Is £624 the price of a rape victim's anonymity?

Some friends and supporters of Ched Evans wrote the name of the woman he raped on Twitter - all they got was a measly fine.

Share

What merits the more severe penalty – tweeting abuse about an unconscious man who is unaware of it or publicly naming a victim of sexual violence?

Two days ago, yet another case involving abuse on social networking sites came to court and the outcome – paltry fines for a group of defendants – demonstrates the jaw-dropping inconsistency of the criminal justice system. The case also speaks volumes about hostile attitudes towards victims of sexual violence in this country.

In March this year, the Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch during an FA Cup match at White Hart Lane. He was rushed to hospital in east London, where medical staff battled for hours to save his life. Muamba eventually recovered though not, sadly, to a point where he was able to return to playing football. On the afternoon of his collapse, a drunken student called Liam Stacey from South Wales mocked Muamba and posted “racially aggravated” abuse on Twitter. In no time, Stacey was arrested, charged and sentenced to 56 days in prison, as well as being banned from his course at Swansea University for the rest of the year. Stacey’s behaviour was callous and unthinking but even at the time the penalty seemed out of proportion to the damage he’d actually done.

The following month, the Wales and Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans was sent to prison for five years for a very nasty rape. His 19-year-old victim showed enormous courage when she reported the assault, which happened in a hotel room in Rhyl at the end of an evening when she had been drinking heavily. According to Nita Dowell, senior crown prosecutor in Wales, Evans “took advantage of a vulnerable woman who was in no fit state to consent to sexual activity. He did so knowingly and with a total disregard for her physical and emotional wellbeing”. Detective Chief Inspector Steve Williams said the victim had shown “a great deal of resilience and strength in difficult circumstances”.

But footballers are celebrities, and the court’s view of Evans’s criminal behaviour was certainly not shared by his friends and supporters. They rushed on to Twitter and Facebook to vent their rage, not against the man who’d let them and his club down so badly but against his victim. Unlike Muamba, who was in hospital and receiving the best medical care when Stacey abused him, the young woman in the Evans case was trying to recover from the gruelling experience of a rape trial. She was obviously vulnerable but the defendants didn’t care, using social networking sites to name her and abuse her as a “slut”, a “tramp” and a “whore”.

Rape victims are entitled to lifelong anonymity and nine individuals appeared in court on Monday, accused of publishing material likely to lead members of the public to identify the complainant in a rape case. District judge Andrew Shaw did not mince his words, telling the defendants at Prestatyn magistrates court that they had acted with “deliberate malice”. He said: “Your actions have revictimised this woman.” He imposed the maximum penalty on each of them, but that’s only a £624 fine.

If Stacey’s behaviour towards an unconscious Muamba merits a prison sentence, why is this offence treated so leniently? One of the tweets, posted by 26-year-old Paul Devine from Sheffield, not only named the woman but urged strangers to find her address. Surely, that’s intimidation? In court, Devine said he was angry because his team Sheffield United had just lost to MK Dons. Presumably, he thought the team would have played better with a convicted rapist in its ranks, but it’s hardly an excuse for what he did.

Holly Price, a 25-year-old biology teacher from Prestatyn, is another of the individuals who named the victim on Twitter. She retweeted a message which revealed the woman’s identity and added her own comment: “money-grabbing slut. poor little victim. WTF?” The defendants were sheepish in court and apologised, claiming they had no idea that naming a rape victim was a criminal offence. That doesn’t address the obvious point that it’s morally indefensible, whatever the law says.

What were these people thinking of? At a moment when the country is reeling under a torrent of accusations about child sexual abuse linked to Jimmy Savile, it’s instructive to get a glimpse into the thought processes of members of the public reacting to the outcome of a rape trial.  Convictions are not easy to secure, as campaigners against sexual violence know very well, and, in this case, Evans had been found guilty and given a condign sentence. Yet blaming the complainant is so reflexive that the defendants simply ignored the verdict.

This is not the only instance of this kind of behaviour in recent history. The two women who have accused Julian Assange of rape and sexual assault have been hounded on the internet. Something similar happened to the woman who accused the former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of attempted rape in a New York hotel. The charges were dropped and the politician is now back in France, where he faces charges relating to a prostitution ring in Lille.

Abuse of women who say they’ve been raped is habitual, in other words, and the effect of social networking sites is to make it more overt. Over and over again, research shows that fear of being blamed acts as a deterrent when women are deciding whether to seek help or go to the police. In a survey carried out this year by the website Mumsnet, more than four-fifths of respondents who said they’d been raped did not report the attack, and over half gave embarrassment or shame as the reason. Another report, compiled for The Haven service for victims of assault in London, found that more than half of respondents would be too ashamed or embarrassed to go to the police. 

This is why the offences committed in the Ched Evans case are worse, in my view, than Liam Stacey’s drunken abuse of Fabrice Muamba. I’m not in favour of sending more people to prison but I’d like to see heavier penalties for naming rape victims, perhaps in the form of community service with organisations that help victims of sexual violence. This “naming and shaming” of women who say they’ve been raped is a form of terrorism, and it has to stop.

Twitter: @polblonde

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Inspection, Inventory and Maintenance Clerk

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Executive - OTE £50,000

£19000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Executive is re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Financial Accountant

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company was established in ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Web Developer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Welcome back Nigella, defying the haters

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Royal fans Maria Scott, left Amy Thompson and John Loughrey wait outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in London  

Royal baby: The commodification of an unborn child

Jane Merrick
Ed Miliband interview: 'There is only one party standing up for the integrity of the UK'

'There is only one party standing up for the integrity of the UK'

Ed Miliband talks zero hours contracts, non-doms and the NHS
Libya's criminals undermine attempts to prop up a collapsing state

Libya's criminals undermine attempts to prop up a collapsing state

It's not just people-smuggling rackets, reports Patrick Cockburn
Global warming: Experts say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100, with cataclysmic results

Scorched Earth?

Scientists fear 6C rise in temperature by 2100 - with cataclysmic results
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez: Lawyer, wife of Nick Clegg and a secret food blogger

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez

Lawyer, wife of Nick Clegg and a secret food blogger
Charlie Hebdo editor's final book: 'Letter to the Islamophobia Frauds Who Play into the Hands of Racists'

Terror couldn't silence him, and nor will death...

Murdered Charlie Hebdo editor's defiant, impassioned final work
General Election 2015: On the campaign trail in Rochdale – the town globalisation left behind

On the campaign trail in Rochdale

The town globalisation left behind
Bugsy Malone is back: Plenty of splurge guns but no twerking teens

Bugsy Malone is back

There's plenty of splurge guns but no twerking teens in the Lyric Theatre's reopening production
Should we be drinking milk? Arguments for and against dairy

Should we be drinking milk?

Arguments for and against dairy
Ivor Novello awards 2015: Meet James Napier, the backroom hitmaker for Sam Smith and Clean Bandit

Meet James Napier

The backroom hitmaker for Sam Smith and Clean Bandit is the hottest name in pop you've never heard of
14 best girls' summer dresses

14 best girls' summer dresses

Whether they're on the beach in the south of France or in the garden at nan's house, there's a dress to keep them cool, comfortable and looking fabulous
David Haye interview: Thought of Las Vegas lures Haye back to the ring

Thought of Las Vegas lures Haye back to the ring

Having overcome an injury that seemed to have ended his career, the heavyweight realised there were things left undone – a fight at the spiritual home of boxing
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time