MP Mark Pritchard has called a review of the law on anonymity for people accused of rape after police dropped an inquiry into allegations against him, writes Glen Poole.
“To be falsely accused of anything is an awful thing,” he said. “The law on anonymity does need to be reviewed, and fairness does need to play a far greater role in these cases.”
His calls were backed by Nigel Evans MP, the former deputy speaker who was cleared of rape allegations at trial last year. He said the law needed to be reformed “as a matter of urgency” to spare suspects “the full glare of publicity….there is scant regard given to the innocent person accused”.
False allegations are a uniquely gendered crime. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, 92% of people suspected of false allegations of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence are women and the majority of victims are male.
So how long have men been denied the right to anonymity in rape trials?
According to the website Full Fact, complainants in rape cases have been entitled to anonymity in the media since the Sexual Offences Act 1976. The same Act extended this to defendants, but since the Criminal Justice Act 1988, defendants have had no statutory right to anonymity in rape cases.
In 2003 the House of Lords and the Home Affairs Committee proposed bringing back anonymity for defendants, but the Commons rejected the plans and the law remained unchanged following the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
The Coalition Agreement in 2010 also proposed extending anonymity in rape cases to defendants. But after the Ministry of Justice found a dearth of evidence on the prevalence of false rape accusations, the plans were shelved.
Estimates of the proportion of allegations of rape that are false range from 0.6%, a statistic favoured by some femininsts keen to downplay the problem, to the much higher 50% figure favoured by some anti-feminists keen to grab hold of any statistic that puts women in the worst possible light.
One in ten rape allegations could be false
If one in ten of the 16,000 complaints for rape the police receive each year are false, then more than 30 men a week are being subjected to false allegations.
That’s more than 30 male victims a week who are being publicly named and shamed while their false accusers can hide behind the anonymity of being a “victim”.
There is only one convincing argument I have heard against anonymity for men accused of rape and that is that naming them can help encourage more victims coming forward.
With just a little imagination, it is not beyond the wit of legislators to make allowances were there is a genuine case for lifting reporting restrictions, so long as this is the exception and not the rule. As Ally Fogg argued after the acquittal of Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell in 2013:
“I see no reason why there couldn’t be an assumption of anonymity which could be lifted at any time by the presiding judge, if investigators plead that it offers significant prospects of helping the case.”
Now that two MPs have personal experience of being denied a right to anonymity when accused of rape, maybe we’ll see a renewed political campaign to change the law for the benefit of all men. After all, men of every background are potentially at risk of being falsely accused of rape and sexual abuse.
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men
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