The MP Nigel Evans was cleared of rape and sexual assault charges on Thursday which has led to a lot of discussion occurring regarding a variety of topics surrounding sexual assault. The first one is a call for the anonymity of those accused of sexual assault; even though it is innocent until proven guilty, those accused of rape and sexual assault charges are often branded with the name ‘’rapist’’ or ‘’sex offender’’ before the jury has even reached a verdict.
Even those who are cleared of charges will find that people often think ‘’There is no smoke without fire’’ and after all, how many of us would experience, at least initial, reluctance to engage in a relationship with any kind with someone who had been accused of a sex crime. Just because the law has cleared you of charges does not mean the general public will. Thus, allowing those accused of sex crimes at the very least seems sensible; if they are found guilty then name them and shame them and warn the public but until then allow them to be innocent until proven guilty and afford them the anonymity they deserve.
However, with most things, there is an argument against the motion. The argument against it is that this will further discourage those who have been a victim of a sex crime of coming forward. Why? Because allowing the accused anonymity arguably suggests that false accusations of such crimes are widespread when in fact out of 15,670 recorded sex crimes (officials believe that the total number of sex crimes including those which haven’t been reported is nearer 90,000) the prosecutions for false allegations makes up 0.6% of the total which is less than 100 compared to the 2,333 who were convicted of sex crimes. The rest? Most rape cases lack conclusive evidence to make a conviction which means the accused is found not guilty, which is not quite the same thing as innocent.
However, it is misguided to think that giving the accused anonymity will act as a bigger deterrent for victims of rape and sexual assault coming forward than the current prosecution they face if choosing to press charges against the accused which is more often than not, brutal. That is, if victims even make it to the courtroom as police officers have been known to encourage victims to not press charges if they do not believe there is enough evidence. Perhaps, if we want more victims to come forward we should focus on overhauling the justice system and how it treats those who choose to come forward.
This brings me to the second topic which has been in the papers recently: women dressing provocatively. This debate has been one which has been raging for quite some time and it often comes down to this: women should not dress in a promiscuous way if they want to avoid unwanted attention with others arguing that is up to the men to keep their hands to themselves.
Now, I have always been an advocate of teaching women how to be safe, because, even though rape is never the victim’s fault, unfortunately, there will always be rapists out there and making small decisions such as getting a taxi home from a night out instead of walking can help minimise the risk of rape. However, telling women and I quote a journalist here to not ‘’dress like a prostitute’’ is insulting to both genders. It is insulting to women because it suggests that a woman who chooses to dress in a certain way almost deserves unwanted attention, and it is insulting to men because it suggests that they are animals with no self control and will become sexual predators if a woman flashes a bit of skin.
Neither of those portrayals are fair, or help anyone when it comes to cases of rape and sexual assault. Yes, women have a responsibility to ensure that they do what they can to minimise the risk of rape, but victim blaming is never acceptable because what causes rape is the person who commits the act of rape.