||Issue No. 219||07 May 2004|
The Mouse That Roars
Interview: Machine Man
Unions: Testing Times
Bad Boss: Freespirit Haunts Internet
Unions: Badge of Honour
National Focus: Noel's World
Economics: Safe Refuge
International: Global Abuse
History: The Honeypot
Review: Death And The Barbarians
Poetry: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Justice For Victims Denied
Letters to the Editor
Justice For Victims Denied
The decision by the DPP and Police not to take further action in relation to allegations of sexual assault by a Coffs Harbour woman is a part of a much bigger picture in which justice for sexual assault victims is denied.
Firstly to put the decision in perspective the DPP and Police said that they did not have enough evidence to lay charges, not that the event did not occur. There is a clear distinction between these two statements. The statements by the Football Club that this decision vindicates the players is incorrect and shows a lack of contrition on their behalf.
In general, sexual assault victims who seek justice battle against an antiquated and misogynist system. In NSW it is estimated that only 20% of sexual assaults are reported. Of the thousands of reports annually, only hundreds result in conviction. In making a complaint to Police the victim will undergo an invasive forensic examination and then, over hours or days, make a statement which must include every detail of her ordeal in consequential order. Police will then investigate, often coming back to the complainant, over a period of time, requesting further and clarifying information. If, in this process, the women provides uncorroborated evidence or any conflicting information, regardless of how minor, this may then be used in Court to 'prove' the complainant is lying or at least unreliable. On this basis Police or the DPP may decide not to pursue the matter. This legal assumption, in which Police and the DPP must work, completely ignores the normal human response to trauma which victims of sexual assault experience. Trauma symptoms include inability to maintain a train of thought for any sustained period, difficulty speaking coherently and memory blackspots. As the victim recovers, coherence and memory improve. Over time clarity and detail of events can lead to victims providing more information and changing parts of their statement t better reflect what has occurred. This is not and indication of lying. This is a normal response to an abnormal and horrific event. One of the many women who contact NSW Rape Crisis Centre said that 'one morning, several days after 'it happened' she decided to go down the road for a paper. She got up and went to her wardrobe. One hour later she was still standing in front of her wardrobe. She could not figure out that she needed to put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt'.
If a victim's complaint makes it to the Court, usually about two years after the event, she must then face cross examination. The Judge does have the ability to order a closed Court while the victim gives evidence, but this does not always occur. Cross examination can last for days. The victim will be asked to go over her version of events repeatedly. Her actions will be questioned, she will be accused of lying or being compliant in the assaults, of fabricating her story and of having ulterior motives for making her complaint. Her actions, dress, reasons for being where she was immediately prior to the assault and her sexual or other history with the perpetrator will be put under a microscope. The defence lawyers will try to show that the victim somehow consented or orchestrated the event or that the event did not even occur. All attempts will be made to discredit, intimidate and harass the victim and if at any time she becomes confused, defensive or upset this will be used to 'prove' that she is lying or unreliable. All of this is done with the perpetrator sitting only a few metres away. If a guilty verdict is returned the victim may then need to repeat the process in the Appeals Court, probably in two years time. If there is more than one perpetrator multiply this process by their number. From any measure it is obvious that this system is highly weighted towards protecting perpetrators and punishing women for daring to speak out. It also explains why those who have witnessed this process refer to victims as heroines.
Our legal system is based on an understanding of sexual assault that is hundreds of years old. Sexual assault is still the only crime where the victim has to prove her innocence. While there have been some changes, there continues to be basic problems which mean that in the majority of cases perpetrators are not held accountable for their crimes. Sexual assault by its very nature is a crime that is premeditated, calculated and committed in secret. The aim is to humiliate, terrorise and threaten the victim. The perpetrator will often make direct statements throughout the event that leaves the victim feeling responsible for the perpetrator's actions. The legal requirements of proof ignore the basic nature of sexual assault and in fact support the victim blaming process.
Many of the myths in relation to sexual assault are imbeded in the law. That women lie about sexual assault to get back at the perpetrator, that yes today means yes tomorrow, that yes to one means yes to his mates, that being drunk or at a certain place means that a woman can be treated in any way others see fit, that sexual assault is about uncontrolled lust when in fact it is about domination, power and control and of course the current one, that women happily have repeated sex with any number of men over a short period and that while that is occurring they also 'consent' to having no say or control over what happens or how they are treated. One caller to NSW Rape Crisis said 'I had meet him at a friend's house. He invited me out for a drink the next night. He was really nice and I liked him so I went. After a few drinks he said a few friends were meeting at his place for his flat mates birthday and would I like to come? It was about 7 in the evening and he made it sound like fun. I got into his car and he drove to a nice house in a well to do suburb. When I walked in the door I was grabbed and dragged into the bedroom. I screamed at him to help me. He just laughed. I went to the Police. The perpetrators made up lots of lies about me and said I not only consented but that I encouraged them. It was my word against theirs. How could anyone think that I wanted or enjoyed having sex with five men in a row?'
While what has happened in Coffs Harbour is very distressing for the young woman, it is hoped that this will be a catalyst for change in the way the community views and responds to this very serious and violent crime. We can not pretend this did not happen. It is also hoped that it will lead to an extensive review of the way the Justice system investigates and views sexual assault.
We uphold and honour the bravery and courage of victims who have come forward. It's vital that current community support for victims continues to build on all levels so that victims will continue to seek justice and that justice will be done.
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