Victim-survivors of rape don’t feel justice has been met, even if the accused goes to prison
The Scottish criminal justice process leaves those who have reported a rape or serious sexual assault feeling marginalized and with little control regardless of their case’s outcome, a new study has found.
Researchers from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow interviewed victim-survivors who have navigated their way through the system to try and understand their “justice journey.”
While some positive experiences were identified, such as support provided through advocacy services and sensitivity shown by some specialist criminal justice professionals, victim-survivors also highlighted the lengthy duration of the process, administrative errors and poor communication from the police and courts. Other issues such the physical environments in which statements are given, the removal and non-return of personal possessions for evidential purposes, and in particular, being subjected to distressing questioning at trial, were also raised as significant points of concern.
Most notably none of the 17 victim-survivors, including those whose cases had resulted in a guilty verdict, believed that justice has been achieved.
The cumulative impacts of their experience of sexual violence and going through the criminal justice process led to victim survivors feeling their relationships with family had become strained, their health had deteriorated, including suffering night terrors, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
Beth said: “…it was three years of re-traumatization.” Helen felt it had “totally destroyed everything,” while Lottie said she “didn’t know how to live for 18 months.”
Overall, the findings suggest there is a considerable gap between how victim-survivors anticipate their case will be treated and the reality of the criminal justice process. Victim-survivors felt that the criminal justice system is weighted in favor of the accused and that it does not adequately represent their interests.
Dr. Oona Brooks-Hay who co-authored the report with Prof Michele Burman and Dr. Lisa Bradley, said she hoped the research findings would push for real change across the criminal justice system to address the significant concerns raised around how victim-survivors are informed, supported and represented.
Dr. Brooks-Hay said: “There is a pressing need to look at how the criminal justice process can be reformed to meet the needs of victim-survivors who have had the courage to engage with the system.