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The cloak of anonymity? The naming of rape victims on social media – Clare Brown

anonymous-femaleThe Ched Evans rape case has polarised opinion, so it’s time for some straight talking. The woman in question is entitled to remain anonymous under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. The legislation makes it quite clear that the victim in a case of rape is entitled to anonymity in the press. 

A number of people decided to reveal her identity on social media which led to the CPS making a public statement on 11 October 2012. They said they had charged nine people with the offence of publishing a matter likely to lead to the identification of a complainant in such a case. As a consequence these people were fined. They said they didn’t know that it was an offence.

Despite this warning from the English legal system, it seems that the woman has again been outed online, this time by a foreign website. The investigations carried out by newspaper The People have led press commentators to question the ability of authorities to adequately police the internet. Given that the image has been viewed thousands of times, it would seem that they are right.

I can confirm that sources which identify the woman are still available, despite it being several weeks since this investigation was reported. It is difficult to take down or block foreign websites, even with the weight of EU legislation in the case of intellectual property infringements, or international co-operation if child abuse images are involved.

One issue is the ease of information dissemination. Even if the image appears fleetingly on a screen – television, smart phone or computer – someone will capture it. For instance, a screen shot from the news bulletin of a large broadcaster that displayed her identity can still be found online. Although it may not be traced using Google, other search engines will oblige.

As the CPS has demonstrated already, should this image appear on a social media website such as Twitter or Facebook, the situation is straightforward. UK and EU internet safety organisations work closely with social media partners so that distressing, illegal or problematic information can be removed as soon as possible. The value of personal relationships between social media companies, law enforcement agencies, and intermediaries cannot be underestimated.

Sadly this isn’t an option for her because of the offending site’s international nature. Just getting the ISP to block the site would be a challenge. Even if the ISP is friendly and they do the block, the person hosting the site may have multiple versions of their site and IP address; known as “round robin” hosting. So a few hits will get blocked but many more will get through. You could also request a DNS block but that would last about as long as it takes to get the word out for a new address.

Therefore if the ISP of the website is based in Asia, and the domain registered in Central America, UK legal resources are limited and difficult to apply. The page has the potential to stay up indefinitely. Despite the flagrant disregard of UK law, the CPS, who took steps against people tweeting about her identity, is not in a position to assist in the first instance. It is a matter for law enforcement authorities who seem to be helpless in this case.

In some cases it is clear that the authorities can do little in the face of global disregard for national laws. Although international co-operation brings results in a number of cases, information in the deeper recesses of internet will stay visible regardless. Perhaps time and the short public memory are the only ways to block such websites.

Clare Brown, Library and Information Manager, is a member of the Cyber Investigation Unit at Collyer Bristow LLP.

1 Comment

  1. truthaholics

    Reblogged this on | truthaholics.

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