The uncomfortable truth about rape

10 May 2013 at 17:28

I seem to have created a furore on twitter about comments I was alleged to make on Question Time last night about rape. I think it only right to put the record straight.

There was a question from the audience asking whether the panel thought the names of those arrested should be released to the press. I was of the view that they should be, but with one exception. Those accused of rape and sexual offences should remain anonymous until conviction unless a judge ruled that it would be in the interests of justice that the name should be revealed. For example to encourage other potential victims to come forward.

Then a lady in the audience commented that there were 95,000 rapes every year yet only 900 prosecutions. I haven’t a clue where those figures came from or whether they are remotely accurate. For the sake of argument let us assume that they are.

What seems to the have caused an avalanche of abuse and misinformation was my remark that if there is no evidence to charge the man cannot be guilty of that rape. Legally this is an accurate assessment. I have been accused of saying that rape victims are liars. Not only did I not say or suggest this, I certainly don’t think it.

Rape is a wicked violation which often leads to shame and guilt. I am of the view that if a woman (or for that matter a man) makes an accusation the police must listen, empathise and leave no stone unturned to mount a prosecution. Rape victims have the right to be heard and taken seriously. It takes a great deal of courage for a victim to go to the police in the first place, particularly if they are in an abusive relationship. Women’s refuges play a vital part in the protection of women.

Let me just explode a few myths and stereotypes. To prosecute and try a rape (or any other sexual offence) the advocate and the judge must have special training and certified competent to do so. The victims are given special support. If they are particularly vulnerable a court may order the use of an intermediary who can intervene in a difficult cross examination. A victim’s character cannot be trashed. The judge, unless there are exceptional circumstances, will not allow evidence or cross examination about past sexual history. The judge will intervene if he takes a view that cross examination is becoming overbearing or irrelevant. The victim will be protected by the court.

But a trial has two sides. The complainant and the defendant. The jury try the case not on assumption or innuendo but on the evidence. The prosecution must prove the case so that they are sure of guilt.

Sometimes this can be very difficult. Sometimes in a failed relationship a defendant will allege that the complainant has made this up out of spite. This may be true or it may be a bare faced lie. But it is his defence and he must be allowed to put it or else there cannot possibly be a fair trial. If there is no supporting evidence such as DNA witnesses or CCTV, the jury have a dilemma. In these sort of cases supporting evidence is rare. Who do they believe? How can they be sure where the truth lies.

But give me the collective common sense of a jury rather than a case hardened judge or tribunal any day.

What I find so depressing is that in some quarters there is a view that whatever the evidence there must be an assumption that the defendant is guilty. This is just plain wrong and as bad as the old stereotype of “her skirt was too short……she was flirty…..what did she expect?” Those stereotypes were ventilated from our courts many years ago.

Women have a right to be heard even if the evidence is weak. It must for a jury to decide. But a defendant must be allowed to put his case.

The day that in trials of a sexual nature the normal rules of evidence are suspended would be a catastrophic day for British Justice.

However I doubt any of this will put an end to vitiolic of twitter abuse. Which says more about them than me.

It appears that a petition condemning me and the BBC is doing the rounds.

From the sort of people who believe that freedom of speech is so precious that it must be rationed. Mr.Mugabe would be very proud.