Alice Watkins, Campaigns & Research Officer
The law gives victims and alleged victims of some sexual offences lifetime anonymity.
Yet in an article published last year, the Sun newspaper identified a victim of sexual assault – with the complaints handler IPSO taking a whole year to address this breach.
Protections for alleged victims of sexual offences are set out under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. The Editors Code of Practice also contains provisions to protect alleged victims from seeing their identity disclosed.
In 2020, The Sun published an article that identified the complainant as a victim of sexual assault – despite the law protecting the identities of victims of such crimes.
In its defence, The Sun claimed that the complainant’s status as a victim of sexual assault was already in the public domain, and had been since 1986 – which was before the 1992 Act (which protects victims’ identities) came into force.
The complainant, the article reported, had committed serious crimes himself.
But to identify an individual – whoever they are – as a victim of a sexual crime without their consent is an extremely serious intrusion.
Media coverage carries the potential to exacerbate the substantial trauma many victims experience, in the wake of a crime. In some cases, this can also impede recovery and discourage future disclosures.
IPSO fails again
Even IPSO found against the paper on this case. But only after a whole year considering the complaint.
No complainant should be forced to wait a year for a ruling, let alone in a case in which the facts were so clear. The newspaper didn’t even dispute that the complainant had been identified as a victim of assault.
After a year the effect of any remedy enforced by the complaints-handler is significantly diluted. Unfortunately, even in simple cases such as this one, that sort of timeframe is all too common with IPSO.