In the U.K., there are a selection of arguments that seem to appear again and again in national discourse and the most recent one to reemerge is the argument for the anonymity of those accused of rape. This is due to Liam Allan – a student who was on trial for rape – whose recent case caused controversy when it was discovered that text messages from the woman accusing him were not presented to the defense despite the fact that they appeared to exonerate him and ultimately led to the case being dropped. Since this was reported, Allan has done the round of the morning talk shows to discuss how he feels marked and betrayed by the false accusations. In the U.K., it is common practice for the accuser to have anonymity but not the accusers and Allan seemed to argue that we ought to consider changing it so that both accuser and accused are anonymous.
Now, I am not blaming Allan for his views or emotions at the end of what was surely a traumatic process, but I am saying that we cannot use his unique case as a basis for a change in the law and that the argument for those accused of rape to remain unknown does not hold. The truth is that the percentage of allegations that are false is minuscule and reporting rape still remains a highly stigmatized act.
Claiming that those accused should be anonymous because accusations could ruin their lives is only perpetuating that stigma. It works off an assumption that it is likely that the allegation is false and that it is the perpetrator and not the victim that needs protecting. There is not a similar call for those accused of other crimes – say murder or assault – to be anonymous because there is not the same doubt that surrounds those accusing them.
Rape cases are also unique in the way that the identity of the accused being known helps them, often people only come forward with accusations when they see someone else has because they have less fear that they will not be believed. If the identity of those accused is not known, then many people may not get the justice they deserve because they will not know that others have faced the same acts at the hands of the same person.
I’m not denying that there are terrible cases – such as Liam Allan’s – where the claims aren’t true and do cause great distress, but I am saying that the idea that they are widespread or common is ridiculous. The solution to his distress wasn’t to make him anonymous, but was for the police not to have bungled his case.
With movements like #MeToo, we are finally having more honest discussions about the culture of sexual harassment and rape that permeates every aspect of our society and to argue for those accused of rape to be anonymous would only be a step back. We don’t need to spread more messages that place women and their claims in an untrustworthy light and the myth that women routinely use weaponize allegations of rape or sexual assault needs to be left behind.