Rape survivors 'treated as an afterthought' by justice system

Women who have faced their abusers in court have spoken about their experiences at the Criminal Justice Committee.

Rape survivors have told how they were treated as an “afterthought” by the criminal justice system, which left them feeling like an “outsider” or just “a bit of evidence”.

With Holyrood considering major changes to the legal process, including scrapping the not proven verdict, women who have faced their abusers in court spoke about their experiences to the Criminal Justice Committee.

Convener Audrey Nicoll said it is “very important to hear the views of survivors of sexual crimes who have personal experience of the criminal justice system”.

While the women voiced concerns about some of the reforms planned – such as a pilot of judge-only trials for cases of rape and attempted rape, and reducing the number of people who sit on a jury – they spoke about the need for more support to be given to complainers in such cases.

Hannah Stakes recalled how a not proven verdict was returned against the man accused of raping her, “despite a massive amount of evidence, including DNA”.

But she said: “After three years, at the end of that trial I was just left. I saw the not proven verdict go through and then I walked out the court room and that was it.

“There was no reason for the decision, no follow up contact, it was just the system has failed you and off you go.”

Ellie Wilson, who saw her rapist convicted, complained: “We are treated like outsiders throughout the whole process.”

She said the whole justice system needs to be “survivor-centric”, adding that at the moment “it is as if victims are an afterthought”.

Speaking about how the defence lawyer in her attacker’s trial made her feel, she said: “I felt humiliated, I felt abused, I felt like I was treated like a criminal.”

Hannah McLaughlan has spoken out about the need for change in the justice system along with other women who were attacked by the same serial rapist.

Ms McLaughlan told MSPs she felt “treated as a bit of evidence” during the court process – which resulted in Logan Doig being jailed for nine-and-a-half years.

She said: “I would say to people, I have endured trauma from my abuser but also from the system that is supposed to provide me with justice, and that is not acceptable and needs to change.

“When you are on the witness stand you should not be made to feel embarrassed, humiliated or undermined by someone.

“You are made to feel as if you are a bit of evidence that just gets put on a shelf and is brought out when you are needed and you are just disregarded afterwards.”

She added complainers can be left feeling like they are “a miniscule part” of the justice process, saying: “It is your whole life, the lead up to it is all you are thinking about, but you are made to feel so small, such a small part of the process.”

Jennifer McCann, who was also attacked by Doig, said: “As it stands the criminal justice system is built on a game of chance, from who you report to, right through to your case preparer, your fiscal, to your advocate, to your judge to your jury.

“It’s a postcode lottery with a severe lack of consistency regarding procedures, support and trauma informed practice, and that’s what needs to change.”

They spoke about their experiences to MSPs scrutinising the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The Bill seeks to reduce the number of people needed to sit on a jury from the current 15 to 12, of which a minimum of eight would be required to find a person guilty before they can be convicted.

Ms Wilson said she believes reducing the number of jurors could be “extremely detrimental for conviction rates”.

She said: “In my case I had a taped confession of my rapist confessing to raping me, and I still didn’t get a unanimous verdict, I got a verdict by majority.”

Other witnesses raised concerns about the plans to introduce judge-only trials for those accused of rape and attempted rape.

Sarah Ashby said: “I don’t think having a single judge is in my personal opinion the way to go. I feel like there should be a jury. Whether it needs to be on the scale and size it is now I’m not sure.

“Personally if I was to go through this again, I would feel more comforted by having a jury than it being a single person making that decision about my life.”

Ms Wilson meanwhile suggested the Bill should be changed to give abuse survivors a legal right to psychological support, telling MSPs: “Surely we could ringfence some funding for victims of the most serious crimes, who have actually taken that step to pursue justice, to actually provide some form of support for them, and I think that should be enshrined as a right in law.”

All the women have waived their right to anonymity.

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