Men should be afforded anonymity in rape trials

Earlier this week, MailOnline reported on Maura McGowan – the deputy High Court judge who recommended that men should be granted pre-conviction anonymity in rape trials.

In a rare example of common sense within British law, the leading figure said that men should have their identity protected unless they are convicted.

Quite frankly, I agree.

Only yesterday, MailOnline reported on the case of Sophie Hooper – a 19 year-old woman who maliciously accused an innocent man of rape.

The mother-of-one, who was photographed smirking outside Southampton Crown Court after avoiding a jail sentence, only admitted to fabricating the allegations two months into the police investigation.

Sadly, cases like these are increasingly common.

In April last year, Kent’s Kirsty Sowden – a former John Lewis shop assistant – was jailed for just 14 months after crying rape over a fully consensual encounter with a man she’d met online. He was arrested at his workplace in front of colleagues and detained in a cell, wasting 376 hours of police time and costing £14,000.

In May 2012, 20 year-old Hanna Byron was spared jail after falsely accusing her ex-boyfriend of rape in revenge for breaking up with her.

In August, Sheffield’s Emma Saxon was jailed for making a second false rape allegation against her boyfriend, Martin Blood. He was held in police custody for 14 hours and subjected to an intrusive medical examination – all because he’d stood her up.

Meanwhile, Teesside’s Joanne Buckley was jailed for three years in September after stabbing a man because he refused to have sex with her – then threatening to cry rape if he went to hospital for treatment.

These cases – and the many, many more like them – are exactly why men deserve protecting by the law as much as women.

Tellingly, my opinion is shared by the majority of Britain. In 2010, a poll conducted by MailOnline showed that 67 per cent of readers want pre-conviction anonymity for rape defendants, as opposed to 33 per cent who don’t.

Originally, the law agreed. In 1976, the Labour government introduced rape trial anonymity for both the alleged victim and the accused. It operated this way until 1988, when guidelines were relaxed to help police investigations.

At the time, the media was far less powerful, less global, less permanent than it is today. There was no internet, no slew of gossip magazines, no mobile phones with cameras, no social networking sites.

Police techniques and technology were also less refined, so a lack of anonymity helped them.

Now, things are different. Dramatically so. And – once again – the law should change to reflect this.

Why? Because a not guilty verdict is no longer enough to repair the planet-sized crater of damage caused by weeks of daily headlines across the globe.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s also a human right to be innocent until proven guilty.

Feminists like Julie Bindel disagree. She seems to believes that men deserve the stain of rape stigma, guilty or not, simply because they are male. In fact, she once said being falsely accused wasn’t so bad. ‘A fair number of celebrities have been accused of rape in the past and do not seem to have suffered longer term,’ she incredulously wrote in The Guardian. ‘To say that an accusation ruins lives is perhaps a sweeping generalisation.’

Perhaps she should speak to Peter Bacon. In 2009, he was cleared by a jury in just 40 minutes after being falsely accused of rape by a woman he met through a one-night stand. Although he was totally exonerated, the incident was so traumatic that he changed his name and left the country. His life was utterly destroyed.

Meanwhile, the accuser kept her anonymity – and, for all we know, went on to accuse others.

Where’s the fairness in that?

Even UK charity Rape Crisis admit that almost 1 in 10 rape allegations are fake. This means that, out of every 10,000 cases that go to trial, around 800 men will be named and shamed in the media. All of them innocent sons, nephews, husbands and fathers.

To say this doesn’t matter is not only patronising, but irresponsible and sinister. It also smacks of some darker gender agenda.

Ironically, women like Bindel are enraged at the concept of pre-conviction anonymity for men, yet so few of them are equally outraged by the false accusers who betray the sisterhood (and the real victims of rape) with their lies.

Yet these women are damaging rape justice more than pre-conviction anonymity ever could.

Even Labour peer Lord Corbett, who introduced the 1976 law providing mutual pre-conviction anonymity, argued this until his death in February 2012. He told the Evening Standard in 2002: ‘Rape is a uniquely serious offence and acquittal is not enough to clear a man in the eyes of his family, community or workplace. He is left with this indelible stain on his reputation. The case for matching anonymity for the defendant is as strong now as ever.’

He was right in life and he’s right in death.

Besides, the benefit of mutual anonymity would cut across both genders, helping victims as well as conserving fair trials. For a start, it would deter anyone from making false claims out of spite, seeing the accuracy of convictions rise – not fall.

Secondly, it could make testifying easier for those who’ve come forward. Identifying the accused often inadvertently identifies the victim, which adds immense pressure for them. It’s all wrong.

The issue is made even more complex when our government officials muddy the waters of truth.

In 2010, an official enquiry report led by Baroness Stern – a prison reform campaigner – ordered Harriet Harman to stop misleading the public about rape statistics. For years she’d been pumping misinformation that only six per cent of rapists are brought to justice, when the reality is very different.

Actually, the rate is more like two in three – a figure which is much higher than comparable numbers for other violent crimes.

But Harman’s creepy spin is symptomatic of another problem, because the way we criminalise rapists seems to have become political. Instead of securing robust, fair trials, people now want a system where woman have all the power – as if this would guarantee justice.

Fortunately, women like Maura McGowan see the reality.

Like the rest of us, she understands the abhorrence of rape and the importance of justice. Yet, even in discussing such an emotive issue, her response remains rational: name the convicted, not the constricted.

The overwhelming majority of men are not rapists – not by a long shot, and the law must remember this.

Perhaps Harriet and Julie should too.

This article originally appeared in MailOnline, and is reposted here with permission of the author.

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