Rape and anonymity: should suspects be named?

MP joins calls to extend anonymity to rape suspects, but campaigners say it will put women in danger

Anonymous man

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard is calling for a review of anonymity laws after a rape case against him was dropped, reigniting the debate around the naming of rape suspects.

Pritchard was arrested last month, amid much publicity, but police have now said that there is "insufficient evidence" to proceed with the case.

"The law on anonymity does need to be reviewed and fairness does need to play a far greater role in these cases," Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, told the BBC.

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Victims of rape are granted life-long anonymity, but the same does not apply to suspects. In the past, anonymity was also extended to suspects in England and Wales, but this was withdrawn in 1988. In 2010, the government attempted to reintroduce anonymity for rape suspects, but abandoned the move after fierce opposition.

Last year, chairwomen of the bar council Maura McGowan led calls to prohibit the naming of suspects, saying the stigma attached to rape accusation could "ruin lives".

Public opinion appears to support awarding anonymity to suspects. A recent YouGov survey found that 77 per cent of the British public thought those accused of rape should have their identities kept secret and not reported by the media.

"Innocent until proven guilty is a load of rubbish," said Terry Harrison who was falsely accused of rape six year ago and considered suicide due to the treatment he received. "I was guilty until I was proven innocent and even when I was proven innocent, I'm still getting judged."

However, The Guardian's Lisa Longstaff points out that the stigma attached other form of violent crime, such as murder or child abuse is no less severe. "If all defendants were given anonymity, open justice would end – and with it, our biggest protection against the abuse of power," she argues.

Anti-rape campaigners also argue that the public deserves to know if someone has been charged with rape and that a change in the law could put women in danger.

Campaigner and rape victim Jill Saward, who was attacked at a time when suspected rapists were still granted anonymity, told The Guardian that another change in the law would risk reducing the chance of serial rapists being convicted.

"The key reason the system should remain in place is that we know that rapists rarely have one victim," she said. "Many people feel their case is too weak on its own and if the name of the suspect is made public it brings out other victims."

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