There is furious debate in the comments to this article in the Guardian by Naomi Wolf, in which she argues that “Julian Assange’s sex-crime accusers deserve to be named”.
Do they? He has been after all.
I just don’t know. Neither about Assange’s case, or the general case.
On a point of fact, Wolf is quite wrong in claiming that the rule of law by which the plaintiff in a rape case is given anonymity is a “Victorian relic”. Commenter “snoozeofreason” said that anonymity was introduced, for what were seen as feminist reasons, in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976. This link to RapeCrisis, an activist group, confirms that fact. It also argues in favour of anonymity for the accuser but not the accused. I reject that. The only thing of which I am sure is that the accused and the accuser should be treated the same: anonymity for both, or for neither.
Naomi Wolf is an icon of feminism. In making this argument she has broken ranks with other feminists. Schadenfreude at the the sight of them rending each other is never far away, but schadenfreude does not actually give me an answer as to whether anonymity in rape cases is a good or a bad thing. I have bitterly criticised feminists and anti-rape activists in the past for their wilful denial of the possibility of false accusations of rape. I sneer at Naomi Wolf’s late discovery of this type of possible injustice. Yet she makes a strong argument:
“Though children’s identities should, of course, be shielded, women are not children. If one makes a serious criminal accusation, one must be treated as a moral adult.”
Against that is a more nebulous pressure, but one with deep roots in the human psyche: rape is different from other forms of assault. The trauma of a rape victim, male or female, does not arise only from the physical injuries received. Harm is done to them by having the fact that they have suffered such a violation made public. Some victims would feel unable to come forward if it were to be made public.
Yet other rape victims argue that this reluctance merely reinforces the barbaric idea that there is something shameful in being raped. We use the word shame to mean too many things.