The RAU ‘rape’ case shows why the accused should be anonymous

Naming the defendants is unfair on them and on the victim

Yesterday, four students at the Royal Agricultural University were cleared after a rape case against them was dropped. During legal proceedings, the four students who were accused of rape were repeatedly named by media outlets, including The Tab.

But the lack of anonymity for the defendant adds faces, stories and names to a story and, inevitably, often leads to sensationalised frenzy. Add colour and context and it makes a better story.

For example, Thady Duff, one of the four RAU students, is the son of a former Conservative councillor. These sort of details can transform the case from a relative non-story (until there is a conviction) into an outright shit storm.

And in the midst of a shit storm, nobody leaves unscathed, including the victim.

Inevitably, the interest in the story means details will continue to emerge. People are interested and start to speculate about who the victim might be, what their past records are like, and muse as to whether or not they are lying. A victim of a sex attack might be subjected to seeing a story about one of their most horrifying memories play out in the media for months, if not years.

As it stands, coming forward as a rape victim is already a very difficult and very brave thing to do. Only 15 per cent of those who experience sexual violence report it to police. Enabling cases to become scandals could deter other victims from pursuing justice for fear of speculation, challenges and demonisation.

And in the same way that a victim’s life will always be difficult, if someone is wrongfully accused their life can also be ruined. The battle-wounds become scars. A Google search by an employer will associate the men with rape. They have lost two years of education and normality. Certainly, this case would always have affected them, but the public nature of proceedings added a frenzy that changed the tone of their lives forever.

A spokesperson for Accused.me.uk, a support group for victims of false allegations, told the Mail Online: “The next time they go for a job, or go on a date, these stories will stick to them. Why should their lives be forever associated with these disgusting allegations?”

Throughout the last two years, the four men could not move forward. “My son’s life has been completely on hold”, said Thady Duff’s mother. The four were suspended from the university, were banned from certain bars on campus, and are likely to have been ostracised by peers.

This is not rare. Frequently, names are dragged through the mud and the force that that hauls them is incredible. But if we are to truly respect that individuals are innocent until proven guilty, anonymity of the defendant must be protected. This will also offer protection for victims, and hopefully empower more to come forward.

Trials must remain in court, instead of spilling out into mainstream discussion.

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