94% of sexual crimes go unreported in New Zealand. Knowing that so few sexual crimes are reported is absolutely horrific and tells it’s own story of how badly victims are treated when this is the case. It simply cannot be allowed to go on like this. It is criminal in its own right! We need to stop focusing on the rights of offenders and start focusing, listening and caring for the innocent victims of these life-altering crimes.
Many victims will not report the sexual crimes they have suffered due to overwhelming fear. The fear of not being believed. The fear of retribution especially if the offender is a family member. The fear of the unknown. The fear of having to face their offender in a court room and the trauma this can cause each and every victim.
Any additional support, guidance and information offered to a victim once they have reported their sexual assault must start when each victim walks into the Police Station. This would be of lasting benefit to every victim. For a victim facing their offender, going over the crime(s) committed against them takes an incredible amount of strength and courage, something we believe our Justice system does not understand, nor does it acknowledge. We have seen, for many victims, going to court has been just as horrific, if not worse than the actual sexual violence they had to endure.
Victims need to be given the opportunity to meet and discuss with their Crown Prosecutor or a legal representative about their pending trial. Victims must be given the right to be and feel informed and prepared (as best they can be) for what they are about to face after their offender is arrested.
Victims need to be updated on a regular basis. All legal information needs to be explained to the victim as it is an extremely confusing and difficult time. Even the language that is spoken in the court can cause the victim to feel extremely overwhelmed. Time must be allowed for additional questions to be answered or information provided if needed by the victim.
Victims need to be made aware of/given an explanation of the following wording:
- Pending trial and/or Judge alone or Jury trial
- Estimated time frames/reasons for delays
- Plea bargaining by the offender
- Explanation of all or possible criminal charges being laid against the accused
- Charges and/or separate counts of charges and how this impacts the offenders sentencing
- Sentence indications offered by the Judge to the accused
- Questions to be addressed in court by the Crown Prosecutor
- Not guilty or guilty verdicts and what happens if the offender is found not guilty
- Remand/custody or released until the trial or sentencing
- Sentencing: what type of sentence/years sentenced versus years incarcerated
- Options available for Victim Impact Statement (VIS) delivery
- Name suppression options
- Media reporting at the trial – explanation of what can be reported on and any special conditions set out by the Judge
- What to expect from the Defence team and how they will approach the victim
Victims must feel as safe as possible. From the time of an accused’s arrest, all measures being taken to ensure the victim’s safety must be explained to the victim:
- Protection/Trespass/Restraining orders
- What does it mean if an offender is on bail pre-trial and post-trial
- Interview options – courtroom versus video CCTV interviews
- Intimidation by the offender in the courtroom /security/screen options
- Separate secure room provided for the victim and their support
- Victims to have the opportunity to view the courtroom (as often as required) pre-trial and/or at sentencing
- The safety of the victim is paramount. The option of the victim having a court appointed security guard to be available if needed
- Court Victim Advisor (CVA) to be trained, empathic and have an educated understanding and awareness of a victim who has endured sexual violence
- If an accused is found not guilty, the victim’s safety must be considered and addressed immediately after trial i.e. Protection Orders, breach of Protection Orders/Restraining Orders
- Victims to have full access to counselling services especially pre-trial, during and after trial
Below are suggestions regarding our current legal/justice system. These suggestions are all based around the victims, and what we as Victim Advocates see as extremely important:
- Maximum penalties sought for sexual crimes
- The Crown openly addressing the delay tactics used by Defence lawyers
- Victims not to be treated like they are guilty when testifying at their own trial
- The accused’s past convictions/criminal behaviour to be addressed at trial
- Victims are questioned about their past, and so should the offenders. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour
- If the accused does not select trial by jury, the Police or Crown Prosecutor representing the victim, must have had legal training/experience in sexual criminal offending
- At sentencing the victim should be given the option of reading their VIS by video monitoring/CCTV delivery, if the victim does not want the additional trauma or stress of being in the courtroom after trial
- The Crown Prosecutor and Judge are to have more direct influence when the victim is being questioned by the Defence lawyer, requesting breaks on behalf of the victim when they are being subjected to unfair questioning/bullying/victim blaming/making the victim feel like they are on trial/unfair tactics. The Judge is able to remove any pre-conceived ideas around the shocking “myths” used by Defence lawyers to minimise the crime of rape and sexual violence.
- Any pre-recorded video interviews to be watched by the victim prior to the trial to prevent further stress to the victim at that time. This is extremely relevant if the pre-recorded interview was done many months, or years previous to the commencement of the trial
- More flexibility needed if the victim requests having a screen in the courtroom whilst explaining the offences endured. Intimidation by the accused should not to be tolerated
- Discounts are given to offenders for pleading guilty. If the accused goes to trial and is found guilty, we strongly believe NO discounts should be gifted to the offender. Discounts on sentencing after a guilty verdict, are unjust and unjust to the victim
- Name Suppression – victims input into this process should be considered for any victim that does not share the same name or any other identifying information to the offender
- If the accused pleads not guilty but is found guilty of the charges, the Victim Impact Statements (VIS) should be given to the Judge within a week of the guilty verdict, allowing more time for the Judge to read and understand the victim’s voice/views
Judges need to have every opportunity to intervene when the victim is being harassed or re-victimised by the Defence counsel. When sexual assault victims are questioned about the attack on them, it instantly takes them back to the most horrific time of their lives. Re-living a sexual assault is extremely difficult. Evidence is needed in a trial but there is a difference between questioning and excessive harassment.
Recording the Cross Examination will benefit both the victim and the court. If the jury need further confirmation of the victim’s testimony, the recorded information is available at request. If an appeal is approved, then the presiding Judge has the victim’s information available on request.
Our Justice System must change. If we want victims to come forward, we need to ensure they are treated far better than they are currently. They should be respected and tended with care and be at the centre of our Justice Systems, not become collateral damage because of a broken system. Our Justice System needs to become consistent, and begin to respectfully include Victims in a safe and protective environment. We believe our Justice System must change. Our victims must come first.
– Karrin Coates
Waikato Victim Advisor of SSGT
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