Unjust Justice: Why anonymity for rapists is wrong
Like many people, I was brought up to know right from wrong, to have a respect for the law and to understand that we are protected by a legal system which is balanced and fair. Of course over the years, I have made my own judgements about our legal system, some positive some critical, but non-the less, still upheld that a person has a right to remain innocent until proven guilty and that the 'truth will out'. Recent discussions regarding extending anonymity to perpetrators has stirred up lots of emotive responses as 15 months ago, I was to be involved as a witness in a Crown Court case which would rock to my core my understanding of our justice system.
Many years ago a male who was known to me sexually attacked me. I never reported this crime to the police at the time due to fear, severe anxiety and a need to cope with the situation without going through the trauma of an official investigation. I did however report this to my GP who over the years gave tremendous support, always encouraging me to go to the police. I also confided in a family friend whom I trusted and happened to be a professional working within the area of sexual crimes. These two professional people gave me the opportunity and guidance to be able to access certain services such as counselling, therapy and prescription intervention. This intervention did not remove the trauma but helped with suicidal thoughts and deep, desperate depression.
Years passed and I became quite used to having to deal with the constant pressure of having to hear my attackers name and sometimes having to be in the presence of him. I almost took on a martyr role in the sense that due to the family connections, I wanted to protect other members of my family from this awful crime and to be truthful, knew in my heart that ‘it’ would crucify our family unit if ‘it’, the ‘secret’ would ever be told. I never, ever had a sense that I wouldn't be believed but knew I could never take the words away if I told them that, "...has sexually attacked me". I had decided that ‘one-day', I would speak out but for now, I was still petrified.
I have always been a tower of strength when needing to stand up for somebody or a principal and if you knew me, you would say that I am about fairness and equality. When it comes to defending myself however, I lack considerably in that type of fight. Fast-forward to 2009 and following a succession of events within my family, I believed that another person was at risk (if not already) of this male causing them serious harm. I had tried to warn of this potential risk but as this fell on deaf ears, felt there was no choice but to formally report the crimes against me in the hope that it would ultimately protect others.
It took nearly 4 years for the case to come to trial and within that time, the wait was excruciating. The flashbacks, the palpitations, the nightmares, the sweats, the fear, the stress, the rage, the tears, the arguments, the tension, the isolation, the questioning about will the pain of this violation ever end? The fear was at its peak for me and my nearest and in a horrendous twist of fate, the first day of the trial was set on my child's birthday. The case lasted 8 days and there were 2 main witnesses making claims against my perpetrator. My GP from years earlier and the family friend had agreed to take the stand. We had a strong case; solid witnesses, detailed evidence and a certainty on my behalf that once in that courtroom, the truth would shine out of my face. I had an element of confidence but importantly, called on that basic belief in our justice system to find the truth.
The trial was worse than I ever could have anticipated, nasty cross-examining, having to re-live certain incidents and causing at one point during my testimony, my legs to buckle and a howl from deep within requiring the judge to clear the courtroom. I don't remember much of this but had a friend sit within the trial so she was able to verify this point in the proceedings. I was allowed to give my evidence and be questioned from behind a screen but essentially I knew that my attacker was yards away from me, adding to the intensity of taking the stand. I wondered at one point if I needed to remind the court that I am the victim as I was definitely made to feel that I was not telling the truth; that I was the criminal.
I don't even have to tell you that the person was found 'not guilty'. I didn't even go into the courtroom to hear the verdict, as I just knew. In fact, I knew the moment that I met with the Prosecutor that we would not see my attacker sentenced, as nobody seemed to care. The casual attitude from the Prosecutor made be reiterate to him that he had to fight for me as this was my life and the man responsible for taking away my freedom needed to be accountable for his actions. I wonder every day do the jury, the judge, the defence and the prosecutor ever spare me a thought and the added distress they have brought to my door by not convicting my attacker. I wish just 10 minutes of their time to tell them how they have helped in endorsing the belief that sexual violence is not important in our legal system.
The one positive is that I had been granted anonymity for life due to the detail of the case. If however my perpetrator was also granted anonymity, I could guarantee that the repercussions of the trail and the aftermath would be much worse than they already are. I reported this beast, as I truly believed somebody else was at risk. If anonymity were granted for both parties as a matter of course, nobody would ever know to be weary of my attacker. The suggestion that people make up these stories as some form of revenge or malice against another is simply ludicrous. Nobody in his or her right mind would make such claims and undergo such a gruelling legal process and trail. It’s horrendous.
So now over a year later, I still wake up screaming out loud not so much anymore due to the actual attack but as a result of the trial and the verdict. I cry daily at not only the loss of my life and family but at the mountain that is perpetually in my way of feeling free from this pain. I have been completely let down by the whole system and worse of all, I have since learnt that I am not alone as this is such a common theme; sexual predators getting away with severe violation of another human being. The day I gave my evidence, I walked out of the court and since then, not one person has ever contacted me to follow-up or even to check that I was ok. The available support for victims who are left to deal with a ‘not guilty’ verdict is completely unacceptable and must change. We are told to encourage people who suffer sexual violence ‘to tell’ but following my experience, I’m not sure if I would recommend such a path. I don’t want my life defined by this outrageous situation but for now, unfortunately it is.
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