Though progress has been in light of the fact that the definition, as well as the cultural understanding of rape has been expanded, it can be questioned whether attitudes towards rape and rape victims has changed. Should rape – which according to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is the intentional penetration ‘of the vagina, ansus or mouth of another person’ without the person’s consent – be treated any differently to other serious offences? In regards to the anonymity of the accused, whereby they have the right to keep their identity a secret from the public, is this hindering the ability of justice being served? Earlier this year in January, the Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and Home Office released the first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, ‘An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales’.

The bulletin stated that on average around 85,000 women are raped every year in England and Wales. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. And 1 in 5 women, between the ages of 16-59,  have experienced some sort of sexual violence since the age of 16. Despite this, it can be argued that attitudes towards victims of rape are still being met with suspicion; this perhaps stems from the fact that society is still ingrained with rape myths, with widely-held misunderstanding about what constitutes rape persisting.

 In the past 20 years, it cannot be denied that there has been a vast amount of reform to rape laws. The definition of rape has been expanded. Many Anglo-American and Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions have now abolished corroboration laws, which require the need for evidence in criminal courts to come from two sources. Although the process of repealing corroboration laws is currently under progress. Other major changes to rape laws include making the process of reporting sexual assaults and rape easier, the enactment of rape shield statutes – a law which limits the defendant’s ability to cross-examine rape complainant’s about their sexual behaviour in the past.

Moreover, the requirement that women must resist to the utmost has also been eliminated. Such progress should be commended. It has led to more cases of sexual assault and rape being brought forward, that would not have been reported otherwise. Yet, the acceptance by many that we have reached the end of rape reform is absurd. There has been a long history of not treating rape as the heinous crime that it is, and a short history of attempts to serve justice: to persecute the attackers and protect the victims. Only as recently as 1991 was marital rape made illegal in the UK.

Rape is different to other serious crimes. It is often difficult to prove that the attack took place given that it usually happens in private, with no other witnesses. There is also the issue of consent. To prove that the actual act happened is one thing. To prove that the act was a violation of a person’s autonomy and body because they did not consent, is another. There is also the fact that those accused are given anonymity so to protect their identity if they are wrongly accused. Yet, this seems to suggest the our confidence in the evidence presented in the courts by the victims is somewhat lacking.

The argument given for protecting the defendant’s identity is that sexual assault and rape carries a strong stigma. But, so does murder and other serious offences. Does this stem from society’s attitudes towards women in general? Arguably so. Society still has not reached a place where gender equality is tangibly real. By protecting the defendant’s identity it makes it harder for justice to be served. Often it is the case that victims of sexual assault and rape will come forward once the identity of the accused has been made public. As was the case with Stuart Hall, a former radio and television presenter with the BBC. Following an anonymous letter that accused Hall of a history of sexual offences against young girls, an investigation was launched. After extensive media coverage, 10 women came forward with evidence against Hall. In light of this, it becomes clear that rape anonymity for the accused is in fact hindering justice and should be dropped.


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