Rape victims left ‘humiliated’ by ‘barbaric’ legal system

One woman was told by garda he would be too embarrassed to take her statement

One victim said she was asked by a garda if she was telling the truth. “She said it’s just that Garda X said you’re a liar or a very good actor or maybe both.” Photograph: Getty

One victim said she was asked by a garda if she was telling the truth. “She said it’s just that Garda X said you’re a liar or a very good actor or maybe both.” Photograph: Getty

 

Victims of sexual assault are being left “humiliated” and “destroyed” by the criminal justice process, which often affects them more than the offence itself, according to a report prepared for the Government.

People described a lack of sensitivity by gardaí, lawyers and judges. One woman was interviewed beside a pool table because the interview room was occupied. Another who was told by a garda he would be “too embarrassed” to take her statement.

Ten men and women were interviewed for the report, compiled by One in Four and passed on to policy-makers in recent weeks.

The document, given the title Only a Witness to reflect the fact that complainants are no more than witnesses in a trial and have no special status, was completed while the Belfast rape trial was being held.

The trial, which ended with the acquittal of rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding on rape charges, thrust the issue of victims’ rights into the spotlight and prompted Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to announce a review of procedures for investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse in the Republic.

“It’s really, really bad, horrific. It’s worse than the abuse itself in some ways and it’s been recited over and over again to you,” one woman told One in Four researchers.

Another woman, identified as Anne, said she felt she could have left court “and jumped in the Liffey” and no one would have cared.

“It was so inhumane. It’s the only word. I never felt that the system in any way valued me as much as it valued [the accused] – never.”

Garda insensitivity

Many victims said one of the most traumatising parts of the process was how they were treated by gardaí when they made their initial complaint.

“Emily” said she went to a station to report rape and sexual assault. The garda was shocked by the allegations and said “he’d be quite embarrassed taking a statement from me”.

A female garda later took her statement. The garda “smoked cigarette after cigarette” before going outside and fainting, Emily said. Another garda then told the victim she had to quickly sign her statement.

The woman refused because she hadn’t finished. She was told she would have to return after 10.30pm that night to finish it “when they weren’t busy”.

“Valerie” said she was asked by a garda if she was telling the truth. “She said it’s just that Garda X said you’re a liar or a very good actor or maybe both. I said, ‘I am telling you the truth.’ ”

“Sarah” said she was making her statement when another garda entered and said the room was required for a prisoner. She had to move into the station’s canteen and give her statement beside the pool table as other gardaí came in to make tea.

‘Inhumane’ and ‘barbaric’

Victims said they found the court process “inhumane” and “barbaric”. Emily complained that during the case the prosecution and defence barristers would chat and joke with each other.

“There needs to be an etiquette, there is a need to respect people who have been waiting years to come to court no matter what they think or what they think of me.”

Several victims also complained about the “cruelty” of defence barristers who were cross-examining them.

“He looked at me like I was dirt, like I had no dignity, like I had no respect for myself or anybody else in the courtroom and I was nothing,” Anne said. “They can get away with saying the most stupid things to people in order to try and crack them and break them down.”

The victims and the report’s authors recommend a vast overhaul of the system including bringing in special training for judges and lawyers in sex crime cases and the establishment of a special court and unit of the Director of Public Prosecutions to deal with prosecutions.