Sunday, 17 February 2013

Stamping On Your Face - Forever

Entertain a thought experiment:

After some, but not too much, getting to know somebody, somebody you think just may become that special somebody, you two go out for a quiet drink, a movie, then maybe a nice meal. That out of the way, you are invited for a night cap. You agree even if you forgot to bring your own condoms. After all, a special somebody would understand you may be apprehensive having sex unprotected so early on. Up in her flat, you have your drinks and you are in no uncertain terms offered sex. Ascertaining that your partner is also fresh out of condoms you politely decline. And then all hell breaks loose and after a little while you find yourself on the wrong side of the door, alone.

While you may reel for a while, you eventually get over it and get back to your old life, lonesome as it was. Until, that is, the moment when you get arrested for attempted rape. What? What rape? The only thing you feel might have been rape on that night was your ego. And it gets worse, your name appears in all the local papers, together with the big news of a local sex predator. A little while later, in between your attending your local police station to be bailed until the trial, and the trial itself, national tabloids get in on the act. You're a celebrity. Only it is the completely wrong kind. Your neighbours look away. Even speaking to your parents make syou feel they might have bought the whole lie, too.

Eventually, after a trial that somehow got reported less and less towards the end when it became clear you may actually be innocent, you manage to clear your name. Or do you? Yes, there is a court ruling, jury and all, saying you didn't do it.Your accuser gets a bit of a punishment, too (not nearly enough in your opinion, but you realise you may be biased so you don't take yourself too seriously). However, those same media who fed voraciously on your plight in the beginning forgot to at least say "sorry", let alone publish an equally hysterical account of how you have been wronged. What you realise you're left with is a stigma almost impossible to remove. Once accused of a grim crime you can never really be considered innocent. You know, the smoke and fire drill...

Still with me? Tried to live the little horror story above? Any questions? No? Good.

Now, between 1976 and 1988, in Britain, you were protected from just such misfortune by law. All defendants in sex related cases were granted anonymity until, and unless, proven guilty. Not so for the past twenty five years. And now, according to this BBC article we have a senior lawyer arguing for the return of such anonymity. This is admirable indeed, and I totally support it. Shame this was not raised much earlier.

What really got ot me, though, was the reaction of the relevant charity, Rape Crisis. While I understand they need to do everything possible to protect rape victims, I also believe that this should be fair to everyone else, too - and it has to be sensible and well targeted. However, according to BBC, these people claim that defendant anonymity will cause less rape cases to be reported in the first place. I must say I am totally dumbfounded as to how this is supposed to work. Unless, that is, the assumption of Rape Crisis is that a good number of rape accusations are in fact bogus, and raised with the express intent of causing pre-trial, and pre-sentencing harm to the defendant, even regardless of his innocence or otherwise. Either that, or Rape Crisis believes that British courts are so ineffective in prosecuting rape that at least some punishment has to be exacted in advance of trial, implying also that a bit of collateral damage is quite alright, too.

If former, then Rape Crisis is in serious crisis of credibility, if not worse. If latter, then the aim should be to repair the court system, not use loopholes in the bad one. Either way, the comments were worse than useless. They were positively harmful to everyone - rape victims included. I also question the BBC approach of soliciting only one opinion when reporting on this latest push for anonymity.

The moral of the story? Read everything with eyes wide open, and critical mind set to 11. And try to imagine the other side's angle, too. Oh, and do lobby your MP for defendant anonymity in sex related cases. It is only right and proper, given our stone age mind that sometimes just cannot accept that there just might be smoke without fire.