Monday, November 2, 2009


A subject dear to my own heart, of course. Rape victims are anonymous as of right; that is, I don't have to ask the judge nicely if he would order those journalists in the back row not to publish her face on the front page.

N.B. -- "anonymity" is NOT anonymity in court. The complainant's name is used in open court, and unless special measures are granted (which are as of right in sex cases, and usually involve giving evidence via a live video-link), you still have to face your alleged attacker.

I say "alleged" because in a very large proportion of cases, the men (and it is always men who commit rapes -- a person, A, commits an offence by penetrating with his penis the vagina, anus, or mouth of another, who does not consent, and who A does not reasonably believe to consent -- s.1 Sexual Offences Act 2003) are acquitted. This will often boil down to the jury being unable to be satisfied so that they are sure.

I wasn't always part of the jackboot of the state, and I have seen first-hand how an enitrely unfounded allegation of sexual assault can destroy one man's prospects. This particular man had a very bright future, and his face was plastered all over the papers as a sex attacker. Having seen the evidence, and heard a large amount about the character and credibility of the complainant, it was obvious that the allegation was malicious.

He was rapidly acquitted, but no more reporting than "Man acquitted" could take place -- the complainant's anonymity is still protected to this day, which is also why I can't give any real details.

Should both sides be anonymous?

I think so. Women Against Rape don't, citing the "fact" that "most rapists are serial rapists" and the publicity is needed to get women to come forward. That's clearly cobblers. Firstly, the majority of cases don't involve any suggestion of serial rapes of different people.

Secondly, we don't advertise the identity of alleged muggers, so why would we do it with alleged rapists? What do they want, a forty-foot billboard with the slogan "Have you been raped by this man?"?

In the very few cases where that would help, you can still do that, but for the love of all that's good, DO IT AFTER HE'S BEEN CONVICTED! Bloody hell. Innocent until proven guilty? I know the Government's been working on habeas corpus and jury trials, but even they haven't dared touch that one.

There is a balance to be struck, and the unique stigma attached to rape means that those accused of rape and subsequently acquitted continue to suffer the consequences.

And Women Against Rape, an organisation that professes to seek justice, should remind itself of the basic rules -- innocent until proven guilty.


  1. Until a guilty verdict has been announced the defendent is innocent in the eyes of the law and is entitled to receive the same consideration that any innocent person would expect. For crimes that carry a the kind of moral stigma that is likely to stick beyond any not-guilty verdict, that protection should include anonimity. I think most (possibly all) sex crimes come into this category because of the way they are typically reported and viewed.

  2. Firstly I must confess that I am a criminal defence lawyer, but it never ceases to amaze me that whenever there is publicity about conviction rates in rape cases that nobody ever dares mention the fact that part of that statistic is due to the fact that many many people accused of rape are innocent. The vast majority of "rapes" that are dealt with are and I say this reservedly " relationship" rapes and I am afraid the sad truth is that many such allegations are simply not true. It remains very difficult to defend yourself against such allegations when the difference between consensual sex and rape is simply one persons word against another.
    Excellent Blog AP by the way, so nice to see a balanced view of the CPS world. I don't think you operate in my courts but if you did I'm sure it would be a pleasure!

  3. Rape is very wicked. Making a false allegation of rape is also wicked.

    It should not be hard to understand that men are not the only sex capable of wickedness.

    Anyone interested might review the Home Office's own report which seems to show that almost half of rape allegations are knowingly false.

  4. A.J. Wimble -- I agree, although ideally, no stigma would attach to anyone acquitted of a crime. Wishful thinking on my part.

    Anonymous defence lawyer -- "Relationship rape" -- very, very difficult indeed to deal with, especially where the defence is consent, i.e. pretty much every time. A good example of why I prefer gun crime, drugs, gangs, and good old-fashioned violence. Thank you for your kind comments about the blog, I'm aware the CPS has a "reputation", and although it's occasionally justified, it's nice to put the other side, as it were!

