The name of footballer Ched Evan’s rape victim was thrust into the public domain via Twitter once again this week.
In April, the Wales and Sheffield United Striker was found guilty of rape of a 19 year old woman believed to be “too drunk to consent” and jailed for five years. Since the trial, North Wales Police and South Yorkshire Police have arrested 16 people in connection with comments allegedly made via the internet.
Earlier this week, Sky News were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and the attorney general after an on-air mistake meant they accidentally broadcast the name of Evans’ victim.
On Thursday, a Twitter user named the rape victim again and a clearly disgusted Louise Mensch, Conservative MP for Corby, requested that followers report the user to Twitter and North Wales Police.
Though Mensch was clearly acting in good faith, I believe her execution was shortsighted and foolish. By linking through to the Twitter user who had published the name, the MP had drawn the attention of her 57,000+ followers to this, further damaging the already delicate legal anonymity the victim is entitled to.
When it was suggested that Mensch had simply widened the attention drawn to the breach (by the Guardian’s Josh Halliday and Jonathan Haynes), she declared that there was “no point pretending her [the victim] name was not already completely exposed as Twitter made it a trending topic.”
Previously exposed or not, previous Twitter trending topic or not, Mensch’s reaction was still knee-jerk, and presented the victim’s name in the public domain and to an entirely different audience. The Corby MP had no way of knowing which of her followers had already seen the trending topic, and which of her followers would have recognised the trending topic as the name of the victim. I consider it irresponsible to assume that all of her followers knew, and recognised, the name already.
Though the problem obviously needed addressing, it seemed that Mensch hadn’t considered her actions thoroughly. After she felt that the case had been brought to the attention of Twitter, she deleted the tweet, considering that justice had been done.
The increase of news dissemination on Twitter is both a wonderful and terrifying thing. In instances such as this, it is hugely concerning. Rape victims are granted anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 as a protection tool, in the hopes that the fear felt by those reporting crimes such as this will be reduced.
Government Whip Shailesh Vara told the House of Commons that the naming of victims on social media needed to be closely monitored. Vara warned: “I want to make it absolutely clear that the anonymity of rape victims for life is there. When there is a breach of that, then the full force of the law must take its place.”
Labour MP Kerry McCarthy added that cases such as this could deter rape victims from coming forward, for the fear of being subjected to the identification and abuse faced by Evans’ victim.
As we move further into the Digital Age, it is evident that education and understanding of the relationship between social media and the law needs to be addressed. Though ignorance is not an excuse, perhaps those who initially named Evans’ victim were not aware of the legal life anonymity granted to those in affected by rape. But the law is there for a reason.
How do we educate the masses on this crucial issue to prevent further suffering of rape victims? And how do the government respond if cases such as this do deter victims from reporting crimes? Maybe the IT lessons young people undertake at school need to cover issues such as this – but that’s a minefield, and a large proportion of Twitter users will already have left education, missing out on that crucial knowledge.
Whatever the solution, the problem needs to be tackled head on, before it has a detrimental effect on the reporting of rape crimes, and the victims who have already experienced enough trauma to last them a lifetime.