Anonymity for rape defendants is antithetical to our justice system

I started this petition because I’m incredibly worried about this recommendation for anonymity for rape defendants. It is a regressive policy predicated on the belief that all women lie about rape and that a man’s reputation is more important than justice.

PETITION 

Each year in England and Wales 85 000 women and 12 000 men are raped. We know that only 10 -15 % of victims report to the police due to “shame, prejudicial media reporting and mistrust in the criminal justice process”. We also know that rape trials have the lowest conviction rate of any crime because of systemic and institutional disbelief of victims. Our adversarial legal system is predicated on the belief that women and children routinely lie about sexual violence – despite false reports of rape being no higher than any other crime; despite the fact that many ‘false reports’ are due to misogyny within the police who routinely ‘no-crime’ rape without investigating.

We are extremely worried to see the Home Affairs Select Committee suggest that suspects being investigated for rape and other forms of sexual violence require anonymity until charged or police ‘needed’ to name them because of the potential damage to their ‘reputation’. Why is justice now about the reputation of the accused rather than upholding the law?

Would Jimmy Savile’s name been released as a serial sexual predator as he was never formally charged? Would we have seen the numerous inquiries held into the failures of police and the establishment to take child sexual abuse and exploitation seriously following the allegations about Savile? Would David Lee Travis, Rolf Harris, Max Clifford and Chris Denning have been investigated without the media reporting the sheer scale of the rape and sexual abuse committed by Jimmy Savile? Would John Worboys have been investigated and convicted without being named in the media following serious failures by the Sapphire Unit to believe a large number of women who reported him?[5]

The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) umbrella organization response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recommendation makes it clear that rape is

“…..a known repeat offence, and the police may need the discretion to name a suspect for investigative purposes. Decision-making on this should of course be clear and transparent.”

 and that it is:

“It is notable that this short report by the Home Affairs Select Committee makes little reference to the specific justice issues around sexual offences before making this serious recommendation on anonymity. These include very low reporting to the police rates, vulnerable witnesses, and the fact that rape is a known repeat offence.”

Sexual violence is the only crime where sympathy is with the perpetrator rather than the victim. It is the only crime where decisions and recommendations about the criminal justice response is based entirely on fallacious assumptions, myths and victim blaming. As EVAW also states the Home Affairs Select Committees report:

“…is also alarmingly incorrect about false allegations – recommending that those accused and not convicted should receive “acknowledgement that they were falsely accused” when such cases are not necessarily based on a false allegation.”

We call on the Home Affairs Select Committee to review their recommendation using evidence-based research on anonymity for perpetrators and not assumptions about ‘perpetrators feelings’. We call on all political parties and Members of Parliament to show their support for all victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence by insisting that suspects in cases of sexual violence are treated no differently than suspects in other crimes.

Anonymity for suspects in cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence is a dangerous precedent that puts women, children and men at risk.

PETITION 

 

Britain’s Youngest Mum was 11 years old [content note for child rape]

(originally published at Ending Victimisation and Blame)

Tressa Middleton was only 11 years old the first time she became pregnant. When first reported, in 2006, the media repeatedly made statements about the father being a “neighbourhood boy”. The focus was on the girl; not the boy and not the circumstances in which an 11 year old child could find themselves pregnant. There was very little discussion about the fact that an 11 year old cannot legally consent to sex and that any sexual relationship with a “neighbourhood boy” older than her would have still been classed as a crime. There was very little discussion about why an 11 year old child was “having sex” or drinking alcohol. Instead, media coverage focused on shaming Tressa and her mother.

Many feminist commentators and people involved in child protection clearly knew the story was far more complex. Those directly involved in the case knew it was more complex, yet could not defend Tressa from the media intrusion without putting her further at risk. When Tressa was 14, it was revealed that her older brother Jason, aged 16 at the age of the attack, was the man who raped her. Jason Middleton was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2009 and has since been released home to live with his mother.

