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Civil justice option for survivors

Highlighted in the media today is a forthcoming landmark civil case brought by a woman from St Andrews following a not proven verdict in the case against the man accused of raping her.

Following the successful civil case for damages pursued last year by Denise Clair against David Goodwillie and David Robertson, Rape Crisis Scotland has seen increasing numbers of survivors in touch with us who say they are considering civil action as an option for them following the absence of any criminal prosecution, or one that has resulted in a not guilty or not proven verdict.

There are many reasons for this, but far and away the most powerful, survivors tell us, is their need to be heard, and to be believed. Most rapes reported to the police never make it as far as court. In 2015-16, the last year figures are available for, there were 1809 rapes and attempted rapes reported, but only 216 prosecutions, and 104 convictions. While there is no doubt (as can be seen from Ms Clair’s experience and the comments she expressed afterwards) that civil justice does have something to offer, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the reason people are turning to the civil justice system is because they feel let down by the criminal justice process.

As more rape survivors turn to the civil justice system, there are issues which require to be addressed. There is currently no guarantee, for example, of anonymity for survivors who pursue a civil case. Rape Crisis Scotland submitted written evidence to the Scottish Government’s Justice Committee in which we call for increased protections within the civil system. The first civil damages case for rape taken forward by the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre (and the second only, after Ms Clair’s case last year, since 1926) will shortly be heard in Edinburgh. Coming to terms with a lack of justice following a rape can be extremely hard, and we anticipate seeing more such cases being heard in the civil justice system as rape survivors seek some form of justice for what they have been through.

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