Women, rape and the criminal justice system - Recommendations
This research concentrates on the experiences and needs of women who have been raped, as that is where the bulk of Victim Support's experience lies. Both men and women can become the victims of sexual assault and rape. However, we cannot presume that all the findings of this research will be equally applicable to male victims. Therefore the following recommendations are directed towards the treatment of women who report rape.
- Every woman who reports a rape to the police should be kept informed of all the developments relating to her case. One officer, who has received specialist training, should be assigned for this purpose. We know this is not happening in all cases at present.
- Every woman should have the opportunity to be examined by a female doctor, who has received specialist training for this role. This should take place without delay. Efforts should be made to improve the recruitment of female doctors, where this is a problem.
- Every woman who has been raped should have ready access to specially prepared facilities for the medical examination. It is not acceptable for women to have to undergo such examinations in cold and uncomfortable conditions, ot to have to travel long distances to a dedicated examination suite.
- Procedures for identity parades should not be intimidating for women who have been raped or sexually assaulted and their identity should be protected where it was previously unknown to the accused - for example, by the use of one-way glass.
- Ways must be found to enable victims of rape or sexual assault to be informed as soon as the suspect is bailed and about any conditions which involve or affect them.
- Women who have been raped or sexually assaulted must be given the opportunity to tell the police about any ongoing fears for their own safety. The police and courts should take this information into account when bail is being considered and when deciding whether action should be taken to prevent further victimisation or intimidation by the suspect or his associates.
- Victims of rape and sexual assault must be provided with any additional protection necessary to protect them from further victimisation or intimidation from the suspect or his associates.
- Delays and adjournments in proceedings cause enormous distress and prolong the effects of the crime. Rape and sexual assault cases should be fast-tracked and delays and adjournments kept to a minimum.
- Prosecuting counsel are now permitted to introduce themselves to witnesses. We welcome this, but would like to see it done as a matter of course.
- Screens and closed-circuit television (CCTV) should be available and considered for all women complainants in sexuall assault cases, when giving evidence in court.
- Cross-examination of rape and sexual assault complainants must be strictly regulated so as to minimise the trauma of giving evidence. It is unacceptable for any woman to be left feeling as if she has "been raped again" by lengthy, confusing, embarrassing or intimidating questioning by counsel or defendants.
- The current system for informing victims of sexual violence about appeals against conviction of sentence is not working effectively. Appeal must be added to the list of developments about which, under the Victim's charter, victims have the right to choose to be informed automatically.
- The law and court procedures relating to rape and sexual assault must be looked at with a view to improving the experience of, and conferring greater dignity and respect to, women reporting rape and sexual assault. Legislation designed to regulate questions and inferences about the complainant's previous sexual history must be monitored, and attention must also be paid to: the use of past medical history as evidence; and the effect of pleas being changed belatedly, charges being reduced or adjournments being called. Clearing the court of the public and the press during rape and sexual assault trials, as well as the conduct of cross-examination, should also be considered.
- Implementation of recent legislation (Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996) and Bar Council Code of conduct amendments must be monitored to ensure that they do in fact prevent women from suffering the effects of inaccurate or misleading mitigation.
- The criminal injuries compensation scheme awards for adults and children who have been raped or sexually assaulted are very low in comparison with awards for other injuries. The awards should be increased to take full account of the emotional, as well as the physical, damage of sexual violence.
- All those who have contact with women who have been raped or sexually assaulted, including the police, solicitors, barristers, judges, doctors, probation officers, and Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) staff and panel members, should receive training in the effects of sexual violence and in victim awareness and sensitivity. Victim Support is available to advise and assist with all such training.
- Recognition should be given to the additional distress which may be caused to victims who are cross-examined directly by the defendant. Measures to provide additional protection to vulnerable witnesses, including the possible extension of the provisions which are currently available to child witnesses, should be given urgent consideration. eg the use of screens and CCTV when giving evidence.