Police officers frequently put rape victims in unnecessary danger by disclosing their names to their accusers, campaigners say. But this could be about to change under new proposals to change the law around sexual assault. The change would mean a suspect accused of rape when the perpetrator is a stranger would lose the right to know the name of their accuser, reported The Guardian. There are currently no laws regulating how and when the police can disclose an accuser's name to the accused. Officers often reveal a victim's name to the suspect when they are arrested and an investigation begins, before it is clear whether or not a case will go to court. Campaigners argue this puts the accuser at risk by allowing the accused to find out where they live and work, and other details via the internet. Victims have had to change their names and get rid of all mention of themselves online out of fear they would be tracked down, The Guardian reported.
The draft amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords, was put forward by campaign group voice4victims and would apply in England and Wales. It will be debated in the House of Lords in early November and will go to vote at the end of the month. Under the proposals, the police could withhold a victim's identity if there is reason to believe they could be at risk of further harm, and the suspect's previous convictions, mental health and access to technology would be taken into account before the accuser's name is revealed. “There is no specific policy or legislation which covers the issue of providing the name of a victim of rape to the suspect,” Neil Smith, from the Metropolitan Police's sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command, told The Guardian. “Instead, it is an operational decision taken by the officer in the case on a case-by-case basis.” Just 10% of rapes are committed by strangers, according to estimates by the charity Rape Crisis, and some campaigners believe the new proposals should apply to all cases of sexual assault. Opponents could argue the measure would breach a key legal principle: that defendants have a right to know who is accusing them. However, campaigners say defendants could still identity accusers through photos and details other than their name, The Guardian reported. “It is of deep concern that there is neither policy nor legislation covering the disclosure of a victim’s identity to an alleged perpetrator of a serious sexual offence," said Harry Fletcher, the director of voice4victims. "It is astonishing that it is left to the discretion of individual police officers. Disclosure is extremely traumatic and leaves victims feeling terrified that they are put at further risk.” A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said it was rare for a suspect to be told the accuser's name at the point of arrest or shortly after during interview. During an interview they said an officer may need to reveal the victim's name to prevent a defence of consent from being used.