What can victims of sexual abuse expect in court?

For those who are victims of sexual abuse, undergoing a court case to see their perpetrator brought to justice can seem quite overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together this blog post to dispel some of the myths and look at some of the truths of what sexual abuse victims can expect from the court process.

A rise in cases

The number of reported cases of sexual abuse has risen significantly over recent years. Here at Safeline, we are a Warwickshire-based charity providing a range of services to prevent and respond to sexual abuse, from providing counselling and creative therapies to running service helplines and prevention schemes.
We received a staggering 10,150 calls in 2016 from victims of rape and sexual abuse and, over the past three months alone, traffic to our national helpline has doubled.

The court process

Many victims fear the court process as it means both reliving their trauma and facing their perpetrator. However, some victims of sexual abuse consider it a means of taking back control. And of course, it is an opportunity to seek justice and prevent the perpetrator from repeat offending. It is quite possible to feel all of these things when going to court as a victim of sexual abuse. Ultimately, it is the victim’s choice to go to court and there is no shame in not seeing it through. The victim’s well-being and emotional protection are vital things to consider beforehand.

The court will support the victim as fully as they can and in cases with victims of particular vulnerability, including but not exclusively involving child victims. There are a number of special measures which can be undertaken to protect them in court. This could be testifying through a TV link or having curtains around the stand when giving evidence.

Before testifying, it is useful and empowering to familiarise oneself as much as possible with the court process. The Crown Prosecution Service
have outlined the court process to explain what victims can expect in detail here (https://www.cps.gov.uk/victims_witnesses/going_to_court/). Furthermore, a victim should discuss any possibilities of what they may be questioned about in court with their legal team and should consider how they might respond to such questioning. When delivering evidence, the victim should take their time on the stand and request breaks if need be.

The court process can also be challenging for the victim’s loved ones. They may not have heard the victim describe the incident in such detail before. They may experience feelings of pain or anger, or pressure to ‘keep it together’ for their loved one. Here at Safeline, we also offer our services to victims’ families.

Apple Tree Yard

The finale of the recently aired BBC drama series Apple Tree Yard featured protagonist Yvonne, a middle-aged scientist, facing trial for the murder of her rapist, a former colleague. Whilst it is important to note that this was not specifically a rape trial, it was an aspect of the case. The episode touched upon contentious issues surrounding sexual assault trials and many viewers took to social media to express outrage at Yvonne’s treatment during her cross-examination about the rape. The character was reduced to tears on the stand and uttered the words: ‘This is why I didn’t want to bring this to court in the first place’.

The Independent spoke to solicitor Christopher Dyke to investigate how accurate or sensationalised this portrayal was. Dyke believes the barrister shouting at Yvonne during her cross-examination would ‘likely have been stopped by a judge’ in a real-life case. ‘Steps have been taken in recent years to ensure that the victims of rape are treated sensitively by the police and courts’, he told the paper. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2017/02/07/much-apple-tree-yard-would-happen-real-court-asked-lawyer/)

One accurate aspect of the show’s portrayal was the likelihood that the perpetrator was known to the victim before the assault, as is the case for the majority of victims. This can add another element of difficulty for a victim in court, who may also have to testify about the relationship they once had with the perpetrator, often involving bonds of trust and love which were betrayed.

Safeline’s services

Our Safeline national helplines are open six days a week (Monday to Saturday). We have dedicated male victims’ and young person’s lines, and for those who do not wish to or are unable to speak via phone, our email, text and LiveChat services are also available.

General Helpline: 0808 800 5008
Male Victims Helpline: 0808 800 5005
Young Person’s Helpline: 0808 800 5007
Text: 07860 027573
Email: support@safeline.org.uk
Chat via: https://plusguidance.com/safeline-support


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