Oxford Union President Cleared Of Rape Calls For Anonymity Of Defendants

Ben Sullivan says that he knows 'sexual violence is a very serious problem' but doesn't agree that 'everyone's identity is automatically revealed the minute they are arrested'...


by Sophie Wilkinson |
Published on

Ben Sullivan, a third year student at the Oxford Union has been cleared of rape allegations after police investigations. He was arrested after it was alleged that he had raped one student and attacked another. After being held on bail for six weeks, police said that they wouldn’t be pursuing further action against the 21-year-old.

After being cleared, Sullivan went on Newsnight to speak about his ‘harrowing’ experience of being accused and explained, in quite a measured way, that defendants should be given anonymity until they are charged with a crime and court proceedings begin: ‘I’m not of the extremist [sort] who don’t think you should have your identity revealed until you’ve been convicted, or even necessarily after being charged.

‘What I don’t agree with though is that everyone’s identity is automatically revealed the minute they are arrested. I think there should be some sort of happy medium whereby your identity is protected initially, until at least the conclusion of a preliminary investigation.’

Basically, he means that people accused of rape shouldn’t have their names made public until it is found that there’s enough evidence to prosecute them on (it's worth noting that between January 2011 and May 2012, it was estimated that just 0.6 per cent of rape allegations made in the UK were false). He added that though he thinks alleged rapists should be given anonymity until charged but not, say, alleged murderers, he admitted that revealing the identity of an alleged attacker could be helpful in encouraging other people to come forward.

‘I’m completely aware that it can be extremely useful to police investigations for people’s identities to be revealed for people to come forward. However, these are obviously incredibly poisonous allegations, they are incredibly difficult to deal with.’

While the investigation was going on, Sullivan refused to step down as president of the union despite students calling for him to resign. In what they called a ‘push for equality’, the activists wrote an open letter to 30 speakers asking for them to boycott the Union until Sullivan resigned.

Nobel Peace prize winner Tawakkol Karman, US entrepreneur Julie Meyer and David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch all refused to attend because of issues surrounding Sullivan’s arrest. He accepted that their passions were well-meant but misplaced, saying: ‘I don’t doubt the organisers of the boycott have very good intentions and I do agree that sexual violence is a very serious problem at Oxford and other universities.’

As The Debrief has previously reported, British universities – including Oxbridge – have a big problem with sexual assaults and rape.

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

Picture: Rex

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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