Is it ever considered that there might be more than one side to a rape accusation? Rape is such a delicate subject and still considered taboo, yet we should not forget that every story has at least two sides. Our black and white distinctions are being challenged in recent parliamentary debate and controversy over the lies of 22-year-old Leyla Ibrahim.
When Ibrahim reported that she was raped in January this year, she was believed, and her report sparked a manhunt costing over £150,000 and the arrest of four students. But Ibrahim was lying.
It emerged that she wanted to punish her friends for leaving her to walk home alone, so fabricated the rape claim. The judge described her as “wicked”, and Ibrahim was sentenced to three years in prison, despite being seven months pregnant. She will give birth to the child in prison, and then serve the rest of her sentence.
Harsh? Yes, but necessarily so. Being pregnant does not excuse the crime she has committed. Furthermore, if the police have to look at every man they pull in for questioning as a potential rapist, then every woman that reports an attack will be looked upon as a potential liar.
These perceptions have caused a parliamentary divide over the issue of attacker’s anonymity. Should the adage ‘innocent until proven guilty’ be taken so far that alleged rapists are granted anonymity until their trial or until acquitted? There are of course valid points for each side, with Justice Minister Crispin Blunt arguing that rape was “distinguished from other crimes” by the “stigma for the defendant” as well as the “disproportionate degree of media interest” which accompanies it.
Yes, rape is distinguished from other crimes: the 2010 British Crime Survey found that overall crime was at its lowest level since 1981. However the category of ‘sexual offences’ stood alone in the fact that a 15 per cent increase in rapes against women was noted.
Yes, the stigma for the defendant – particularly if charges are proved false – is awful, but with 95 per cent of rapes going unreported, and only 6.5 per cent of those reported resulting in conviction, the pursuit of justice should be prioritised. Labour MP Caroline Flint argued that through anonymity prior to trial, other possible victims would be unable to come forward.
There are many barriers for victims to overcome before they can speak out; one who comes forward shows incredible courage, and should have every opportunity to do so. Nonetheless, Ibrahim’s case indicates that defendants sometimes need protection too, and both victim and defendant should be examined fully. There is a greater taboo than rape: questioning the validity of the victim’s accusation.
Despite Blunt’s criticism, at least rape awareness is being watched with close attention, rather than swept under a mat of indifference. Previously, judgemental attitudes from police and prosecuting services were quoted as a contributing factor in low rape report statistics.
If the police hadn’t got sincerely involved in the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence – still missing a year on – then would she still be in the public eye? Serious crime needs to be taken seriously, but those involved cannot be blinded by prejudice or discrimination, however positive it may seem.