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Balance

Friday 21st May 2010

I read through the coalition agreement the other day, and on the whole it actually seems rather good. Of course it remains to be seen how well the coalition works, but as I’ve said before I’m quite optimistic. Especially when Nick Clegg makes speeches like this

But when I read the document, there was one line in particular that I was unsure about. The promise that “we will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants”. I did a sort of double-take when I read it (if that makes sense), because to put it frankly, there are almost definitely more important issues surrounding rape than whether or not the defendant is anonymous. Like the fact that a hideously low amount of rape victims even bother to report the crime, or the appalling way they are treated if they do report it. If it were me, that would be my priority to be honest.

Irrespective of that though, is this a good idea? The arguments in favour of anonymity are clear; rape (quite rightly) carries a certain amount of stigma, and I can imagine that even if someone is found not guilty of raping someone, it’s still a weight around their neck. There’s no smoke without fire, after all… This is a simple argument, but to my mind it’s an incredibly persuasive one. After all the fundamental idea is that someone is “innocent until proven guilty”.

I can sort of understand the counterarguments though. In some cases – such as John Worboys – the naming of the person who has been accused has spurred other victims into reporting their cases, and this obviously increases the likelihood of the defendant being found guilty. I’m not sure how common this is though, and even if it is common I’m not sure if it’s a valid reason not to have anonymity. Because to my mind the underlying problem is still that most victims don’t report the crime, and this doesn’t really solve that issue all that effectively.

I read on the BBC that Labour introduced anonymity for rape defendants in 1976, and the subsequant Conservative government reversed this in 1988. I don’t know what the rationale was for the Tories doing that, and it’d also be pretty interesting to find out what – if any – effect it had.

Not surprisingly, shouty feminists have pointed out that this is a very bad thing.  They say that it’s misogynistic, that it reinforces the idea that when a woman reports a rape, she’s obviously lying. To put it simply, I think that’s a complete load of bullshit. I think that all this aims to do is to address the effects of the accusation on those people who are innocent, and I don’t think that is a bad thing at all. Clearly there are valid arguments for and against, but I think the negative reaction is overblown. Yes, anonymity may have a negative effect in some proportion of cases, but isn’t it important to balance the rights of both sides?

No doubt someone will come along later and say “oh you would say that you’re a man” and put this down to “male privilege”. And to anyone tempted to say that, then just No. This is just trying to look at both sides of the argument in a balanced way, rather than simply jump to a conclusion. It’s very easy to over-react to things we disapprove of (and make no mistake, I think the way rape is dealt with in this country is atrocious), but I think it’s important to try to retain some sense of perspective.

Posted at 5:04 pm | Posted In: Politics Tagged:

2 Comments:

Lucy

Sunday 23rd May 2010, 9:07 pm

I think it’s one thing to publish the names of convicted rapists, but quite another to publish the names of those standing trial. So yes, innocent until proven guilty, and I agree with the proposal extending to defendants who are currently being tried.

The way rape is dealt with in this country is atrocious, and I agree with you that that should be the greater priority.

Oh, and I’m a woman, so there :-P

Dickie

Wednesday 26th May 2010, 3:06 am

“Oh, and I’m a woman, so there :-P”

Heh, thanks for pointing that out, Lucy :P. The last para was because I’ve been accused of “male privilege” in the past when I’ve made this sort of comment, so I was pre-empting that because it’s really bloody annoying.

I saw another example today of what I mean – this is a “rapists’ charter” apparently… Also in the comments on that page, someone made roughly the same comments that I’ve made here, and the author of the original post called him a misogynist. Sigh.

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