Back in the 1980s suspected rapists had anonymity to protect them from the stigma of the crime in the event that charges were not brought or they were acquitted. The law then changed in 1988 and removed the anonymity of suspected rapists which is still in force now. However, Maura McGowan QC, Chairwoman of the Bar Council, has called for the anonymity of suspected rapists to be reintroduced to protect the innocent accused from the stigma associated with the crime, calling for the identity of the suspect to be released only on conviction for the offence.
This proposal has sparked outrage amongst rape victims and anti-rape campaigners who have struck back at the suggestions of Maura McGowan QC. Forceful arguments have been put forward to keep the law as it is and identify rape suspects because changing the law could reduce the chance of securing a conviction against a serial rapist. Jill Saward (victim of rape in 1986) has said that cases require the name of the accused to be in the public domain because rapists often have more than one victim. The identity of the suspected rapist in the public domain could promote other victims to come forward which in turn could secure the conviction of a serial rapist. Another argument against changing the law is to protect women; not naming a suspected rapist could place a woman, in certain situations, in significant danger if they do not know a man has been accused of rape. But that is the inherent problem in all of these cases; an accusation of rape does not mean the suspect actually committed the crime but the accusation carries a very significant stigma for the accused.
If someone is accused of rape it has significant and life altering implications for relationships, careers and many other aspects of the accused’s life. Not only that, the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in cases of rape is somewhat missing because once the word ‘rape’ is attached to an individual it is difficult to shake, regardless of whether the suspect is charged or acquitted; the association with a rape crime is always there and damage is done with the mere accusation.
Is it fair to ruin the life of an innocent suspect, especially when it could be a malicious and false allegation? But, is it fair to prejudice a genuine case by not naming a rape suspect when naming them could bring forward further victims to support a weak case? The issue is not one that can be answered in this article and is one for parliamentary debate but the issue demonstrates that the law is not always clear cut and if the law does revert back to the 1980’s it is likely to cause quite a stir!
All information is correct on the date of posting.