Untangling the vexed question of anonymity in sex cases
Should the practice of automatic non-naming of accused come to an end?
Not named: the majority of those convicted of sex crimes in the Central Criminal Court are not named in the media after conviction
The recent prosecutions of British celebrities for sex offences have highlighted the differences between UK anonymity laws and those in Ireland, which prohibit the identification of rape accused before conviction.
The failed prosecutions of two Coronation Street actors have reignited a debate in the UK about whether rape accused should continue to be named pre-conviction. And while Ireland shows little desire to adopt the UK system, our anonymity laws are not without their problems.
Irish law states that those accused of rape can only be identified publicly if convicted.
However data shows that even after conviction, the majority of rapists are never named publicly, due to our strict rules protecting complainant’s identities.
An analysis of data from 2011 to present shows that 59 per cent of those convicted of sex crimes in the Central Criminal Court are not named in the media after conviction.
This is because identifying such people could lead to the identification of the victim, either because the offender was a relative, or could be easily linked to the victim in the mind of the public.
It is a feature of Irish sex crime that a huge proportion of sex offences occur within the family. In the data studied, 34 per cent of victims were abused by family members. In other words, naming the abuser in the media could very easily lead to victim identification.
However, sometimes victims will allow their abuser to be named even if it might identify them; the data shows that 15 per cent of those abused by a family member consented to their abuser being identified after conviction.
Irish law has a long established practice of demanding complete anonymity in rape cases before conviction. On the face of it, it appears to be an uncontroversial system; someone is only named if guilty and then only if it doesn’t identify the victim.
However an examination of the UK debate shows there are arguments to be made for removing automatic anonymity for accused. Victim campaigners claim that naming an alleged offender can lead to other complainants coming forward, as shown in the case of Jimmy Savile. They also see the granting of anonymity for accused rapists as perpetuating the myth that many women make false rape claims.
These arguments are curiously absent from the Irish debate; in fact there is little debate at all. One reason for this could be the size of our population.
Caroline Counihan of Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) feels that pre-trial anonymity for accused is vital in this country because Ireland is so small and many rape cases come from small rural communities.
“It can be difficult enough for the complainant who finally plucks up enough courage to go to the guards. It’s a nightmare, and it’s just not going to help if their rapist is named and shamed in the local or national press even before conviction,” she said.