Rape victim backs calls for 'soul-destroying' sexual offence trials to be reformed

ITV News reporter Katharine Walker has been investigating calls to reform 'traumatising' rape trials in England and Wales.

A woman who was raped by a man from Sussex is backing calls to reform sexual offence trials, after describing her experience in court as "soul destroying".

The latest figures from the crime survey of England and Wales found that about 1 in 6 adults over the age of 16 have been the victim of a sex crime or attempted sex crime.

In potentially landmark reforms, published on Tuesday, the Law Commission said that more needs to be done to treat alleged victims “humanely” and minimise "unnecessary trauma."

Among the ideas from the commission, which advises the government on law reform in England and Wales, is for lawyers and juries to get special training to stop victim blaming.

It also considers whether the government should create specialist courts to deal with sexual offences, or if juries should be scrapped altogether in these trials.

The government-sponsored consultation paper, which is now open for public feedback, sets out the suggestions as part of a series of proposals to improve the rape conviction rates and stop victims dropping out of cases.

  • A woman who was raped told ITV News reporter Katharine Walker that her trial was "soul destroying."

Claire, who's name we've changed to protect her identity, says the reform is needed to better support victims of sexual violence.

She waited years to go to court and get justice after being repeatedly raped.

Her attacker was eventually jailed in March, but she says her treatment during the trial itself pushed her to breaking point. 

In an exclusive interview, she told ITV News: “It had a drastic impact on my mental health. It’s soul destroying.

"You're in a terrifying situation and atmosphere where somebody is basically shouting at you and you’re being called a liar over and over again.

"It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve been through in my life."

She added: “I was told it would be my time in court, it would be my time to say my story. But the whole process is traumatic.”

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said: “We welcome the Law Commission’s recommendations.

"Victims and survivors should be treated with dignity and respect throughout the criminal justice process. However the reality of their experiences is a world away from this.

"Rather than delivering justice and support, survivors and advocates have long said that the criminal justice system is a site of harm, which re-traumatises victims and reinforces victim blaming at every turn.

"These recommendations are a hugely important step in transforming this and building a fairer and more equal society."

  • Professor Penney Lewis, Criminal Law Commissioner says "we want to improve the trial process."

What does the Law Commission want to see?

The report into sexual offences trials sets out a number of moves to minimise trauma and combat so-called 'rape myths'.

Professor Penney Lewis, Criminal Law Commissioner, said: "The way that the criminal justice system handles rape and serious sexual offences can often cause distress and trauma.

“Our proposals are therefore aimed at improving the way that evidence is used in sexual offences prosecutions to do justice to complainants and defendants – fairly, compassionately, and with a better understanding of consent and sexual harm.”

Proposals set out by the Law Commission in its consultation paper include:

  • A bespoke regime for the access, disclosure and use of personal records, including counselling notes.

  • Automatic entitlement to special measures to minimise trauma when giving evidence, eg.: behind a screen, over live link, or in private (with an exemption that allows press attendance).

  • Independent legal advice and representation for complainants.

  • The paper also considers the use of educational tools that could help minimise the impact of victim blaming on jury decision-making. These could include the use of expert evidence to explain the complex physical and psychological responses to sexual violence.

In a statement the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said: “Rape and sexual violence are horrific crimes that can impact victims for the rest of their lives.

"That’s why we asked the Law Commission to examine how evidence is used to ensure victims are treated fairly and without harmful misconceptions.

“While we have taken huge steps to bolster support for victims and adult rape prosecutions are on the rise, we know there is much more to do to ensure survivors see justice done.

"Our justice system must always remain fair and robust, so that when perpetrators are put behind bars they stay there. We will respond to Law Commission’s proposals in due course.”

A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesperson added: “The Crown Prosecution Service has engaged with the Law Commission from an early stage to inform its review into the rules governing sexual offences trials.

“Changes to legislation are a matter for the government and the CPS prosecutes according to the laws in place.”

The Law Commission consultation runs until September 29.

If you, or someone you know, has been a victim of rape of sexual violence, there is support out there to help.

  • Safeline Safeline is a specialist charity that works to prevent sexual violence and abuse and support those affected to cope and recover.National Male Survivor Helpline: 0808 800 5005 | Office: 01926 402 498

  • Rape Crisis (England and Wales) Rape Crisis provides specialist information and support to all those affected by rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and all other forms of sexual violence and abuse in England and Wales. Contact helpline: 0808 500 2222 (24/7)

  • The Survivors TrustThe Survivors Trust is the largest umbrella agency for specialist rape and sexual abuse services in the UKHelpline: 0808 801 0818 | Text: 07860 022956

  • Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Survivors UK has support for any man, boy or non-binary person who has ever experienced unwanted sexual activity. Visit the website to chat through webchat, or by texting 020 3322 1860

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