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The feminist case for naming names in sexual assault cases

12 February 2016

4:55 PM

12 February 2016

4:55 PM

Google ‘Mark Pearson’ and the first thing you will learn about the 51 year-old artist is that he was accused of a sex attack. You can read all about how at Waterloo Station Pearson supposedly sexually assaulted a woman before striking her.  Then, if you have time, read on: and you’ll also discover this never happened. That a jury, shown CCTV footage proving the incident never took place, acquitted Pearson this week.

Yet while now, and perhaps forever, Pearson’s name will be linked to a crime he did not commit, what we will never know is the name of the women who falsely accused him.

Right now we wait in the wake of a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which recommended that suspects in sexual offence cases be given the same right to anonymity as complainants, unless or until they are charged. Highlighting the damage to individuals named in the media in such cases, the HASC report urged the legal system to ‘stop shaming suspects’. Yet despite agreeing with some of their findings, I think the Home Office recommendation is wrong. Those accused of sex crimes should not be granted anonymity, but neither should those accusing them.

There are strong arguments for preserving the anonymity of those accused of sex crimes. Publicly naming the accused in such cases not only risks defaming them, as their name and image is widely shared in the media, but more significantly impedes the presumption of innocence that should be rightly afforded everyone before trial.

We saw this in the case of 21-year-old Ben Sullivan. He was president of the Oxford Union when he was accused of rape and attempted rape; after his arrest, calls were made for speakers to boycott the union and a petition posted for his resignation. Subsequently he was proved innocent.

Such effects are even more concerning in the case of deliberately false rape accusations. As Keir Starmer has noted, ‘false allegations of rape are rare, but they can, and do, devastate the lives of those falsely accused’. Yet even after a false claim is proved to be just that, while the accused must live with the fall out, the complainant’s anonymity remains protected.


The injustice of this was recently highlighted by the case of an anonymous witness know as ‘Nick’ who accused Lord Bramall and Jimmy Saville, amongst others, of historic sex abuse. As Bramall has been cleared, so it has emerged that ‘Nick’ used different assumed anonymous identities to allege abuse by various public figures (amongst them Sir Edward Heath).

Now there are calls for ‘Nick’ himself to be investigated. Bramall’s son demanded: ‘Who is this man “Nick” who hides in the shadows… Let the spotlight now fall on him.’ And yet the media – some members of which know Nick’s identity – cannot name him. Similarly this week the Met admitted another man, known as ‘Darren’, made false claims about sex abuse by Lord Brittain.

Why, in such cases, should the anonymity of the accuser remain protected? Especially when, by not making such individuals publicly accountable for their actions, we risk undermining the seriousness with which real rape accusations are met.

And yet concern for false rape allegations is not the main reason rape claimants should not have anonymity.

In the 1970s, after anonymity for sex crime complainants was first introduced, Dame Rose Heilbron rejected the suggestion that anonymity should also be afforded to the accused. Supporting her on this point, Professor Liz Kelly has continued to argue anonymity should only apply to suspected rapists if it was granted in all criminal offences. ‘The idea that those accused of sexual crimes should be privileged can only be sustained if one takes a position that… these crimes are of an entirely different order,’ Kelly has said. That same logic should apply to complainants. Currently we protect the identities of those who report sex attacks out of a sense rape is a different kind of crime. I do not think that is true.

When anonymity for rape complainants was introduced it sought to encourage victims to come forward by protecting them from social stigma. Now attitudes have changed. No right thinking person now considers the stigma of sexual assault to fall on the victim (if anything it falls on the accused). Yet by compelling sexual abuse victims to remain anonymous we buy into the idea they should feel ashamed. A notion we reinforce with the language we use to talk about rape ‘victims’ ‘courage’ and ‘bravery’ in coming forward.

Sonali Kohli has put forward a feminist defence of naming rape accusers in the media. Writing for Quartz, she claimed: ‘there is something patriarchal and counterproductive to the idea that sexual assault is presumed to be shameful for the survivor.’ Victims have agreed with her. In Canada, Debra Dreise, one of anesthesiologist George Doodnaught’s 21 victims, went to court to lift the ban on the publication of her name. ‘I am not ashamed,’ she said, ‘These are crimes that happened to us. We as victims are not nameless, faceless people.’

