Friday, November 12, 2010

The British Government Ditches Plan To Give Anonymity to Men Accused of Rape: Why The Decision Is Wrong

The British government announced today it is ditching its pledge to give anonymity to men accused of rape.  See here. The British plan originally was to grant anonymity to the presumptively innocent unless convicted; it was watered down in the face of a politicized backlash to grant anonymity only to men who have not been charged.  Now, even this very modest form of anonymity has been scrapped.

For many years, by law in the UK and by policy of the news agencies and outlets in the US, rape accusers have been afforded anonymity.  Arguably, men accused of rape and similar crimes have even greater need for anonymity, unless and until convicted, than their accusers, but women's groups and progressive politicians typically block such efforts.  The recent maelstrom of criticism in UK after it was announced men would be granted limited anonymity is an unfortunate manifestation of their efforts.

This post is a brief explanation of the rationale for granting anonymity to men accused of rape.

I. Anonymity Would Not Send A Message That Women Are To Be Disbelieved

Among the many disingenuous reasons for not granting anonymity is that anonymity would "send a message" that rape accusers aren't to be believed. This is dishonest in the extreme. Anonymity for the presumptively innocent would send no such message any more than anonymity for rape accusers sends a message that rape accusers are to be believed over the men and boys they accuse. It is a gross stereotype to insist that the general public is so terribly obtuse that it makes credibility determinations on the basis of anonymity policies.

The message conveyed by anonymity for rape defendants is that the harm of publicly identifying innocent men who are falsely accused is severe and unconscionable, not that women are inherently untrustworthy.

II.  Many Males Accused of Rape Are Already Granted Anonymity Without Harmful Effect To Women

Many accused rapists are already afforded anonymity.  In the UK, anonymity orders under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 are frequently granted to teen boys accused of sex crimes.  Moreover, men whose identities cannot be revealed without necessarily revealing the accuser's identity are usually treated anonymously by the press in both the UK and the U.S.  The identities of accused males who fall within these two classes are shielded because, as a matter of public policy, the benefits of shielding their identities are deemed to outweigh the detriments.

There is no evidence -- none whatsoever -- that granting anonymity to these classes of defendants has in any manner hindered the war on rape.  Thus, in a real world setting, every hypothetical disaster that would supposedly occur if anonymity were granted has been proven to be disingenuous.

III.  Opposition To Anonymity Typically Fails To Acknowledge The Harm of a False Rape Claim

Opposition to anonymity for the presumptively innocent accused of rape is unconscionable because it typically fails to acknowledge the harm of a false rape claim. False accusations of rape have severely stigmatized more human beings than false accusations of any other crime.  The prevalence of false rape claims is invariably minimized, and the harm to the falsely accused trivialized, by persons who oppose anonymity for the presumptively innocent.  Yet, it is undeniable that false rape claims are a significant problem.  See here.  Among many other things, the FBI has reported that unfounded rape claims are multiple times more common than other crimes.

Worse, one need not look to the hanging trees in the Old South to know that the public scorn from false rape claims has caused more damage to innocent people than the scorn from any other type of false claim. False rape claims have caused innocent men and boys to be killed and to kill themselves; to be beaten, chased, spat upon, and looked upon with suspicion long after they are cleared of wrongdoing. They lose not only their good names but often their jobs, their businesses, and their friends. It is often impossible for the falsely accused to ever obtain gainful employment once the lie hits the news: for the remainder of his life, a falsely accused man will have prospective employers Googling his name and discovering the horrid accusation.

IV. Granting Anonymity Will Not Unduly Inhibit The Prosecution of Serial Rapists

Another argument often trotted out to oppose anonymity for men accused of rape is that anonymity could inhibit the effective prosecution of serial rapists.  This argument is a snare and a delusion.  First, anonymity for rape defendants does not prevent the naming of serial rapists.  It would simply forbid publicly naming men who have only been accused but not convicted of rape. A suspect would be identified if he is convicted. 

Second, the vast majority of rapes are committed by acquaintances where the identity of the perpetrator is not at issue. The number of cases where rape victims might be helped in identifying their rapist by seeing a man's picture on the television news is minuscule. 

Third, it can scarcely be denied that some teen boys and some men whose identities are already shielded must also be serial rapists.  The fact is, there is no evidence that granting anonymity for these classes of defendants has in any manner inhibited the effective prosecution of serial rapists. 

Fourth, anonymity for men accused of rape would not hinder police investigations any more than anonymity for rape accusers hinders police (not to mention innocent men) from learning that a rape accuser has made false rape allegations in the past.  Society has made a policy decision to grant anonymity for women who accuse men and boys of rape because such anonymity is thought to serve other useful purposes.  Anonymity for men would also serve useful purposes, even if police might prefer to have them publicly named.

V. Granting Anonymity Would Encourage More Women To Come Forward

Another argument often posited in opposition to anonymity for men accused of rape is that women will not come forward if the men they accuse are not publicly named. There is no factual basis for this conclusion, and the one has nothing to do with the other. For example, there is no basis to believe that fewer women come forward when their rapists are teen males whose identities are not made public.

In fact, it is likely that more rape victims would "come forward" if the men they accuse were anonymous. The vast majority of rapes, we are told, are of the acquaintance variety. When a woman accuses a male acquaintance of rape and he is publicly identified, it often isn't difficult to infer who the accuser is. It is reasonable to assume that most rape victims would prefer not to have their identities revealed by inference when they accuse an intimate acquaintance of rape.

VI. Justice For Rape Victims Does Not Depend On Withholding Protections For The Presumptively Innocent

Justice for rape victims does not depend on the public shaming and humiliation of the presumptively innocent who, too often, turn out to be victims of false rape claims. 

Sadly, anonymity for the presumptively innocent is opposed precisely because rape has become unnecessarily gender-politicized, and it is improperly viewed as a zero sum game where any protection afforded to the presumptively innocent is deemed to be detrimental to rape victims. There is no evidence for that assumption.  Moreover, that assumption is premised on a morally grotesque world view that it is somehow acceptable to treat falsely accused men as unfortunate collateral damage whose pain is to be tolerated in the name of fighting the "more important" war on rape. 

At long last, society needs to recognize that the harm to the falsely accused who are publicly identified as potential rapists is unconscionable and severe.  The victimization of our daughters should not be deemed more worthy of our protection than the victimization of our sons.