Anoymity for Rape Defendants?

You know I can honestly see how this idea seems like a reasonable one: “Hey, rape victims get anonymity. So shouldn’t those they accused get anonymity as well, until they’ve convicted? Of course, those guilty of rape don’t deserve anonymity, which is why they’ll be named after conviction. But those who are innocent don’t deserve to suffer the consequences of a false rape accusation. It’ll be fairer to make it anonymous for everyone.”

Except that:

1. Rape would be the only crime for which the accused get anonymity. This would mean that:
2. There will be gender disparity in the treatment of defendants: those granted anonymity will be overwhelmingly male.
3. There will be a very strong implication that rape accusations are especially likely to be false and

a. This is not true– the rate of false accusations is the same as for any other crime.
b. This is a very damaging myth, which helps to contribute to the appallingly low conviction figures for rape.

4. The appallingly low conviction figures for rape mean that very few accused rapists will get named.
5. 4 is especially problematic because serial rapists are often caught when victims who had previously hesitated to come forward see their rapists on trial for a different rape.

So, in the end, not a good idea at all.

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)

9 thoughts on “Anoymity for Rape Defendants?

  1. 1.) This isn’t really a problem, except that I’d argue (agree?) that extending that kind of protection to other similarly heinous crimes would make even more sense; I can’t even imagine the difficulties or damage involved in going through a false accusation like that, with judgement passed by friends, relatives, and acquaintances before the people in question even have their guilt proven. I suspect (although I can’t substantiate) that the emotional and reputational damage done in these cases is probably worse than in cases of theft, fraud, assault (on a man), or murder, and that the public judgement is passed more swiftly and the stigma lasts longer.

    2.) I’m especially puzzled by #2–would you mind clarifying it? Since the treatment would apply to all defendants, and since the majority of offenses are committed by males, why is its application really problematic? It’s not about giving men an extra layer of protection, it’s about giving anybody thus accused a chance to clear their name before facing the media shitstorm. Is your difficulty that it somehow constitutes preferential treatment for males? How is that even relevant, if it’s designed to protect people who are innocent?

    3.) I’m not convinced that’s the sort of implication that will be drawn immediately, but all right, I’ll grant the “legislating to a minority” point.

    4.) This is not a problem related to the suggestion. I am very uncomfortable with the idea that it’s OK to widely publicize this kind of (tremendously damaging) information just to get back at bad people, the innocents be damned–particularly since there’s no real mechanism for those who were wrongfully hurt to make good on the damage done to them by the media. Also worth considering is that this kind of indirect punishment goes against the spirit of our code of law (“innocent until proven guilty”), despite what small revenge-related closure it might grant victims.

    Ultimately, I think that you’ve convinced me that it’s probably not a great idea, but in all honesty, point #5 is the only one that treads water for me (with #3 to a small extent). I remain very uncomfortable with your other points, and their own (hypothetical) implications.

  2. There’s an additional piece of context, which is the general presumption that justice should be seen to be done: transparency is the rule, and anonymity is an exception which carries a heavy burden of justification. (It’s a burden which victims of rape took a long time to meet.)

    There are lots of offences which it’s pretty bad to be accused of when you’re innocent. But it is important that we’re collectively committed to open justice as far as possible. It seems to me that the basic principle Michael refers to – innocent until proven guilty – provides good reason not to provide anonymity. Surely anonymity for defendants is only needed if we’re NOT sufficiently committed to that principle.

  3. Like Michael, I agree with reason 5. But generally I think a system where unconvicted defendents were generally kept anonymous would be an improvement over what we have now.

    My impression is that in Victoria there are all sorts of reasons why defendents’ names might be kept out of the press. (One common one is that the defendent is under-age, but that’s not the only reason.) In many cases, names can be revealed only upon conviction. And that system seems to work tolerably well.

    One effect of it is that the broadsheets will reserve their long discussion of major crimes/trials for after conviction, since they can now put names/faces to the people involved. That’s probably a good thing, since it means that their stories have been checked against what happens at trial. I think justice ends up being seen to be done more vividly than in the normal case, which is rampant speculation at arrest and pre-trial, then a short story noting conviction at the end.

    Still, I can see why you might want rape defendents to be an exception to a general principle of anonynimity, and making them an exception to a general principle of revealing names seems utterly wrong-headed. But given how many people are going to believe “no smoke without fire”, or that only people who are guilty of something would have got arrested in the first place, making it public knowledge that a person was arrested and charged with a serious crime seems to me to be placing a major burden on that person without them having much possibility for redress in case of mistake.

    Put another way, I just don’t think that every employer/neighbour/official that the defendent deals with is, as Heg puts it, “sufficiently committed to the principle” innocent until proven guilty. And I think actually innocent defendents deserve protection from those employers etc who are not. I’d like to see evidence on this, but I suspect a lot of males are more committed to innocent until proven guilty for rape suspects than for, say, murder or burglary suspects, so this might be another reason for having rape be an exception to the general rule that defendents’ names shouldn’t be publicised.

  4. Just for the record–and this certainly isn’t a big deal or anything–but my name isn’t “Michael”. Just for future reference–no harm done, or offense taken.

  5. I think with respect to three, it would be the case if names of defendants were also not made public for other accusations of particularly heinous crimes, but given that would not be the case, it would make it seem like the reason for withholding defendants names from the public is because the accusation carries a greater likelihood of being false-and that would be wrong.

    With respect to Hegs point- I think withholding names would likely decrease our commitment to innocent until proven guilty in other sorts of cases.

  6. Ok, I was on my phone and having issues with that last comment. I meant that with respect to three, it would not be the case of anonymity were also the standard with accusations of other sorts of particularly heinous crimes, but if it were only the case for rape defendants, then it would give the impression that rape accusations are more likely to be false.

  7. Since most rapists commit multiple rapes (Lisak & Miller 2002) the effect of other survivors coming forward when the name of the accused is published is not a small issue.

    Since the legal definition of rape in the UK is non-consensual penetration with a penis, rapists are virtually exclusively men (caveat for the EXTREMELY small number of pre-op transwomen convicted of rape – I think there’s been one). It’s a small point, I know, I am a pedant.

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