Telling rape survivors they should not want their name associated with a crime committed against them perpetuates the idea they should feel shame. Conversely, speaking out empowers survivors and encourages others to share their experiences.  When the #RapeHasNoUniform hashtag went viral on social media, it helped unite victims of rape and allowed them to share their stories. When activist Amber Amour live-blogged her rape on Instagram minutes after it took place, she explained: ‘I immediately couldn’t keep what had happened a secret. Here I was, telling survivors every single day that they should speak up… I knew I had to practice what I preached.’

The secrecy many feel compelled to adopt around their experience of sexual assault is another level of abuse. But in fact, rape complainants who confront their attackers in court should be proud. We do not know the identity of the woman who accused Mark Pearson. We do not know her full story, which does her an injustice. At a time when the debate around what constitutes consent is so confused, we should encourage more transparency, not less.

Katie Glass is a journalist for the Sunday Times.

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Show comments
  • Simon_in_London

    Are false accusations of rape rare? I’ve seen claims from the US/Canada that they’re estimated to run around 40%. Maybe the rate is lower in the UK since there’s at least a small chance of being prosecuted for making a false accusation, but I’ve not seen any attempt to quantify it.

  • tay kyles

    We need anonymity for the accused

    Naming the accuser won’t do anything

  • Ben

    Makes sense, either the accused gets privacy AND the accuser, or neither do, it is absurd that it could be one but not the other.

  • roccolore

    If accused rapists are named, so should the accusers

  • 22pp22

    A German Leftie was raped by asylum seekers and has apologised for being raped, just because she is white and they aren’t. Feminists are worthless. You were silent over Cologne, Rotherham and Helsinki. Be silent now.

  • William Matthews

    Can’t we just adopt a commonsense policy? Gender shouldn’t matter. The woman in this case should be revealed.

    • SP_UK

      She shouldn’t just be revealed, she should be prosecuted. Of course, the CPS won’t prosecute because it would be too embarrassing for them but if Mr Pearson can’t afford a private prosecution I would happily chip in to help him cover the costs.

      • robbydot

        Of course she should be. It’s quite clear from the cctv that he passed straight by her, a matter of a second. Did you know the prosecution actually slowed down the time, tampered with the footage to make it appear it was longer than a second! How is this allowed?!

  • FreedomFirst

    Actually, AVfM has already outed his false accuser.

  • GoldenBoy

    I still don’t know where to stand on this issue. False accusations are a disgrace to our justice systems – the way society rewards false accusations with a slap on the wrist is in stark contrast with the lives these lies destroy. Surely, there are many more heinous crimes than rape and sexual assault, and the victims should never feel shame, but I suspect that many victims do feel shame, and would rather not go down in google history as the person who was raped. It seems to me that society would profit the most from the accuser and the accused both enjoying anonymity from the public until after the trial was resolved.

    • Mary Ann

      The same should apply to all crime, who wants to get a reputation for violence on Google when not guilty.

  • Turdson Minor

    Make the most of it ladies. You will all be in burkas before you know it.

    • Mary Ann

      Stop trying to scare us.

  • Maureen Fisher

    All people accused of a crime should remain anonymous. Anyone remember the Christopher Jefferies fiasco where the press were allowed to unfairly malign and drag through the mud an innocent man simply because they didn’t like the look of him.

  • aristophanes

    A terrifying aspect of the Pearson case is that allegedly the prosecution slowed down the CCTV to imply a longer length of time for the assault to take place. Allegedly this was not disclosed to the defence. Fortunately the defence team discovered what had happened.

    • realfish

      Yes, and amazingly the CPS still stand by their decision to prosecute.

      If anyone should have been prosecuted it should have been the CPS staff that laid, what was essentially false evidence. I call that conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

      Of course, though, CPS staff are under pressure from its Head to increase the number of prosecutions for sexual offences.

      • aristophanes

        Thank you for your post. I thoroughly agree with you. I cannot understand why newspapers are not campaigning about this.

      • robbydot

        Then why don’t they go after some real ones, there are plenty out there!

  • Sean L

    False allegations of rape are as rare as statements of truth from Keir Starmer and the CPS.

  • MotherofFish

    Oh for sure. We will never, ever know the name. Not ever.

    • John Bingham

      Unless you google mark pearsons accuser. then her name is easily found

  • T Gould

    The idea that there should be consequences for both parties before anything is proven misses the point entirely, and so is some quote about how patriarchal it is to hide the name of the ‘survivor’ because it implies shame. I didn’t expect much from this article but typically, modern feminism always finds a way to disappoint.

