it will be because they will be deemed to have lied.
There’s another point, too. This wasn’t at the top of anyone’s agenda during the election. It was agreed at a Lib Dem conference in 2006, but never got any further. So who got it into the agreement? Why did the Lib Dems (or, indeed, the Tories) think that a four-year old policy decision which has never been put to the electorate should be added to government policy? 

And would they have succeeded if any of the two negotiating teams had been women?
Nick Clegg says that the coalition agreement is based on ‘freedom, fairness and responsibility’. Clearly, women who have been raped are not included. This  measure is a retrograde step which has already been tried and found not to work, and which will penalise victims who are already distressed. It is wrong, and we hope that Harriet Harman (and the new Labour leader) will make a spirited fight against it as part of our confident and effective opposition.


  1. This sounds like it is playing to the "Women lie about rape" lobby. This misogynistic lobby frequently kicks into action in a way that you never hear "Women lie about burglary" or "Women lie about car theft".

    For a comparator - what about those accused of paedophilia? No-one suggests that men or women on trial for sexually abusing/raping children should be anonymous when being tried.

    As to where this has suddenly sprung from, who knows? David Cameron is on record as being aware about the impact and implications of rape – see
    ...and of pledging to be active about tackling it.

    This is a big step backwards. We should be going forwards towards getting rape reclassified.
    Being called a sex crime it puts everyone straight into the mindset and viewpoint of the perpetrator about what took place.
    In reality it is a gross human rights abuse, should qualify as a hate crime and attract much heavier sentences than it does now.
    Rape, as we know very well by now, is not about sex, but about misogyny, dominance, inhumanity and coercion.

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