Survivors of rape need and deserve many things in the aftermath of this uniquely devastating crime, and the chance to receive justice for what happened is certainly one of them.
What they do not need is for the devastation they have already experienced to be compounded by the very system which is supposed to protect them.
What the rape complainer’s search for justice means in reality can be a very different to what many survivors (and the wider public) envisage – as they find to their cost when they embark on what can be a lengthy and sometimes tortuous process – only to receive nothing that resembles justice at the end of it. The route to justice for rape is punctuated by many barriers, and the impact of these, whether singly or cumulatively, in addition to the ongoing impact of the crime itself, means that many complainers feel that they cannot continue with a case, and need – either for their health, through fear of the process itself – or for many other good and valid reasons – that they simply cannot go on, and would rather put the search for justice aside in favour of their mental health, or simply because the pain the process itself can [Image © Laura Dodsworth] cause is simply not worth the odds of a guilty verdict, which, according to the latest available statistics, are low – and falling.
It’s twenty years since I first supported a woman to give evidence in a rape trial.
At the time, I was shocked at what she had to go through, particularly during the cross examination by the defence. It wasn’t only the content or duration of the questioning from the defence, but the manner in which he spoke to her. This was a woman who I knew was very anxious about giving evidence, but she was addressed in a manner I can only describe as mocking contempt. I found it distressing to watch, so you can imagine what it must have been like for that woman to go through.
This week saw the launch of a groundbreaking and vital new specialist health service in Glasgow for survivors of sexual violence.
The My Body Back project, which is based at the Sandyford Centre in Glasgow, is an excellent example of the way that when services are ‘trauma-informed’ [increasingly a focus for health and support services in Scotland, as well as for workplaces more generally and recognised through support from the Scottish Government] they can far more effectively meet the needs of survivors of sexual violence (as well as others who have undergone traumatic experiences) than many mainstream services do. My Body Back embodies within the services it offers the recognition that many survivors of sexual violence can for a number of reasons, face difficulties in accessing health services and screenings, because of what they have experienced.
Today in the Scottish Parliament a special event is being held to highlight the publication of a new NSPCC report which reveals a dearth of specialist services across the country for children who have experienced sexual violence.
The new report: ‘The Right to Recover’ covers the West of Scotland from the Western Isles down to Dumfries & Galloway, and the NSPPC has found that more than half of the 17 councils it looked at in West and Central Scotland have no specialist service for children of primary school age who need help, while 15 of the 17 have no service for children aged under five years.
The narrative of the case currently receiving widespread publicity, in which a woman is seeking a private prosecution for rape, is very familiar to us at Rape Crisis Scotland.
We frequently speak to rape survivors who feel very let down by the justice system, and who feel strongly the need to seek justice, no matter the cost to them personally. We are seeing increasing numbers of women considering other routes to justice, after failing to obtain this from the criminal justice system. In our experience, giving up on the notion of ever getting justice can be one of the most difficult things for rape survivors to come to terms with.