  • Gilbert White

    Just about everybody in the world has rushed past a women in crowded situations that could have been misconstrued?

  • chasdf

    no one should have anonymity, and before about 1967 they didn’t.

  • In2minds

    The name to research is Stefan Ivan Kiszko. The police could have proved him innocent but elected not to bother. Much as to be expected the police truly messed up this case even ‘losing’ vital evidence.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      The police believe their role is to get citizens convicted. In a famous case a man was convicted of murder and incarcerated, but the police knew full well that the victim was alive and well, living under an assumed name. Research it yourselves.
      Pull back and you will realise that in the main, police officers are class traitors. Recruited from the working and lower middle class, and used to abuse and persecute those from the same social strata. While at the same time, upper middle class despise them. Common ground there.
      Jack, somewhere east of Suez

  • Lina R

    What about girls/women who are raped by their fathers or come from cultures where there is huge stigma attached to sexual abuse? These victims are already reluctant to come forward and many don’t, so having their identity made public would simply deter them. If common sense had been applied these recent high-profile cases would never have made it to court.

    • Neighbor

      Excellent comment.

  • starfish

    Ultimate weapon. Accuse with no fear of retribution in most cases

  • Paul Robson

    “We do not know the identity of the woman who accused Mark Pearson. We do not know her full story, which does her an injustice.”

    Seriously ?

    What we *do* know, for an absolute fact, is she wasn’t telling the truth ! Unless this poor s*d is such a genius with sleight of hand that he should be earning a fortune in Vegas, not working as an artist !

  • Paul Robson

    False rape allegations are very common. What is rare are proven false rape allegations that are successfully prosecuted.

    • WTF

      However, In July 1994, Craig Charles and a friend were arrested and remanded in custody for several months on a rape charge. In March 1995, both men were acquitted in their trial. So he was found guilty, served several months inside and was then found innocent. Doesn’t sound that fair to me !

  • @PhilKean1

    [1] – ALL accusers, regardless of age, must be named.

    [2] – Legal action should be taken against any person who has been proved to have made false allegations.

    [3] – Legal action should NOT be taken against accusers who are unable to prove their case.

    [4] – However, action against the police and prosecution services SHOULD be taken – and compensation sought – if they proceed with a prosecution with insufficient evidence, and / or the prosecution had the appearance of being vindictive and attention-seeking.

    • Ralph

      1) Not naming accusers for valid reasons, such as age or the nature of the crime, but the same status should then be applied to the accused.
      2) Generally it is.
      3) The accuser should not be involved in the decision over taking legal action or required to prove their case, the police and the CPS should do that.
      4) If the police or the CPS have acted with malice or with real negligence then prosecutions should follow, otherwise not.

      You don’t solve injustice by creating more of it.

      • @PhilKean1

        Ending injustice is why I made my proposals.

        [1] – I say that all accusers should be named because I have been persuaded that anonymity for alleged offenders might prevent witnesses coming forward to corroborate evidence.
        [2] – Generally, it is not pursued more times than it is. This is unacceptable.
        [3] – Of course the accuser is involved in the decision to pursue legal action.
        [4] – There have been too many cases, notably of wrongly accused DJs – that have had the appearance of being malicious and attention-seeking. NEVER have I heard the police or CPS having to answer for their decisions.

        • telemachus

          I agree that false accusers of rape must suffer legal action as with other forms of perjury and wasting police time including Nick who has done so much damage
          However we cannot allow naming of rape victims
          I have a barrister friend who was raped at a City party some 10 years ago. She and her friends describe graphically the whispering campaign that has goggled her since “of course she should have gone home and avoided it”
          There is stigma

          • Gweedo

            There’s an equal stigma against men who are falsely accused. Why not reveal the name of the accuser when the claim is proven to be false?

            • Mary Ann

              If the claim proves to be false then the claimant deserves no mercy. People like that make it so difficult for real victims.

              • #toryscum

                There’s a big difference between a ‘false’ claim, and a ‘true’ claim that can’t be proved. How would you distinquish between the two?

          • WTF

            What about the stigma on the accused when they are innocent. Either have anonymity for both or none, only having it for the alleged victim is unfair.

      • Mark Eltringham

        Re point 2, it wasn’t in the case of Mark Pearson. The name of the woman supposedly responsible for making this false allegation is now easy enough to discover, but that is not proof she actually was the one involved. So whoever made this preposterous false allegation should now be prosecuted, not least because she’s a threat to men in public places, never mind the men who she works with and meets in private.