Tressa, a child victim of rape, became pregnant. She also became addicted to alcohol and was eventually placed in a residential unit without her child and placed in a position where she had no choice but to sign adoption papers.

The original coverage of Tressa’s pregnancy was simply victim blaming. It was horrific shaming of a child victim of rape with no attempt to contextualise Tressa’s abuse. The case has once again gained media coverage due to Tressa’s new pregnancy with the Daily Mail publishing an article conveniently ignoring their original victim-blaming. The refusal to acknowledge their own responsibility in perpetuating the harm to Tressa by publishing salacious articles is important to note but equally so is the failure to place Tressa’s experience within a paradigm of male violence and our culture’s refusal to accept responsibility for not supporting Tressa.

Tressa was a child who was raped. Instead of discussing her experience as rape, which it clearly was under law as 11 year olds cannot consent, the media blamed Tressa repeatedly. Whilst I cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation into Tressa’s rape since that is not a matter of public record, I do want to make it clear that child rape is frequently not investigated properly. We simply do not know if the authorities involved in Tressa’s care realised they were dealing with a child victim of rape. The media certainly didn’t think so. If the authorities did realise it was child rape, did they ever investigate the brother as a possible perpetrator? Again, we cannot know that. All that we do know is that an 11 year old rape victim was forced to live with her rapist despite becoming pregnant (and the rape becoming known to the authorities). The reality is that most rape victims are raped by someone known to them yet we don’t publicly acknowledge the reality of rape by fathers and brothers. We talk about stepfathers and uncles but very rarely fathers and brothers despite this not being uncommon.

What the Daily Mail has also failed to make explicit is that Tressa’s daughter was placed for adoption because of the lack of specialist services for teenage mothers and for mothers with substance misuse problems. They failed to acknowledge the lack of adequate support for victims of child rape; for a child with a clear case of trauma. They didn’t investigate the poor provision for teenage mothers. They didn’t acknowledge how traumatic it would be for a young mother to be forced to live with her rapist; to have no safe space. Or, how traumatic it would be for a child to have her own child forcibly removed from her care simply due to the lack of resources to support both.

Tressa Middleton has had very little choice in having her story become public knowledge. We are doing her a tremendous disservice by focusing on her pregnancies without acknowledging that she was originally blamed for being a victim of child rape; that she has been publicly shamed and humiliated.

Tressa’s case is not an isolated one. We do not have exact figures for children who are raped within their own home by male relatives. We do not have accurate figures for children who become pregnant after being raped. We do know that it is not uncommon. We need to reflect on the treatment Tressa received and look into implementing victim-centred support so that no other child is forced to experience what Tressa did.

There are two separate required responses to this case:

1. The lack of services for victims

  • specialist rape support for children
  • better mandatory training for GPs, health workers, social workers, teachers, police and any other front line staff working with children to recognise the signs of child sexual abuse
  • residential units to support all mothers who are recovering from trauma and/ or substance misuse where the babies can live with their mothers
  • foster care for teenage mothers where the babies can remain in the primary care of the mother

2. Enforceable legislation guiding the publication of stories of male violence against women and girls. Guidelines already exist but they are not strong enough and the media ignores them.

We are complicit in continuing the abuse of Tressa by irresponsible reporting and denying services to victims.

We need to do better.

The Best Rape Prevention: Tell Men to Stop Raping

This post was originally published in the Huffington Post. It was shortlisted for the Best Blog category and first runner-up at the Write to End Violence against Women Awards hosted by Zero Tolerance, White Ribbon Campaign, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid held at the Scottish Parliament.

 

Last week, New York defence attorney Joseph DiBenedetto made headlines when he used the phrase “I’m not saying she deserved to get raped but” live on Fox News. The comment was a response to a question about the rape of teenager Daisy Coleman in Maryville, Missouri. The case hit the national press because of how the criminal justice system in Missouri handled the aftermath of the rape rather than the rape itself; rape being such a common crime that it very rarely makes headline news.

