Oxford Union president wants anonymity for those accused of rape

Oxford Mail: Ben Sullivan Ben Sullivan

THE president of the Oxford Union believes people accused of rape should have their identities kept secret until police are sure there is a solid case.

Ben Sullivan was arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape last month but police dropped the case on Wednesday.

Now Mr Sullivan has called for a change whereby people like himself who are arrested cannot be named publicly initially, because of the “incredibly poisonous allegations”.

However, Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis centre service manager Natalie Brook disagreed with the history and politics student.

Police forces rarely name people who have been arres-ted, but not charged. Howe-ver, there is no legal barrier stopping the media or any member of the public naming the arrested person.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight on Thursday, Mr Sullivan, 21, said: “I’m not of the extremist sort who don’t think you should have your identity revealed until you’ve been convicted, or even necessarily after being charged.

“What I don’t agree with is that everyone’s identity is automatically revealed the minute they are arrested.

“I think there should be some sort of happy medium whereby your identity is protected initially, until at least the conclusion of a preliminary investigation.

“I would never say that everyone's identity in the circumstances should be kept secret.”

However, Ms Brook said: “We are concerned giving anonymity to those accused of rape and sexual offences serves only to entrench a myth that women who report these crimes are more likely to be lying than someone who is reporting another kind of crime.

“It is in the public interest to publish names of the accused as it encourages other victims of the same alleged perpetrator to come forward.”

She said false rape allegations were “very rare” and made up as little as one per cent of all reports, adding: “Only an estimated 15 per cent of the 85,000 women who are raped and 400,000 who are sexually assaulted every year in England and Wales currently report to the police. The conviction rate for reported rapes remains at about six per cent. It is clear there is no justification for exceptional treatment for those accused of rape.”

She echoed the thoughts of Sarah Pine, who appeared on Newsnight alongside Mr Sullivan. During the programme, the vice president for women at Oxford Student Union and leader of the campaign to boycott the debating society, said: “If someone is named it encourages other people to come forward.

“It helps the police investigations go much smoother.”

She said the idea of anonymity for those accused would “protect perpetrators of sexual violence rather than potential victims”.

Speaking on Newsnight, Mr Sullivan added: “I’m completely aware that it can be extremely useful to police investigations for people’s identities to be revealed for people to come forward.

“However, these are obviously incredibly poisonous allegations, they are incredibly difficult to deal with.”

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