It’s shameful that victims feel demeaned and degraded instead of seeing justice delivered
“You’re safer staying in that abusive relationship than you are trying to get out. The aftermath is 100 per cent worse.” Harrowing words that you’d never think a survivor of attempted murder, rape and domestic abuse would utter. But that’s the harsh reality Rachel (pseudonym) and many other survivors face because of the ugly truth behind our broken criminal justice system.
We are eight days into the UN’s 16 days of action – a global campaign to tackle violence against women and girls – and we are yet to hear a single measure from this Conservative government on how it intends to restore victims’ faith in the justice system. If we are to make any meaningful attempts to eradicate gender-based violence, then we cannot continue with a system that is indifferent to victims’ suffering – the very people it was set up to protect.
Instead, we have a system that discredits and destroys, treating victims like criminals despite having their own bodies used against them. A system that is so traumatising and lengthy that they question whether to seek justice at all. A system that is ultimately letting victims down and letting criminals off the hook.
I’ve met with many survivors as shadow minister for victims and youth justice. I’ve listened to their trauma and experiences within the justice system – all are unanimous in their calls for change. But Rachel’s experience will stay with me.
Blocked from contacting her family. Cross-examined. Stripped of her clothes and dignity when escorted by police through Tesco’s in a hospital gown to buy clothes just hours after such a horrific experience. It’s no wonder less than half of victims would report to the police again.
“They didn’t treat me as a human being”, she said. What would follow would be sixteen years of a living nightmare.
We have a system that discredits and destroys, treating victims like criminals despite having their own bodies used against them
Feeling stuck on the outside looking in, Rachel felt she had no control over what was happening to her life. Court delays, unaware of her rights with little communication and no support for two years. The flashbacks are such that she has tried to take her own life many times.
Sadly, Rachel isn’t alone. Her experiences are echoed by many. Just 19 per cent of victims believe judges take account of the impact of crimes on them and just 18 per cent believe they’re given enough support.
The father of a girl who was sexually assaulted at just 10 years old described to me the “indifference” of the system after they fought to overturn a CPS decision not to prosecute, waited more than two years for a court date only for it to be cancelled on the morning without explanation. He told me this, “sends a very bad signal about how victims like our daughter are treated by the justice system. We can see why women and girls give up, the process is flawed.”
He’s not wrong. Crown Court backlogs are in excess of 60,000. The number of rape and sexual assault victims waiting for a court date has risen by 435 per cent and 43 per cent of rape victims drop out altogether.
It’s shameful that victims feel demeaned and degraded rather than see justice delivered under the Tories. Eight days into the 16 days action, there’s little hope we’ll see action from this Conservative government.
Labour has a ready-made Bill to end violence against women and girls, clear the backlog through an increase in nightingale courts and fast-track rape and sexual violence cases. Our Victims’ Bill would also improve rights, strengthen protections and accountability, improve communications and ensure victims are no longer treated as an afterthought.
In these final days of action, the UK government has a real opportunity to match words with deeds on violence against women and fulfil its commitment to put victims at the very heart of our criminal justice system.
It just requires political will.
Anna McMorrin MP is the Shadow Minister for Victims and Youth Justice and Member of Parliament for Cardiff North.
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