28 May 2010

Anonymity, Rape and the Law

I can't say I'm optimistic about the new Conservative-dominated coalition government in terms of making positive steps forward for women. With a 'Minister for Equality' who has repeatedly voted against equality legislation, and who has no interest in banning Page 3 (hmm, wouldn't have anything to do with the fact the Conservatives are funded by the Murdoch empire, would it now?!), it seems that they're happy to rely on the old trick of putting someone with XX chromosomes at the forefront and thinking that will be enough to satisfy us gullible females. Just because someone's got a vagina doesn't make them pro-woman. Just look at the new female president of Costa Rica - anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-emergency contraception. Does make you wonder why, if these women really do believe that wimmin should be reproducing without choice or consent, they're not at home, barefoot, pregnant and chained to the kitchen sink themselves.

Anyway, this post wasn't actually intended (just) to bitch about the predictable shortcomings of politicians when it comes to protecting women's rights, but it was to deal with the deeply controversial new proposal revealed this week, namely the move to grant anonymity to those accused of rape. Feminists are in up arms, labelling this move a form of rape apologism, supporting the idea that men need to be 'protected' from the evil allegation-flinging of women, and further spreading the vile myth that many rapes are reported falsely (when in fact it's reckoned that there are fewer fraudulent rape claims than there are false car insurance claims). I've already been invited to sign a petition demanding that the government drop the proposal, yet I find myself hovering over the dotted line. I feel extremely torn on this issue. On the one hand, I agree that this move could be disastrous in terms of preventing victims of serial rapists coming forward; the case of serial rapist taxi-driver John Worboys is a recent case that springs to mind. However, the fact that rape victims need encouraging to 'come forward' in the first place says it all about how confident women feel with the current system - it's typical of the culture of rape apology that so many of Worboys' victims simply went home, said nothing, and lived with the horror of what had happened to them. Going to the police was not an option because they didn't think they would be believed. First police need to be trained and educated in believing victims, treating them as human beings and credible witnesses, and evaluating alleged rapists' behaviour and past actions to establish patterns. Once that's achieved, I don't think it would matter so much if alleged rapists weren't named, as police could still appeal for information from anyone who was attacked by 'a taxi-driver based in South London, grey hair, early 50s', and so strengthen a case without being accused of wrecking anyone's reputation.

There remains the problem of why just rape? Why not anonymity for murder suspects, alleged drug dealers, paedophiles, terrorists and so on? Is it wise to assign such gravitas to the effect of a rape accusation on a man's life whilst ignoring the effects of being accused of other heinous crimes? It does seem to carry with it the troubling implication that this crime in particular needs anonymity for its accused because this crime in particular is the subject of so many false accusations. This is not a helpful or realistic view of the 94% of rape cases in which the accused walks free - many of these cases implode long before a 'not guilty' verdict is ever reached, due to police mishandling evidence, judicial hostility to the victim, and victims being pressured/encouraged to drop their case on the basis that 'it's your word against his, you won't be believed'. What does a 'not guilty' verdict even mean in a culture where a woman who sustained genital and anal injuries consistent with a violent rape was disbelieved in court because she was wearing skinny jeans, which apparently can't be removed 'without consent'? It's certainly not the immediate admission of female dishonesty that the conservative media would have us believe it is - rather, it's a reflection of a grossly flawed judiciary and ignorant, biased surrounding society, which assumes female dissembling and male innocence before anyone even enters the courtroom. Do we really need another piece of legislation to back up the idea that 'men need protecting from lying bitches'?

However, the one possible benefit of this legislation is the flipside of that argument; if a law were brought in to make males accused of rape anonymous, then their accusers can no longer have the above distasteful piece of misogyny flung at them. It would no longer be possible to 'ruin' a man by making a rape accusation (because we all know those are so easy to make, and so fun to sustain) against him, therefore the argument that women 'cry rape' just to get revenge on men will no longer have any weight. There'll be no more sensationalist articles in The Daily Mail focusing on Steve, 35, from Leeds, whose existence was RUINED by the allegations of some evil slut, and has lost his job, been forced to move, had to change his name etc etc because of the 'stigma' applied to him. (And yes, to be falsely accused of anything would be horrendous, and our predatory media play a great part in encouraging public hounding and vigilante behaviour which would be enough to drive anyone to suicide. But there's absolutely no evidence to show that there are any more false accusations about rape than there are about any other crime, so an outcry specific to accused rapists is totally unjustified.) There could even be a shift of focus, from the tiny percentage of men affected by the 'horror' of a false accusation, to the huge percentage of women affected by the horror of a genuine rape. I'm probably dreaming - the right-wing media will surely find something else to harangue traumatised women about. But I can't be unequivocal about condemning this legislation - whilst it troubles me in many aspects, I think there could just be a silver lining - even if it's one totally unintended by its patriarchy-loving policymakers.

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