Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Victim blaming by legal professionals; why the English courtroom is unfit for women and children

This is an open letter to the Attorney General written by a supporter of our campaign. They will be sending a copy of this letter to the AG's office in one week. If you would like to sign your name to the letter, please write it in the comments under the post.

You can also send a copy to your MP via the Write to Them website.

Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP QC
Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
20 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0NF

 

Dear Mr Wright MP QC,

Victim blaming by legal professionals; why the English courtroom is unfit for women and children

In the wake of several high-profile cases, well-publicised in the national press, you will be aware of the deeply disturbing language and arguments employed by defence barristers, and even judges, in their treatment of female victims in cases of sexual harassment, assault and rape.

For your ease of reference, we draw your attention to recent examples including:

  • In March 2015, Michael Magarian QC suggested that the victims of the child sexual exploitation gang in Oxford had only come forward because: “It’s better to be a victim than a slag…once you are a victim who has been groomed you no longer have to take any responsibility for anything that you did.”
  • In January 2015, Judge Joanna Greenberg QC issued a non-custodial sentence to a teacher who was convicted of two counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust. During her summation, Greenberg stated of the victim, who was her abuser’s 16-year-old pupil: “If grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, [and] you gave in to temptation.”
  • In October 2013, during a public debate on the issue at the LSE, barrister Barbara Hewson suggested that some victims of rape have a “moral responsibility” for their attack. She went on to criticise the “ideology of sexual victimisation”.
  • In August 2013, the CPS was forced to suspend lawyer, Robert Colover, from sex offences cases after he told the court during the trial of a 41 year old accused of sexually abusing a 13 year old girl: “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.” The convicted abuser received an 8 month suspended sentence.

These cases represent a fraction of the occurrences of the denigration and blaming of victims of sexual assault and rape. In the worst cases, children, legally incapable of consenting to sex, are branded predatory, manipulative and highly sexualised. In others, women who have suffered unspeakable mental and physical damage, are forced to explain their behaviour leading up to, and beyond the point that a man chose to rape them.

We demand to know why.

Why do members of the legal profession, including those employed by the state, seek to shame, humiliate and degrade women and children by stating that in the eyes of the law, they should take a share of the blame for the decision taken by a man to abuse them?

Why do we not see members of the legal profession seek to shame a man for being drunk when he is the victim of a robbery?

Why are women and children violated once more by cross-examination that seeks to tell them, their abusers and the public that they have done something to deserve sexual violence?

Why, in the 21st Century do we have a two-tier courtroom culture that values women and children so poorly in comparison to men?

It would be unthinkable, and rightly so, to place any blame on any other group of people for the abuse they endure; whether based on race, sexuality or disability.

And yet, in courtrooms throughout the UK, women and children are forced to become de facto defendants when they have committed no crime.

We demand to know why.

Any barrister who is forced to fall back on the cheap, lazy and unworthy argument that the victims of sexual abuse must somehow be to blame; if that is how they defend the indefensible, then they have no business as guardians of the law.

Women’s confidence in the integrity of the legal system is crushed. We have been taught by our parents, teachers, magazines, newspapers and television dramas that we bring on our own demise when we have the temerity to behave as freely as men do.

The English courtrooms have enshrined this inequality into law.

We demand better. We demand that the CPS dismiss any legal professional that seeks to blame the victim of sexual assault and rape for her attack.

  1. Mandatory, specialist training for all judges and prosecutors who work on trials involving sexual violence. We would like to see juries receive similar training, as evidenced by the JURIES campaign.
  2. A ban on the use of rape myths and inappropriate and misleading language by defence attorneys (i.e. referring to victims as slags).
  3. A move to an inquisitorial system rather than an adversarial system when dealing with crimes of sexual violence.

For those living with the damage done, firstly by the assault itself, and then by their humiliation in court, they face a tireless battle to rebuild their dignity, self-belief and trust.

You have the power to ensure that no victim of sexual assault faces a second violation by the court.

The only thing that causes rape is a rapist.

Yours sincerely,

 

 

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