Calls to name and shame ‘bogus’ victims of sexual abuse

Calls to name and shame ‘bogus’ victims of sexual abuse could ruin years of work encouraging victims to come forward

There have been a number of articles in the media recently reporting cases of people cleared of rape charges after being publicly named, which has provoked discussions on social media and BBC Question Time around whether we should ‘name and shame’ those who make false accusations of rape, sexual assault or harassment and whether those accused should remain anonymous until found guilty.

The question of anonymity in sexual abuse cases

In all cases, the victim who makes the allegation is not mentioned in the press, whereas the accused will often feature prominently across all forms of media prior to their acquittal or conviction.

This has brought up questions around anonymity of alleged victims and their defendants – if your life can be ruined because of a false accusation, should the person who made the allegation be publicly named, both as a deterrent to others and to fully clear the defendant’s name?

Fear of disclosure for victims of child sexual exploitation

The discussion is worrying for us as an organisation that works with children and young people affected by sexual abuse and exploitation. A number of the young people we have worked with who have been sexually assaulted have been very afraid of their abusers. This may be because of threats of further violence to them or their families, or because they feel that what happened to them was their fault, or because they fear it could happen again.

We know that even with the levels of awareness increasing all the time, there are still many victims and survivors of sexual violence who never come forward. This might be because they are unable to remember clearly what happened to them, they may be concerned they won’t be believed, or it could be that they fear for their safety or that of their families if they do speak out.

The challenge of evidence in rape and sexual abuse cases

These types of crime can be extremely difficult to prosecute. Without forensic evidence or eyewitness accounts, it often comes down to one person’s word against another, and there must be sufficient evidence for someone to be convicted. For each count of false accusation, there may therefore be many more cases where a genuine victim of sexual assault is left without justice.

There is still an argument however for the accused party to be kept anonymous until they are found guilty. There are those that claim that this could hinder rape cases as it’s often only through releasing pictures of the accused that other victims come forward. This is particularly pertinent in cases where a victim struggles to remember the incident clearly, or where a victim feels they wouldn’t be believed. Having a photo ID of an alleged attacker may encourage others to come forward, therefore strengthening what otherwise could have been a difficult case to prosecute.

If so called ‘false’ accusers were named, we risk making it harder for victims and survivors to come forward. Knowing that if your case does not result in a conviction of the person you allege has sexually assaulted you could result in your name being splashed across the media, it’s likely that countless more victims of rape and sexual abuse could be deterred from reporting what has happened to them.

Please let us know your thoughts.

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