Caroline Flint: Drop these dangerous plans for anonymity in rape cases

SEVEN weeks in, nine words later and the ConDem coalition are already at sixes and sevens. The cause of the disarray? A peculiar policy that found its way into their plan for Government. A product of those days of secret negotiations behind closed doors after May 6. A proposal to give defendants in rape cases the benefit of anonymity.

The proposal has caused uproar in the House of Commons, outraged women's organisations, and left the police and criminal justice practitioners aghast. Amid the hail of protests, a mystery surrounds where this dangerous idea came from. It's a mystery to voters because it wasn't to be found in either the Conservatives' or the Liberal Democrats' election manifestos.

Some suggest Nick Clegg put it forward. On this one, though, no one seems to agree with Nick – not even the leading figures in his coalition, who can't agree among themselves what they think.

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Two weeks ago, the Justice Minister Crispin Blunt told MPs that he thought rape defendants needed special protections. The next week his boss, the Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke, told Parliament that giving rape defendants anonymity might stop the police bringing dangerous attackers to justice.

He then sought to sidestep responsibility by saying: "The issue of anonymity for defendants was adopted as party policy by the Liberal Democrat Party while in opposition." He even admitted that he couldn't actually remember if he had supported the plans the last time they were debated in Parliament. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

A week before, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tried to backtrack, telling Liberal Democrat backbenchers that he'd change the plans if they weren't happy with them. The new Minister for Women and Equalities, Lynne Featherstone, says the plans are nothing to do with her, while the Home Secretary, Theresa May, refuses to even answer the question.

And then the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, told the Commons that he wanted to see more evidence on the effect of the proposal. What none of them can do, though, is explain why we need to give rape suspects anonymity in the first place.

The Prime Minister tried to suggest that the reason rape suspects need anonymity is because lots of people are falsely accused. No one doubts the damage that false accusations can cause. Innocent people's lives are turned upside down, police time is wasted and, in the case of rape, the overwhelming majority of genuine victims find it more difficult to convince juries of their case.

But Home Office research shows that there is no evidence of more false allegations in rape cases compared to other crimes. So, the risk of wrongful accusation applies equally to other serious and violent crimes – not just rape.

Is rape so serious a crime that the defendants should be afforded special protection? Does anybody really believe that being accused of rape is any worse than being accused of murder, domestic violence, or child abuse?

If anything, public attitudes remain mixed, and at times, unsympathetic to rape victims. More than a third of people believe that a woman is responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner. But no woman, however she's dressed or however much she's drunk, deserves to be violently attacked.

Protecting rape suspects suggests that victims of rape, uniquely, are not to be believed. When tens of thousands of women already don't report being attacked for fear of not being believed – allowing thousands of dangerous,

violent offenders to go free – this is not a message we can afford to send out.

Not least because we know that rape is, very often, a serial crime. A man who rapes once will, more than likely, attack other women. Just take the case of John Warboys, the London taxi

driver. Publicity of his arrest led to more than 80 women coming forward, helping to secure a conviction and put him behind bars. Giving rape suspects special protections will put the public at risk. Even if there's already enough evidence to convict a rapist, every victim should be encouraged to come forward to end their isolation and have the crime against them acknowledged.

False allegations make headlines. But the plight of

the thousands of women

raped every year is the real injustice. It is not the

defendants' rights that are violated, but the victims who never see justice.

The rate of convictions in rape cases is scandalously low. Rape devastates women's lives. Our priority must be delivering justice for victims of rape and protecting the public from dangerous offenders. The Government still has time to get itself out of this mess – a mess which no one seems to know how they got into and no one want to own up to – but it must abandon these dangerous plans.