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Better court protections for sex abuse survivors?

Better court protections for sex abuse survivors?

Friday 06 October 2017

Better court protections for sex abuse survivors?


Two survivors of rape and sexual assault were shielded from the gaze of their abuser and members of the public as they gave their evidence in a court trial this summer in a move that could pave the way for better protections for victims of sexual offences in Jersey.

Screens are already habitually erected around complainants in trials relating to sex crimes to block sight of the defendant so that they feel safe and comfortable enough to give evidence, but a case against ‘W’ saw what is believed to be the first instance of an alleged victim being completely covered from view of the jury, media and public on the island.

One of the complainants who was due to be grilled on the 13 charges against the defendant made the application to be completely hidden, writing: “I know there are going to be a lot of family members in court. I know they know who I am but I don’t want them to be able to see me whilst I am giving evidence.  I don’t want them staring at me; watching me as it will distract me. I will feel they are judging me and it will make me feel uncomfortable to talk about what happened to me.”  

Royal court

Pictured: The victims were completely covered by screens when they gave their evidence in a Royal Court trial over the summer.

While noting it as “unusual” for the court, sitting judge Deputy Bailiff Tim Le Cocq QC granted the request. He reasoned that it would reduce upset to the alleged victims without obstructing the right to a fair trial.

The move could set a precedent for better support for those giving evidence of a sensitive nature or even scrapping the need for victims to face live cross-examination in court in the footsteps of the UK, where pre-recorded video evidence is being rolled out as an option for victims in England and Wales following a successful pilot scheme in child sexual abuse cases.

They hope that this will help remove some of the fear around giving evidence, and encourage more people to come forward if they have been subject to sexual assault or rape, which is often underreported.

Sara McIntosh, Chairperson of Jersey Action Against Rape (JAAR), said that the support charity would welcome the use of courtroom screens to fully block testifying victims from view, and that it seemed “logical” given survivors' existing right to lifelong anonymity.

Child abuse worry concern

Pictured: Giving evidence in court can be so harrowing for some survivors of sexual abuse that it is often called the "second rape", JAAR's Chairperson explained.

She told Express: “Giving evidence in a rape/sexual assault trial as the survivor is deeply traumatic. It is often referred to as the second rape, such is the trauma experienced by the victim.

“To encourage more survivors to come forward and report rape, we need to create a far less intimidating environment for them. Everything must be done to ensure the complainant is able to give the best possible evidence.” 

But she added that the JAAR would suggest going even further: “Screening is a good start, but we would really like to see Jersey move in the same direction as the UK where survivors are able to give evidence in pre-recorded cross-examinations to be played to the jury once the trial has started.”

While there are no moves to do this in Jersey just yet, complainants are offered pre-trial support in the form of the newly-opened Dewberry House, home to the island’s first Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).

SARC_dewberry_house.jpg

Pictured: The new SARC, Dewberry House, offers 24-hour support to those who have suffered rape or sexual assault.

Speaking at the time of opening, SARC coordinator Laura Osmand, explained: “[Dewberry House staff] are here to provide the clients with emotional practical support and that may be through the criminal justice process. If the case is charged and appearing in court, the advisor will provide support along the way, assessing the victim's needs and making sure they are still comfortable with that process, because naturally it is quite a daunting prospect.

“They are able to liaise on behalf of the victim to the police or the witness care unit, to ensure that when they go to court they feel more in control, so they are able ultimately to give their best evidence. It is an essential role as ISVAs can be engaged with somebody for quite a long period of time. The court cases do take time form initial charge to criminal trial but we will walk alongside that victim the entire way.”

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