Women’s rights group calls Justice Secretary’s comments ‘dangerous and disgrace’

A campaign group has branded the Justice Secretary’s comments on anonymity for suspects if they have a reputation to protect as “dangerous” and “a disgrace”.

Nicola Mann, case worker and spokeswoman for Women Against Rape, said the group was “constantly opposed” to the proposal of anonymity for suspects.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said the revelations about Jimmy Savile were a case in point, adding: “No-one would have ever found out if we had anonymity.”

Ms Mann said there seems to be a “big shift” in attitudes which runs the risk of victims being assumed to be liars when they make an allegation in order to protect the reputation of the suspect, adding: “Everything is becoming stacked against women.”

She said Robert Buckland’s comments run the risk of undoing progress campaigners have made over the years to get the voices of victims heard, adding: “It’s really outrageous.

“It’s a very dangerous road to go down.

“His comments are very dangerous.

“It sounds like he is putting protecting reputations over the safety of women, girls and boys and that is a disgrace.”

Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline run by child sexual abuse charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said the debate around anonymity was “complex” but high profile cases can show once a name is public the “dam of silence can be broken” which helps other victims report abuse.

He added: “Victims need to have confidence in our justice system in order that they come forward, are treated well at all stages, and experience justice being done.

“They are served poorly when people make false allegations or when police, prosecutors and others do not perform their roles in the professional and expert manner we have a right to expect.

“I suspect in many of the cases where it goes wrong, decent levels of resourcing coupled with good quality training, supervision and oversight would make all the difference for the accused and accuser alike.”

Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, said there is sometimes public interest in disclosing the name of someone arrested before charge “if there may be a prospect of other complainants stepping forward but this needs to be a rigorous test, rarely used and one which is not confined to sexual offences”.

She said there “is no purpose to be served in a separate system for sex offences in particular.

“It would be totally unfair on genuine victims of sexual offences to imply that there is something unreliable or untrustworthy about them which requires that defendants uniquely in such cases need protecting against them and should therefore get anonymity.

“There is no evidence whatsoever to show that there are more false allegations of sex offences that any other type of offence. There are not.”

She said the “inflammatory language” in the ongoing campaign for defendant anonymity “may be a sign of the pain that is still being felt” but is “unhelpful”, adding: “In fact, the reality is very different.

“Four out of five victims of sexual assault do not report their crime.

“They are often too afraid that they will be put on trial rather than the defendant, a continuing fear in rape and sexual assault cases.”

Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the “clamour” around the subject was drawing attention away from examining “bigger systemic problems” with the justice system – in particular the low levels of prosecution rates for rape.

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