I recently ran across your article, Why is Rape Different?, in which you argue that allowing rape survivors to remain anonymous when we don’t do the same for any other crime victim infantilizes women and makes rape prosecutions more difficult. Although you wrote this some months ago, it’s still bouncing around on twitter, so I feel moved to respond.
You make the claim that:
It is wrong – and sexist – to treat female sex-crime accusers as if they were children, and it is wrong to try anyone, male or female, in the court of public opinion on the basis of anonymous accusations. Anonymity for rape accusers is long overdue for retirement.
So let me explain to you, Ms Wolf, why rape is different.
First, this arrangement is not specific to female survivors. It also protects male survivors. The fact that you gloss over the existence of this unfortunately large population displays a level of ignorance on the topic that is unpardonable.
Second,what makes rape different from other crimes is that, for no other crime do we allow the accuser to be attacked, shamed, or vilified to the same degree. If I get mugged, even if it happened while I was flashing my wallet, I don’t really have to worry about being blamed for it. Sure, some people will tell me that I should have been more careful about letting my wallet be visible, but that wouldn’t be used by the defense attorney to justify the actions of the person on trial for the crime. Nor would it be used in the media to claim that I deserved to have it stolen. If my car gets broken into because I leave a bag on the back seat, even if I’m told that my actions increased the likelihood of having my window broken and my property stolen, they aren’t going to be used to explain away the crime.
Simply put, accusations of rape need to be treated differently because the crime itself is already treated differently.
Third, nothing in the current structure requires accusers to remain anonymous. As you pointed out, some accusers do come forward and that is often when things begin to change on a larger scale. But you suggest forcing people to do so, rather than giving them the option. If you think that will encourage more survivors to make police reports, I have some nice beachfront property in Florida I’d like to sell you.
I agree with you when you say:
It is no one’s business whom a victim has slept with previously, or what she [sic] was wearing when she was attacked. But preventing an accuser’s sexual history from entering into an investigation or prosecution is not the same as providing anonymity.
And if you genuinely want to make things better, how about pushing for ending the common practice of discussing what someone was wearing, their sexual history, or any of the other ways in which rape accusers are discredited, shamed, and silenced? Maybe if we stop making reporting rape such an ordeal, more people will be willing to step forward and make their accusations publicly.
I think you’re right that anonymous accusations aren’t taken as seriously and are less likely to lead to positive change. But rather than stripping away what little protection that rape survivors have, you’d do better to push for enough safety that it becomes unnecessary. That’s much harder work, and it’ll be much more successful at ending a culture that perpetuates rape. In the meantime, as much as anonymity causes other problems, when it comes to rape accusations, it’s better than nothing.