It’s always high drama. It’s somebody’s life at stake’: inside British rape trials
... Woodhouse is one of 12 volunteers working as observers on rape trials at Newcastle crown court. Nine women and three men, they are social workers, nurses, academics and counsellors, some retired, some not. Since January 2015, they have sat on 30 trials and made a string of recommendations: that barristers meet their clients before a trial (this is rare); that complainants are better informed about the ways they can give evidence (behind screens, by video link, even off-site); that prosecutors attend specialist training. Their reports are shared with the senior judge, and there is much the observers have praised (judges who universally gave “myth-busting” directives to the jury at the outset of a trial), and some things they have not (a complainant asked by the defence if she was a “bunny-boiler”; a jury shown topless pictures another complainant posted on social media).
The scheme is the only one in the country, and was launched by Northumbria’s crime commissioner Vera Baird, who sits alongside Woodhouse today – a rare visit that doesn’t go unnoticed by the judge. At the break for lunch a clerk summons her to his office, and Baird shrugs and gets up to go. At 66, she has the loping long-legged walk of a teenage boy, six feet tall in a burgundy trouser suit and brogues, cropped red hair sticking up on her head. A former Labour MP and solicitor general, Baird has represented victims of domestic violence as well as miners during the 80s strikes. After footballer Ched Evans’ retrial last year, at which he was acquitted of rape, Baird was publicly critical of the decision to allow evidence from two men about the complainant’s sexual history. ...
This article by Melissa Denes was first published in the Guardian on 11/2/17. You can find the full text here.
Inspired by our participation with the Write to End Violence Against Women awards organised by Zero Tolerance, we are now collecting examples of good journalism about domestic and sexual violence and abuse to make it clear that it is possible to write about DSVA without resorting to myths, misrepresentations, minimisation and victim blaming.Download this post as PDF? Click here