Adult survivors of sexual assault face three related problems when they report an offense to the police and officially enter into the criminal justice process as a witness:
The first is selectivity. The criminal justice process holds victims of sexual assault partially accountable for their assault, "discounting" how serious the complaint is treated. As a result, many reported cases are selected out, either by being classified as "unfounded" by the police or failure to proceed to trial by the Crown. For many women this is justice denied. Through selectivity, only a small percentage of atypical cases are included, thus reinforcing the distorted beliefs about what is a legitimate case.
The second is disparity. The same forces responsible for selectivity also results in lower rates of guilty verdicts and lenient sentences for those convicted. Thus, disparity repeats the cycle of denial of justice, distorting of the actual nature of women's experience, and reinforcing stereotypical beliefs.
The SolutionThe third is recapitulation. The current legal doctrine permits cross-examination of the witness and the presentation of arguments that are examples of formal and informal logical fallacies. Thus, the legal process itself becomes an accomplice to the assault by treating the unreasonable as through it were reasonable.
The ultimate solution, of course, must be systemic in nature. Any help provided to the survivor-witness is a short-term measure to provide temporary relief of the symptoms. One possibility is a two-alternative strategy:
- Make sure that any survivor-witness has a realistic set of expectations about the court process in order to make an informed decision about whether or not it is in her best interests to proceed with the criminal process. Use the unwillingness of survivor-victim to continue as leverage on the Prosecutor to be more supportive of victims in the ways suggested by our research. Shift the blame from the woman to the system where it belongs
- For the survivor-witnesses who do wish to proceed, provide them with the tools they need to be an effective witness and to resist the common defense tactics which distort their actual experiences.
The Steps to Take
1. Create a group of individuals who are prepared to support adult survivor-witness, particularly some women who have gone through the court process.
2. Use the technical material developed by our research to anticipate what tactics will be used in each individual trial based on the circumstances of the case. Use this information to help the survivor-witness resist the typical defense tactics, to help provide the foundation for legal appeals of the court process, and for publicity about what is wrong with the existing legal doctrine.
3. Try to work with the Prosecuting Attorney, forcing a preparatory meeting with the witness if necessary, to ensure that the Prosecutor understands the steps the woman is taking to protect herself and the ways the Prosecutor can assist her.
4. Contact napasa in order to share your information and experiences with other groups who are "Supporting the Victim-Witness"
5. Down load the technical documents listed below to give to give to the group who is responsible for supporting the victim-witness and enlisting the cooperation of the Prosecutor.
The Support Material
1. Reprints of Publications No.'s 10, 13, & 14
2. The Booklet: Supporting Adult Victim-Witnesses.
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