What are My Rights to Privacy Following a Sexual Assault Accusation?
If a person is accused of sexual misconduct, privacy immediately becomes a major concern for them. After all, cases of sexual assault or abuse are often the subject of a great deal of media attention and public speculation. Even if a defendant is cleared of all charges, having one’s name published in newspapers and online in connection with offences of this kind can be enough to see an individual publicly shamed and even liable to be attacked.
For those found guilty after being accused of sexual misconduct, privacy rights are automatically waived. But what of the anonymity of sex crime suspects who have not been convicted? Here, DPP Law answers the question “are sexual harassment or abuse investigations confidential?”. We’ll also look into the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and who it protects.
What are an Individual’s Rights to Privacy Following a Sexual Offence Accusation?
So, are sexual harassment/abuse investigations confidential?
Currently, no adult defendant over the age of 18 has the automatic right to privacy in a sexual offence case unless revealing the defendant’s identity would pose a direct risk to revealing the victim’s identity, which always remains anonymous.
In all sexual offence cases, the accuser or alleged victim is automatically granted the right to anonymity – although they are able to waive that right if they wish, as long as they are over 16 years of age. This rule is not the same for the accused.
There are a number of different means by which the public may currently access information about convicted sex offenders. For example, as the result of Sarah’s Law – a piece of legislation passed following the murder of Sarah Payne by a convicted child sex offender – the details of those who have been convicted of sex crimes against children can now be disclosed. Similarly, even though they have not been convicted, should sex abuse suspects be given anonymity, it may be argued that the law enforcers enabling this would be acting against the public interest.
For those who are accused of sexual misconduct, privacy can only be legally retained under certain circumstances, which we will explain below.
Can Somebody who is Accused of a Sexual Offence Remain Anonymous?
According to Section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, the anonymity of sex crime suspects can only be granted if the defendant is under the age of 18.
“No matter relating to any child or young person concerned in proceedings to which this section applies shall while he is under the age of 18 be included in any publication if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify him as someone concerned in the proceedings” – Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
They may also remain anonymous if identifying the accused is likely to also indicate the identity of the alleged victim (particularly if the said victim is underage). Otherwise, as with any other court case, the defendant has no right to anonymity.
Anonymity in Court Cases Explained
Below, Stuart Nolan of DPP Law explains a little more about defendant privacy within the context of a sexual offence court case:
“All alleged victims of sex offences are guaranteed lifetime anonymity. In some circumstances, a judge may lift this restriction and victims may be identified if they consent. It is illegal to publish anything that might identify them.
The public are allowed in court during sex offence trials, as are the press. However, if either the defendants or victims are youths, (i.e. under 18), then any information capable of identifying them is withheld. For example, if you are accused of sexual assault on your young child
your details must not be published, as they would identify the victim.”
One of the major means by which the identity of a suspected sex offender can be revealed to the public is through the media. The press, and members of the public themselves are permitted to attend court hearings under the European Convention on Human Rights. This legislation states that all those accused of a crime have the right to a “fair and public hearing”. According to About Human Rights, the press and public may be barred from attending certain hearings – particularly those that involve children. However, news reporters are able to attend the vast majority of hearings, even those in youth courts.
Reporters are not permitted to publish anything that is likely to impede a fair trial or create prejudice within court proceedings. However, cases involving sexual offences are usually considered to be within the public interest and are therefore highly likely to have reporters in attendance, even if members of the public are not permitted in the courtroom.
Who Does the Sexual Offences Act 2003 Protect?
The Crown Prosecution Service states that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 serves to “strengthen and update the law on sexual offences, whilst improving the protection of individuals from sexual offenders”. Its chief purpose is to act in the best interests of those who have allegedly suffered – or are at risk from – sexual assault and abuse.
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, on the other hand, protects the privacy and autonomy of all people. It includes the right to respect for their private and confidential information, and the right to control the spreading of information about their private life. However, these rights must be fairly balanced against the interests of the community as a whole, and can be waived to achieve the prevention of disorder or crime.
There may be certain circumstances under which Article 8 may be referenced in order to prevent the sharing of particular elements of information.
Furthermore, should sex abuse suspects be given anonymity, the conversation would need to be extended to include those accused of any crime.
In conclusion, while the question “should accused sex offenders have anonymity” continues to be debated within the political sphere, as of the present time: no defendant in a sexual offence case may be granted the right to privacy unless…
- They are under the age of eighteen.
- Identifying them would be likely to also reveal the identity of the alleged victim.
A specialist DPP Law can assist you further with the answer to the question “What are My Rights to Privacy Following a Sexual Assault Accusation?” by listening to the precise details of your case. They will then discuss with you the best course of action moving forward. Contact them today on 0333 200 5859.