        • Ralph

          It is hard on the face of it to understand why the ‘case against’ Mark Pearson wasn’t laughed out of court on the first instance or why his accuser hasn’t been arrested.

          • Arthur Sparknottle

            I feel incredibly angry about what happened to Mark Pearson, but this injustice need not mean that the lady concerned made a false allegation that she had been assaulted. She may very well have been assaulted, but if she was, it was by someone else and not poor Mr Pearson. As I understand it the accuser did not identify Mr Pearson, but only said that she had been assaulted by a man. It was the police and the CPS who identified him and prosecuted him. Perhaps the lady concerned was indeed penetrated by an attacker in the station, but the incident is not on video.

            • matt10023

              You got it exactly right. The woman only said she was assaulted. For all we know, the the police could have their doubts. The CPS made the decision to prosecute.

              The rot is with the CPS here. They even distorted the timing of the CCTV frames to make it seem like he had more time. The judge gave it to them when it was pointed out.

              It’s possible something did happen to this woman, but it wasn’t Pearson who did it. The CPS deserves all the blame for going after him given the crystal clear evidence.

      • realfish

        ‘3) The accuser should not be involved in the decision over taking legal action or required to prove their case, the police and the CPS should do that.’

        Nor should their MP…or another MP keen to make a name for himself.

        • Ralph

          In a decent world the MP in question would be shown up for what he is in the media and forced to resign his seat. Over to you Fraser…

          • Arthur Sparknottle

            The abuse of their powers by MPs is very common. Take the haranguing and mockery by MPs last week of the Google Executive. They had NO RIGHT whatever to enquire and abuse him about his salary. THAT matter has nothing to do with Google’s tax situation. I am HEARTILY SICK of MPs grandstanding about taxation when it is entirely their fault that the tax code is the way it is. THEY make the tax law. Let them tax multi-nationals on the basis of a percentage of their sales in the UK if Corporation Tax does not reflect the true nature of profit made here.

            All we get from these committees at the House of Commons and all we get from the likes of Tom Watson and that tw@t once married to the so called Selfie Queen’ is grandstanding and self publicity. Margaret Hodge is another one. Vas is yet another – arrogant, pompous and running committees as a way of stage managing their own profile and treating people who come before them in a despicable way. If I’d been treated like that I’d have used some very ‘un-Parliametary language’, for sure.

      • WTF

        All the points made just leveled the playing field none create more injustices but fix current ones.

  • jim

    At first glance this article sounds reasonable but….it still assumes that men lie about s*x and women tell the truth

    “..‘false allegations of r*pe are rare, ”

    Says who? Police fail to prosecute most claims because most claims are not provable and they suspect the allegations to be false. This happens all the time.Also ,the author assumes s*x crimes are comparable to other violent crimes.They aren’t. Most guys would sooner be on an assault or even murder charge rather than s*x offences. This is particularly true when it comes to allegations concerning underage girls. The author is female so perhaps she doesn’t understand this.It’s a guy thing.

    • Arthur Sparknottle

      I agree with you and also sympathise with the way you have had to mess about with the spelling of common words to get them through the ridiculous profanity filter this website uses.

      I would rather be accused of just about ANY kind of terrible crime than a s ex crime. S ex crime allegations ARE very different. Better a thief, or a brute or a murderer even than a person who is a s e x offender. This is not recognised at all by the current law.

      There are MANY false allegations of se xu al impropriety and they have a devastating effect on the people accused Mr Pearson’s only recourse to escape the horrible ordeal he just had and the stink of ‘no smoke without fire’ taint that will hang around him for ever more is to change his identity and move away from where he lives. I am HEARTILY sorry for him, and I am well aware that this could happen to anyone who found himself in the wrong place with the wrong woman at any time.

      I actually once upon a time knew a woman who falsely accused at least three men of r a p e and attempted to ruin their lives. Not on a single occasion, but she was a serial offender. She went to jail, but not for long enough in my opinion.

  • Eddie

    Why are we even talking about this? Innocent until proven guilty. So straightforward even a femtard can understand it…you would have thought.

    • fundamentallyflawed

      Try telling that to the guy found not guilty of rape and put on a control order – can’t post link as it contains R U D E A D U L T W O R D S

    • chasdf

      It is difficult for them, they are wimmin.