Welcome back to my blog and today as you can see from my schedule, it is of course an opinion piece.
Last week, as the news broke that Coronation Street actress Michael La Vell had been found innocent of the sexual offences against him, several people were quick to once again call on the government to allow the suspects anonymity. Frankly this makes me very angry for many different reasons and although many high profile figures have continued to defend the current situation, it worries me that we continue to have this debate.
Let’s put this in its context. Currently in the UK the victims in sexual assault cases, are rightly and uniquely, granted anonymity because of the stigma that still surrounds the issue. Unfortunately we live in an environment that is automatically sceptical of anyone that claims to have been sexually assaulted, and the victim is automatically blamed. At the same time I don’t doubt in the slightest that there is also a stigma for the person accused of the crime, statics show that despite the slim number of people convicted of sexual assault, the number is equally small for those found to be making the accusation up. If we granted the accused the anonymity we are putting them on equal footing with the already anonymous victim, lets think about that for a second and let’s be honest would we do something similar for any other crime?
The truth is that we wouldn’t, and when someone is arrested for murder for example, we are programmed to automatically think of them as guilty. The difference lies in the set up of the evidence because unlike sexual assault, where it is ultimately one person against another, murder accusations are generated by evidence. This whole issue is part of a wilder culture that needs to be changed, the same culture that puts the duty on women to prevent themselves being tapped and not on the man to not rape. The same culture that judges a women’s morality by how many clothes she wears. More importantly we need to target the attitude that assumes a rape allegation is made by an angry women that is seeking attention because frankly statistics don’t back that up. It’s therefore just another aspect we need to target.
Yet on the same page, if we don’t offer anonymity to suspects accused of other crimes are we saying that sexual assault has a greater stigma for the accused than say murder, and personally I highly doubt that it does. Someone accused of nursery or terrorism for example, and fond innocent, will ultimately bare that accusations forever and then it comes to the question of where we draw the line. It is, of course, different for the victim because sexual offences is unique in the stigma that it curtails and therefore it is of course right to be unique.
Also this debate is particularly worrying given the recent cases that we have seen, and the important role that the media coverage has had in bringing suspects to justice. I am of course talking about Stuart Hall and Jimmy Saville (not brought to justice as such but at least history will record it correctly). Had those names not been released to the media, would the guilty have been brought to justice? As its a confidence boost for the other people that have of course been abused. While it shouldn’t be the case that ten accusations are taken more seriously than one, it is. As we have seen lately the extra victims brought forward by the coverage of Jimmy Saville and Stuart Hall, have met that their crimes have now been acknowledged and in many ways their image has rightly been challenged.
It bothers me that we are wasting our time having this debate time and time again when there are far more relevant issues to debate. For example the way we perceive rape victims, the lessons we teach and how we deal with the culture that blames the victim.