One of the more surprising pledges in the Coalition programme for government was: â€œWe will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.â€ This move would turn the clock back to 1976, when the Sexual Offences Act introduced anonymity for those accused of rape. The provision was later repealed.
Â This proposal has produced a storm of adverse publicity. Granting anonymity to defendants accused of rape could lead to serial attackers slipping through the net, campaigners, victims and lawyers have warned. Women who had not previously had the confidence to report a rape were often inspired to do so after seeing media reports naming and picturing the same man. Ruth Hall, a spokeswoman for Women against Rape, said that the proposal could put women off coming forward to report rapes, hitting the already low conviction rate. Concern has been expressed that the proposal, intended to protect men from the damaging impact of false allegations, gave the impression that women frequently lie about rape. Baroness Stern, in her review of rape (see blog posted on 25 March), said that the subject of false allegations came up so often in discussions about rape, and the information about the prevalence of false allegations is so scanty, that research should be undertaken to establish their frequency before any view was reached on anonymity for defendants. As reported in the â€˜Guardianâ€™, Labour peer Helena Kennedy QC said the naming of accused rapists helped police investigations. “People who commit crimes like rape and serious crimes of violence, particularly sexually motivated ones, are often repeat offenders,” she said. “What the police will tell you is that very often the exposure of the identity of the accused brings forward other people.â€
Speaking in the adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 7 June, Caroline Flint said: â€œThose proposals, if implemented, would deter victims from coming forward and make it far more difficult for the police to charge offenders and convict rapists. We know that many rapists are serial offenders; their trail of victims often runs into double digits. Many women – for a variety of reasons – do not come forward straight away. They are afraid; they want to pretend it never happened. They are embarrassed; they feel as though they did something wrong. They are ashamed; they believe that what happened was their fault. They feel alone.â€ She will have been aware that she was pressing on a door which, if not open, was certainly not locked. Earlier in the day, also in the Commons, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg signalled a new willingness to drop the government’s plans. He said: â€œEverybody is united in wanting the conviction rates for rape to increase. Everybody wants more support to be provided to victims of rape so that they come forward in the first place, while also wanting to minimise the stigma attached to those who might be falsely accused. However, I want to make it clear that, although the Government have proposed the idea, we want to listen to everybody who has a stake or expertise in or insight into the matter. If our idea does not withstand sincere scrutiny, we will of course be prepared to change it.â€