Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1976, Section 4

Complainant anonymity sends a signal that the legal system recognises the difficult social contexts in which women and men report rape, and helps to encourage victims to come forward and access justice. Justice demands that allegations of criminal offences need to be made, investigated, and where appropriate result in convictions

Clare McGlynn and Julia Downes

Anonymity for rape complainants, that is shielding the identity of the complainant in the press, was established in 1976 by section 4 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act: ‘after a person is accused of a rape offence no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify a woman as the complainant in relation to that accusation shall … be published in England and Wales’. The provision was gender-specific and worked by making it a criminal offence for the media to reveal the complainant’s identity or any information that might lead to the complainant being identified. The law did not prevent complainants from being named in court, nor is there any restriction on their being named in discussions other than in the media.

This legal landmark was an important turning point for women, as it recognised the harmful stigma and scrutiny that rape complainants experience when their identities become publicly known. Since 1976, the law has been strengthened so that it now applies to women and men, to complainants of all sexual offences and anonymity lasts for their lifetime. This legal landmark continues to protect the privacy rights of rape complainants, with the aim of encouraging complainants to report sexual offences and support prosecutions without fear of being blamed and shamed in public.

The full version of this landmark is written by Clare McGlynn and Julia Downes.

 

Learn More

Centre for Gender Equal Media, ‘Anonymity for Victims of Image-Based Sexual Abuse (Including ‘Revenge Porn’)’ (Durham University: Durham Law School) https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/law/research/gem-anonymity-campaign-briefing-online.pdf

CPS, ‘Prosecuting and Convicting More Cases of Rape, Domestic Abuse, Sexual Offences, and Child Abuse Than Ever Before’ http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/latest_news/vawg_report_2016/

Rape Crisis, ‘Statistics’ https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php