One glaring double standard that needs to be remedied is that female accusers (now routinely termed 'victims') are granted anonymity whereas male defendants (now often described as 'offenders') face a barrage of destructive publicity in which their reputation and character is shredded and destroyed. There have been many calls for defendants to be also granted anonymity as was the case between 1976 and 1988. This was changed due to feminist pressure as it was thought that removing defendant anonymity would enable other women to 'come forward' with their own accusations. Superficially, in the interests of equality and fairness there appears to be some merit in granting anonymity to both accusers and defendants. However, the barrister Barbra Hewson has suggested that the names of both accuser and defendant should be made public as they are for non-sexual crimes. Hewson has courageously made some sensible suggestions on sexual offences reform which will be considered in future posts. Unlike her critics she uses logic and reason to back up her views and avoids the emotionalism which has been gradually infiltrating the legal process. Any woman subject to a sexual assault clearly has the right to expect the justice system to thoroughly investigate her claims and to prosecute the attacker. However, this does not mean that the legal process should be manipulated in order to waive the normal safeguards owed to those accused of a crime or, to incentivise accusers to come forward with complaints as a form of therapy or, in the current modish expression, to 'bring closure' to their feelings. If would-be complainants decide that going to court is not worth the trouble, that is a decision they are reasonably entitled to take and one which should be respected. It should not be seen as a failure of the criminal justice system or an attempt to silence women.
It is strongly in the interests of justice that those making accusations in court should be open to public scrutiny. There should be no shame, stigma or loss of reputation attached to women who are complainants in sexual assault cases, any more than there would be for all other crimes where there is no anonymity in court for accusers. Since there should be no shame, there can be no valid reason for the reluctance of women to appear in court without the cover of anonymity. Indeed granting anonymity in sexual assault cases only reinforces the outmoded societal view that there should be a stigma attached to the victims of this kind of crime. The sooner sexual assaults are treated in the same way as other crimes, the better it will for the defendant, the complainant and the justice system more generally.
Similarly, there should be no anonymity for defendants, since this would amount to secret trials. If someone has been charged with a crime it should be in the public domain if the interests of open justice are to be served. Justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done particularly where the state is potentially depriving individuals of their liberty. Evidence should be confined to the facts of the case being tried and matters irrelevant to this end should be excluded. Thus neither the accuser nor the defendant should have the indignity of their sexual history being revealed to the public gaze.
Many countries have a statute of limitations, after which specified time charges cannot be brought. It is right that British justice system continues to reject a statute of limitations since to introduce one would effectively allow criminals to escape justice. But it is equally unacceptable that crimes can be reported for the first time decades after they occurred. There appears to be only crime where this is not only allowed, but actively encouraged, and that is historic sexual assault cases. Any person reporting a burglary or a mugging years after the event would be given short thrift by the police. It is clearly unfair that men can face the threat of legal action hanging over them indefinitely in circumstances where no crime may have taken place.
If a crime has been committed it is reasonable to expect the victim to report it to the police as soon as possible. This allows them to begin their investigations while the evidence is still fresh. Sexual offences should not be an exception to this rule. So all sexual offences complaints should be reported to the police within one week of occurrence, unless the accuser has been physically restrained or abducted. These time limitations should only apply to the reporting, not the prosecution for which there should be no limit.
It is sometimes claimed by feminists that women often have 'sound valid reasons' why sexual assaults are not reported quickly. This kind of tawdry special pleading is entirely spurious, such excuses infantilise women, hamper police investigations, undermine the fairness of the justice system and provide a green light to those tempted to make false accusations. The only exception to prompt reporting should be for offences against children, where instead the child should be required to report any offence they have suffered by the time of their eighteenth birthday. Thus the younger they are when the offence took place the longer they will have to report it.