I am contacting you to express my concern about the forthcoming session that Cliff Richard (and others) are due to have with the House of Lords with regard to Anonymity for those being questioned in relation to sexual violence.
I have campaigned around many areas of sexual violence since becoming a victim of rape, buggery and sexual assault in 1986. As you are no doubt aware the law of anonymity was different then, with anonymity being given to the offender as well as the victim. In those days I was forbidden from knowing the name of my rapist until the morning that the trial began. This was a horrendous position to be in, and whilst at that time I when I was supposed to be preparing to give evidence, instead I had to come to terms with suddenly learning his name. This was very unsettling, and yet the need to know his name was a very important factor. He did not become a real person without a name. His name did become known locally by some people. But there may have been more victims, who didn’t feel supported enough to make reports.
Whilst I understand Cliff and others views, I feel it essential for the law to remain in place as it is. The way that Cliff’s case was handled was (without a doubt) horrendous. But this approach is not common place and despite a rise in celebrity cases hitting the headlines, the numbers compared to the numbers of victims, is very, very small.
I am aware of the physical and emotional cost to those who have been falsely accused of sexual violence. I have been supporting a friend for over twenty years, who had a nervous breakdown a few years ago, as a result of false claims. I was also publically named on twitter, by a relative of a man who had recently been cleared; as someone she “had a hunch was a child rapist”. With the phrase, “I’ll just bandy your name around then check later, that’s okay with you right?”.* I know that even as an act of total spite; the hideous feelings that can lead to. Even when you as the accused has nothing to be ashamed of. However, that cannot prevent the ability to identify those accused of such crimes. Malicious allegations lead to a different type of victim. * That malicious incident was dealt with by the police.
I am also aware of the suicidal feelings that some of those maliciously accused have. But I am also aware of the cost in terms of suicide of those who have been victims. There are many people whose history of abuse is not widely known and suicide is their only way out, and their offenders will never face trial.
Social media also creates a very difficult platform to control, when any questioning happens. Anonymity cannot be guaranteed and is currently being flouted to name and often harass victims, and often this is done by people operating outside the UK. So keeping someone’s name out of the media becomes almost impossible. A private message to someone outside the UK gets names out there of accused or victim.
Every year between 75,000 – 96,000 people are victims of rape or sexual abuse in the UK. a small number of those who commit the crimes will be in positions of authority; or have some kind of celebrity status. For victims, bringing a case forward is incredibly difficult. They may or may not have support from Independent Sexual Advisors or other groups. But they may also have to contend with the lies that a well loved or respected person puts forward. No one wants to be labelled as a” sex offender”; but by providing anonymity until “charge” protects the guilty and potentially creates more victims. It also raises the question of open justice – if an offender may have committed more than one crime, it then become very difficult to specify what is being reported and what isn’t, making justice a mess.
The approximate cost to the country of each victim currently stands at about £150,000. It can affect the victim’s ability to work; and there is a growing body of evidence that suggests the long term physical health of victims is also adversely affected. When you consider that many victim are under 25 when the offences occur that is a colossal cost to the nation in monetary terms to say nothing of the underlying effects of trauma.
Please encourage your fellow members to consider that those who are asking for the law to change, to consider and reconsider the victims, who often don’t have a high public profile or a voice to challenge. It is imperative that those who are offending are brought to justice. That where there is an allegation that the potential offenders are named, to protect the public and then a proper case is brought forward and charges laid if appropriate. We cannot go back to the 1980’s, or a mish mash of justice where some crimes can be revealed and others not.