Friday, 21 May 2010

Predator-friendly government

The Con-Lib coalition government has just released their "programme for government" - essentially a merger of the bits they're keeping from the two manifestos. Exactly where it lives keeps changing, but the PDF version of the programme should be readable from there for the immediate future.

I haven't had time to read through it in detail, but one particular bit stood out very strongly as a really bad idea.

[trigger warning]

On page 23 of the PDF, in section 20 (Justice), is this bullet point:

We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.

Jess at The F-Word and Kate at Cruella-Blog have got some strong criticism for this proposal up already, to which I don't have a lot to add.

This proposal was in neither the Conservative nor the Lib Dem manifestos. It's a Lib Dem policy1, but not one that made it into their manifesto. Now, somehow, despite it being in neither manifesto, the negotiating team - made up of eight white men, of course - has put it in the coalition programme anyway.

The majority of rapes and other sexual assaults are committed by serial predators like John Worboys. Looking at the graphs in Lisak and Miller's paper (PDF) shows that 90% of the rapes were committed by serial rapists (who also committed the majority of the other violent acts studied).

The British Crime Survey estimates that the reporting rate (to the police) for rape is around 10%. The chances are that for all but the very worst predators, at most one of their victims will initially report it to the police. No matter how good the police and CPS are at tying together separate reports (maybe there's not enough evidence to prosecute either case separately, but two independent reports is a lot more convincing) - and they aren't, in fact, very good at this, as the Worboys case showed, this can't start until they have at least two reports about the same perpetrator.

Except for the very worst predators - even in a world where the police had ideal data analysis, this probably means 20+ rapes or other offences - the only way they'll get those reports is if the identity of the accused is publicised, and this encourages other survivors to come forwards.

It's not the first time we've had a measure like this - this BBC article points out that Labour introduced one in 1976, which the Conservatives repealed in 1988.

It's not clear how to comment on the coalition programme itself, so here's a list of people who might be worth contacting. Firstly, ministers who might be able to get the proposal dropped before it gets near legislation:

Secondly, people who might be able to help defeat it in Parliament if it gets that far.

  • The Shadow Minister for Justice, Jack Straw MP (Lab, Blackburn), who it will hopefully be possible to convince to strongly oppose the idea. Harriet Harman MP (Lab, Camberwell & Peckham), as the former Minister for Equalities and Women, and the current acting Labour leader, might also be worth contacting.
  • Your own MP. If they're Labour or another opposition party, they need to be convinced to vote against it and submit amendments against it. If they're Conservative or Lib Dem, then even better (and in this case, even a commitment to abstain or be elsewhere for the vote is better than nothing). Furthermore, a Conservative or Lib Dem MP might be more likely to quietly persuade the government to drop the proposal.
    All MPs, regardless of party, should also pass your concerns on to the relevant ministers.

As regards who you are "allowed" to write to. If you're a UK citizen or resident:

  • You can write to any minister directly, but they really make it hard to find their direct ministerial contact details in a lot of cases, because they prefer to receive communications via MPs. The general departmental contacts are better than nothing.
  • You can write to your own MP as a constituent.
  • You can write to any member of the House of Lords.

If you're not, then I've no idea who you could usefully contact. Your local British Embassy, perhaps?

I'll post my letters once I've written them, in case people want a starting point for their own - in the meantime, the blog posts linked to above have a lot of good points to include. If you can find better contact details for any of the ministers, or have any ideas for who to write to that I've missed, drop them into comments.

1 Something I was unfortunately not aware of before voting for them, though it fits well with the party's over-theoretical and over-privileged attitude to equality issues, so I really shouldn't be so surprised.