Twitter: Time for a law change? Photo credit: James Cridland, http://flic.kr/p/8AqBAj
Police are investigating claims that a woman raped by footballer Ched Evans has been named on social networking site Twitter. Sheffield United player Evans, 23, was sentenced for five years for raping a 19-year-old woman. Following the verdict, tweets appeared apparently identifying and abusing the victim, along with hashtag #JusticeForChed.
The tweets. Rape complainants are entitled to lifelong anonymity by law, but the name of the victim in the Ched Evans case spread around Twitter. The victim was also subject to a series of abusive tweets, collated on tumblr Little Tweets of Misogyny. Evans’ teammate Connor Brown tweeted that the victim was a “slag” and said she had been motivated by financial gain; the tweets were later deleted.
Convicted rapist Ched Evans has been included on the Professional Footballer’s Association’s League One Team of the Year. According to The Daily Mail, chief executive Gordon Taylor insisted the inclusion was a “football judgement”.
Rape culture. “This is rape culture. A culture in which a convicted rapist is described as ‘that poor man’ and his imprisonment attracts sympathy, while the victim is treated as though her rape was her own fault,” wrote lawyer Julian Norman at blog The F Word. The victim’s sexual history is entirely irrelevant, pointed out Norman: “Enthusiastic consent freely given to one man does not entitle every other man in the world to sex with that person.”
Test of the law. Under the current laws, a rape victim’s anonymity is breached when “a person causes identifying matter to be published in England and Wales in a written publication available to the public”, Amanda Bancroft pointed out on The Guardian’s Comment is Free. “Until this is tested, we do not know if the courts will determine that Twitter falls into a ‘written publication available to the public’,” said Bancroft, but there are other legal avenues available to deal with the offending tweeters, such as the Communications Act and the Public Order Act. But surely, Bancroft argued, the biggest question is not how to deal with abusive tweets by law, but what we can do about the “alive and pervasive rape culture” this case has exposed.
Law review needed. “The questions this whole episode raises about the ability of the criminal justice system to deal with offences committed on the internet are potentially immense,” wrote Katie Russell of charity Rape Crisis on The Huffington Post (UK), pointing out that the tweets identifying the victim potentially endanger her safety. “Whoever first revealed the victim’s identity is guilty of contempt of court, and every person who’s re-Tweeted it since is implicated.”
No need for law change. “It’s just not true that Twitter, or any sort of social media, should necessarily give the law particular problems,” wrote Hugo Rifkind in The Times (£). Of course, the situation becomes more complex when, as in the case of footballer Ryan Giggs, thousands of users are involved in breaching a superinjunction. But when it comes to the tweets supporting Ched Evans, “there aren’t thousands who want to name rape victims online. There are only a few. Bang them up,” Rifkind said.