Study describes the difficult experience sexual crime complainants can have in court

Study describes the difficult experience sexual crime complainants can have in court

The research 'illustrates how difficult it is to be a complainant witness in a trial of sexual offences'. File picture

New research has described the difficult experience sexual crime complainants can have in court.

One in Four, which supports adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, spoke to 15 child sexual abuse survivors in-depth on their journey through the criminal justice system.

The study found that in five cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to proceed the case to trial and participants described how this made them feel as if their experience did not matter.

Of the cases that proceeded to trial, a guilty plea was entered in six cases and four jury trials resulted in a conviction. The research "illustrates how difficult it is to be a complainant witness in a trial of sexual offences".

The study found a common complaint was feeling on the periphery of the trial, “a cog in the wheel”.

Giving evidence was also extremely stressful, as was the close proximity of the accused person to the survivor in court, the study found.

Naomi Gould, advocacy case manager for One In Four, said of the 10 cases that went to court, participants "presented a picture of feeling quite intimidated in the courtroom, particularly with the layout".

One person, in particular, spoke about the gender imbalance in the courtroom, that, you know, there was lots of powerful men. This participant was a young female.

Ms Gould added on RTÉ's Morning Ireland: "Another participant spoke about a courtroom outside of Dublin, so in a more rural location, and it feels very closed."

She said more consistency or "franchisation" is needed in the victim and witness areas that are more common in Dublin courtrooms.

The study found 46% of the participants had been abused in their own family and 33% of the participants had been abused by more than one perpetrator.

'Unique perspective'

Ms Gould said the focus of the study was to give victims and survivors a platform to speak about their experience of the system and to have their insights shared.

"It's quite a unique perspective that often isn't captured with research."

Ms Gould said one of the key findings was the length of time the process can take.

She said the prosecution process speaks from when the participant made an initial complaint to gardaí up until a decision came back from the DPP.

"The participants reported that being approximately 2.2 years based on their recollection, that was in 10 participants," Ms Gould said.

"But I think what's more important than perhaps the time was how impactful that waiting period was for people.

"Participants really spoke that that was a very difficult period of time. They were kind of waiting to see what was going to happen, waiting to see if their case is going to be taken to court. And they kind of spoke about being powerless."

Ms Gould said some participants said they did not have a lot of communication or get a roadmap of information about what might happen next.

A lot of participants "felt quite triggered and re-traumatised by this lack of information and communication during this process".

Those who took part in the research gave recommendations for reform within the criminal justice system.

They included the need for skilled support during the process, specialist trauma-informed training for the gardaí and all legal professionals, reducing delay in proceedings and a code of conduct governing the manner in which questioning can take place during a trial.

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