Law and Order, · Police and Crime

Rape Consent Verdicts and Victims

Rape Consent Verdicts and Victims

Campaigners have renewed the call for men accused of sex crimes not to be named. It is because of the decisions in Cliff Richard and Ched Evans cases. I do not agree.  There should be no anonymity for sex offences especially with the shockingly low conviction rates for rape.  However, the law does need to change.  It must allow intoxication to invalidate consent and introduce ‘not proven’ as a verdict for juries.

Naming The Defendant Is Standard Legal Practise

In criminal proceedings, naming defendants is a check against the abuse of power. There are few exceptions to this principle of open justice such as the protection of vulnerable defendants like children. Men accused of sex crimes do not belong in that group.  The fear of false sexual allegations and the associated stigma is an incredibly weak argument for inclusion.

False allegations of rape are just 3% of complaints.  So a whopping 97% are not. Nor does it follow that the 3% were lies. Women retract their claims for a host of reasons including the hostile attacks they suffer as part of the rape interrogation.

The crimes of violence against children, terrorism and murder are all stigmatised and no less serious than rape.  Colin Stagg and Barry George were falsely accused of murder.  For them, the experience was no less traumatic.

Naming Defendants Is Essential For Justice

The high profile celebrity cases are not a reason to modify the law.  A few years ago nobody would have believed that Rolf ‘Didgeridoo’ Harris was a paedophile. Victims are too afraid to complain so fame protects celebrities. That fear applies to victims of the clergy, school teachers and other respectable positions including family and friends.

Frequently a sexual assault is the word of a victim against the word of a man about an incident that took place in private. Therefore it’s hard to prove.  However, naming the accused allows the police to gather corroborative evidence. Anonymity would have prevented the conviction of abusers like Stuart Hall, and the exposure of Jimmy Savile would not have happened.

Victims face the most intrusive questioning. It can be so vicious that victims like Frances Andrade, committed suicide after aggressive questioning by defence barristers.  Victims also face examination of their intimate history as shown in the Ched Evans retrial.  Evans had two witnesses known to his circle, who said they had sex with the drunk victim weeks before and after the alleged rape. They stated that she encouraged the act with the use of the F word.  Each witness also said that she had assumed the same sexual position with them. It was a key part of the trial. Those same words and position were in Evans’s 30 May 2011 account which was widely available on the internet. They are also words and a position that people commonly associate with sex.

Moving The Law Forward: Consent Law and Not Proven

The victim in the Evans case was drunk. Dame Elish’s report on rape revealed that a third of rape victims were “under the influence of alcohol”. The law should follow the Californian practise. It stipulates that women over a specified alcohol limit cannot consent to sex and that consent must be affirmative. It means that consent must be conveyed verbally or otherwise, and a lack of resistance or objection does not mean consent.

Britain’s conviction rate for rape is one of the lowest in Europe. The defendant is in a stronger position than his victim and the burden of proof is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. That means a jury has to be 99.999% sure before they pass a guilty verdict.

With the conviction rate of 5.7%, a ‘guilty’ ‘not guilty’ verdict is insufficient. England should adopt the Scottish system of ‘not proven’ as well. The decision would still lead to an acquittal for it means there is a lack of evidence of guilt. However, victims would be shown as potentially credible even if the case is not sufficiently strong to be proved. It also means that women who are at risk of prosecution for false accusations from a not guilty verdict would no longer live in fear of such proceedings.

Rape Consent Verdicts and Victims

Anonymity will further hamper victims. We must focus on the 97%  who are not making false accusations and not the illusion that the practise is rife. Sexual crimes are difficult for all concerned.  Nonetheless, the victims must come first. They are already disadvantaged by the system.  At present 85% of rapes go unreported. Rather we must make the law on consent robust and not a drunken acquiescence.  We must also remove the fear of prosecution for false allegations from victims by introducing a verdict of not proven.

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