    Ben -- I'd like to know to which particular report you refer -- I can't identify it on the web. Any chance you could link in?

  5. Mea culpa, my comment above is wrong.

    I just want to make it clear that none of this is any reason to discourage people from reporting rape. Even if there is no prospect of conviction in a particular case, it may be found to be part of a pattern, in which case a prosecution may be possible later. I just don't think that we should upend the legal system to try to cure the low conviction rate, as there seem to be unavoidable reasons why it is so low.

    I am pretty sure it is the report on attrition in rape cases from 2005:

    Embarrassingly I appear to have completely misremembered the numbers. I must have been confusing categories in my head since I read the report. I am sorry for that and I hope no-one has been going around quoting me.

    In that report it is 4% no evidence of an assault (mostly where the victim never alleged any assault), and around 9% false allegations, and 17% insufficient evidence and 28% victim withdrew (as % of total).

    The report authors believe that this 9% rate is over-estimated by the Police, but their only evidence for this is that many cases are doubtful as to whether they all fully meet home office coding guidlines for false allegation. The number of interest for policy purposes should be the number which are *likely* to have *actually* been false, and there was no reason in the report to doubt that this would have been higher than 9%, given that stringent coding guidlines must cause a lot of cases believed by the police to be likely false to be ultimately recorded as insufficient evidence, victim withdrew etc.

    So I think a rate of well above 10% false allegations is supportable. I do not know how I came to believe the higher figure I mentioned in my previous comment, but it seems to be wrong.

    (Figures above are given in the report as % attrition at police stage, recalculated here as % of total).

  6. Ben, thanks for that clarification and explanation! Very in-depth, and actually coincides nicely with what I've heard before on rape attrition numbers.

  7. Reply to the anonymous defence lawyer: The difference between rape and consensual sex may well in evidential terms be one person's word against another's, but do let's not be sloppy about this. There's a world of difference between a criminal act and consensual sex.

  8. Anonymous -- yes, there is a world of difference, but the difference between rape and consensual sex can often only be one person's word against another. What if, to a proverbial fly on the wall, there is no difference whatsoever between the consensual sex the night before, and the alleged rape? The woman outwardly appears to be consenting, and the physical act is the same, but because of her state of mind, she is in fact being raped. That's why it's a hard crime to prosecute and a relatively easy one to defend.

    What if the female victim tells the jury that she climaxed? Rape victims not climaxing is one of the rape "myths" that the government is seeking to dispel, by the way.

    It's not clear-cut, and please don't think that all rapes involve screaming, resisting, fighting, injury and the like. Most do not, in fact.

  9. Have you seen this short video about the rape statistics?

  10. I have a friend, a prison officer, who, when we discussed rape thought that 50% or more rapists in jail were innocent. Given the number of false allegations, the number of women who confuse consensual sex with morning after regrets then claim rape, I wonder if what he said may well be true.

  11. Anonymous with the video -- I have now watched that video in its entirety -- 8 and a bit minutes of my life I'll never get back. I will do a full post replying to the sexist garbage contained therein in due course.

    Anonymous with the prison officer friend -- 50% is a wildly high estimate for miscarriages of justice, even in such a tricky area as rape.

  12. @ The nonymous Prosecutor

    Yes, I thought so too but..... consider the number of re-offenders. A very low number indeed. Now criminals of every hue, rapists included, often have a high re-offend rate except that "rapists" don't. Could this be because of a high number of false allegations or a woman having morning after regrets? Given the exceptionally low level of evidence required in rape cases, when I think more deeply about it, I think he may well be right.

  13. ideally, no stigma would attach to anyone acquitted of a crime. Wishful thinking on my part.
    @AP: That's because, pace this atrociously facist Zanu-Labour government, everyone charged is OF COURSE guilty. If they are subsequently acquitted, it's because thy cannily gamed the system. As a PP, don't you know that by now...?