Letter sent to Lynne Featherstone.

Below is a letter I’ve sent to Lynne Featherstone, challenging the Government’s extension of anonymity to alleged rapists. Ms. Featherstone is a Lib Dem junior minister in the Home Office with a portfolio to tackle inequality. I thought I’d post the letter rather than write the same points out in article form, and was wondering what other people thought about the policy.

Dear Ms. Featherstone,

I am writing to you in your capacity as a minister responsible for equality, with regard to proposed legislation to extend anonymity to alleged rapists.

You know as well as I that the rape conviction rate is low: that most raped women do not receive justice. I have read your comments in the press noting how few reported rapes end in conviction and trust that you know how very few rapes are reported in the first place. At best estimate 6.5% of total rapes end in conviction.

Surely the Government’s policy, if enacted, will do nothing other than exacerbate this unacceptable state of affairs.

Last year The Daily Mail (among others) ran numerous headlines emphasising women’s supposedly uncontrollable urge to lie about rape. This both reflects and perpetuates the widespread myth that rape victims are liars. The Government’s anonymity policy aligns it with this misogyny: suggesting that so many women fabricate rape accusations that legislation is required to protect men from the onslaught. There is no evidence that there are more false accusations of rape than of any other crime.

I do not claim that the Government’s actions are motivated by misogyny. But they will create a system in which every rape victim will be powerfully aware that her attacker is being ‘taken care of’ by the system. They will reinforce in her the sense that everyone, in court and out, assumes she’s a liar. Under these circumstances how much less likely is she to report the crime? How much more painful is the process of any trial likely to be? Are jurors not going to see alleged rapists as a special category of alleged criminal: more likely to be sinned against than sinning? The last thing women in this country need is further obstacles to justice for those of them who are raped.

All of these factors far outweigh the only plausible benefit of the policy; that women may be able to report rape without fear of recrimination from men who see their honour/pride as damaged by the subsequent charges against them. This is unlikely to even translate into a real benefit: a woman won’t expect an angry rapist to act rationally and refrain from retribution because his name was not made public at trial.

You are one of the few M.Ps to have publicly spoken out against institutions of sexual objectification like Page 3. My local M.P., David Heath, has assured me of your dedication to working against the objectification of women and ‘pornification’ of their lives in a recent correspondence. I sincerely hope that you will fight the corner of raped women on this issue, using your position in government to promote their needs and rights over those of rapists. It is rapists, as well as those genuinely innocent, who will benefit from this policy.

7 Comments

  1. There is definitely a serious issue here regarding why it is rape defendants who are being extended this protection in particular when accusations of all sorts of crimes are just as damaging to the person’s reputation. Would they be so happy extending anonymity to those being prosecuted for paedophilia or child pornography?

    It’s insulting to single out rape especially as it seems the criminal justice system seems inadequate to prosecute cases in the first place, not to mention the difficulty/trauma women (and men) face when coming forward about incidents. You only have to see that one incident with the taxi driver, once it became apparent that he was being prosecuted his other victims began to step forward, but they didn’t before because of their qualms/worries about bringing such charges against him themselves.

  2. I personally feel that all defendants of any crime should remain anonymous outside of court until they have been proved guilty. However I totally agree with the letter here and the comment above that singling out rape as the only crime for this kind of policy is incredibly damaging and essentially misogynist even it’s not meaning to be. Good work!

  3. John, I agree to some extent. I think that either all defendants for any crime should have the right to anonymity, or none. Singling out rape somehow sickens me.

  4. I actually believe strongly in the necessary anonymity of all defendants in any crime. It’s shocking that the names of any “accused” could ever be released before being found guilty; this could completely destroy a life.

    However, I agree that it’s a blatant call for ‘protection’ against ‘vicious female liers’. I would like to note that when The Sun etc called for the names of all paedophiles (guilty or not) to be released for the public good, this was considered perfectly reasonable. But now obviously the opposite is true for rapists.

    I welcome the anonymity offered to defendants in rape cases. However, I’m absolutely appalled that the government wouldn’t offer new policy to enable more efficient, sensitive and effective prosecution of rapists BEFORE creating new legislation for the single-issue of rape defendants. Why on earth is the time being solely put into protecting the defendent, but not the victim?

    I support any new move for anonymity. But, in this case, it is a purposefully provocative policy.

  5. Hey just watched Cameron’s first PMQs today and was extremely impressed by Harriet Harman’s attack on this very issue on behalf of the opposition. Cameron’s defense was seriously weak, but at least she really showed him up on it. Check it out, it’s about 5 and a half minutes in:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00sn78n/Prime_Ministers_Questions_02_06_2010/

  6. That’s great – really well-written and powerful. I’d be interested in reading a reply if you get one! Also, kudos for sending it to LF rather than TM…

  7. Vicky Woolley

    June 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I also think there’s a strong argument to be made for anonymity for all defendants, though introducing such a level of secrecy into the justice system brings its own concerns. As for PMQ’s – I think that shows up how little thought the Government have actually put into this. That such a potentially damaging policy seems to be based purely on vague impressions that women are liars, without even interrogating that idea, is frankly scary.

    Will post back with any reply I get.

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