Comparisons have already been made between the Maryville case and that of the rape of a young girl in Steubenville as both cases involve high school athletes, charges were originally dropped and the online harassment of both young women has been horrific. As with Steubenville, it has been public campaigns, which have resulted in the case being investigated by a Special Prosecutor.

The reaction to DiBenedetto’s comment has been one of outrage, which is interesting because DiBenedetto has not said anything different than many other people.

Victim-blaming is endemic in our rape culture. It is the cause of West Mercia Police’s “advice” for women that blames women for drinking alcohol rather than men for committing rape :

“Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”, says the headline on West Mercia Police’s web page dedicated to tackling rape. “Did you know”, they ask “if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?”

Oxford Police ran a similar campaign. The University of Kent and the University of Oxford’s Student Union have both come under criticism for anti-rape campaigns that focus on the victim rather than perpetrator.

Slate recently published an article by Emily Yoffe with the title “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” which blames women who have been drinking for their rapes rather than the rapists. Yoffe’s article is hardly new though. The advice within it is the same advice women get everyday despite the fact that the only factor that makes people vulnerable to rape is being in the presence of a rapist. The article itself has been publicly criticised by a number of feminist organisations and publications like JezebelFeministing and Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. It has also been criticised in more mainstream media outlets.

DiBenedetto’s comments aren’t new either; neither is his suggestion that Coleman has made a false allegation. The public’s reactions to these comments are new. The widespread condemnation of DiBenedetto’s comments is new.

We are at a turning point: we have the power to end rape culture and victim blaming.

The campaigns fighting rape culture and victim-blaming are incredibly inspiring, Rape Crisis Scotland’s anti-rape campaigns: “This is not an invitation to rape me” and “Ten Top Tips to End Rape” went viral because they inverted normal anti-rape campaigns. Parenting website Mumsnet’s We Believe You campaign was instigated by members angry at the prevalence of rape myths. End Online Misogyny was created in response to the rape threats directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy. Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming] started in May in response to the press surrounding the Oxford Gang case. Reclaim the Night marches are being held all over the UK now, as are Slutwalks.

Only last week, the CPS published new guidelines for the prosecution of child sexual abuse in England/ Wales that actively challenges the existence of rape myths in trials. These new guidelines were in response to feminist activism and, whilst they aren’t as strong as they could be, they are an important start.

However, we need to do more and we need to start with more anti-rape campaigns which put the focus on the perpetrator rather than that victim, like Vancouver’s Don’t be that Guy campaign. We also need a fundamental overhaul of our justice system :

1. Anonymity for rape victims must remain a fundamental tenet.
2. Rape victims should never be required to testify in open court.
3. Rape victims should never be required to testify in front of the accused.
4. Rape victims should be entitled to their own legal advisor to protect them.
5. Rape myths must be legally prohibited from being used as a defence tactic.
6. The CPS and judiciary must undergo constant (re)training on rape myths.
7. Juries must be giving training on rape myths before the trial starts which includes the real definition of what a “false accusation” actually entails [since we consider rape victims who withdraw their complaints as “false accusations” this is absolutely necessary].
8. The “sexual history” of a rape victim must be banned. The defence should have no legal right to undermine the credibility of the victim by discussing their “sexual history”.
9. The press should be prohibited from publishing the specific details of the rape. It is enough to say: X has been charged with child rape.
10. Anyone who attempts to identify the victim should be prosecuted.

Rape has a purpose in our culture, as does victim blaming. We will not end rape culture, victim blaming or the oppression of women by continuing to focus campaigns on rape prevention that hold victims responsible for being in the presence of a rapist.

Most importantly, this change needs to start with a message to men: rape must stop. Men must take personal responsibility for their own perpetuation of rape culture and men need to call out other men who are engaging in sexually predatory behaviour.

We all have the power to change rape culture, but we need men to take a public stand now.

* The legal definition of rape in England and Wales requires the insertion of a penis without consent . Men and women can be, and are, convicted of sexual assault that carries the same tariff as rape. See Rape Crisis Glasgow for the definitions of rape and sexual assault in Scotland.