Justice system needs addressing

The news of the low rate of conviction for sexual assault and related offences is sobering and needs closer consideration.

The figures - only half of sexual violence charges last year resulted in a conviction, one of the lowest conviction rates for any category of crime - have been highlighted by the New Zealand Law Society and a TVNZ investigation, and some are now calling for an overhaul of the country's criminal justice system.

Calls for an increased focus on sexual assault victims - their rights and dignity, their experience of the justice system - are also getting louder.

The debate is needed and all should participate and listen. Crime, including sexual violence, does not discriminate, and affects all. Those who are victims of crime did not choose to be offended against.

It is that aspect - that victims of crime did not ask for the offending to occur - that can be in question in the courtroom when it comes to alleged sexual offending.

Many in the justice system tell of the revictimisation of victims in court, and many victims say they feel as if they are the ones on trial. Some say fear of such treatment prevents them from reporting sexual assaults.

It is important to note that both females and males experience sexual violence, and that all are innocent until proven guilty. All charged with an offence are entitled to a robust defence, and the rights of defendants must be respected.

But when a category of offending has one of the lowest conviction rates in the country, questions need to be asked.

In response to the 2018 figures, leading figures working in the area of sexual violence are speaking out about the rape myths that can appear during trial, and say those myths are contributing to the low rate of conviction.

The issue of consent goes to the core of detail and defence in cases of sexual offending, and this is where victim blaming can arise.

The default response to sexual violence should not be to cast blame on the victim.

But Yvonne Urry, who supports and prepares sexual assault victims before they go through the trial process, told TVNZ that defence lawyers would ''dredge through anything to try and make it [the alleged offending] the victim's fault''.

This means factors such as what a woman was wearing, who she was with, how much alcohol she had consumed, whether she used dating apps, may be - and often are - raised during trial. It can all be presented as pointing towards whether a woman later consented to sex.

Some have said sexual offences should be heard by a judge rather than a jury, suggesting a jury of people coming from a society that often buys into rape myths is more likely to believe aspersions cast on victims than a judge with legal experience.

The Government's chief victims adviser, Dr Kim McGregor, also recently called for an independent victims' commission to be established. A criminal justice hui earlier this year found the majority of crime victims felt failed by the criminal justice system, and some described the process as worse than the crime they had suffered. The system was so brutal that even senior police and ministers had told Dr McGregor they would not report an alleged rape of a loved one, she said.

The feedback and data demand a response and the Government's announcement of $320million on a package of initiatives aimed at preventing sexual and family violence is positive. The money would also help make major changes to court processes to reduce the trauma victims experienced, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Society needs to do more too, and stamp out any underlying issues which are contributing to dangerous attitudes and actions further down the track.

Huge improvements over the years in how police treat victims of alleged sexual offending are to be commended.

Now the rest of us - and our justice system - need to follow suit.

Comments

But the police and justice system must understand not all complaints are valid . if this is also not understood there will be innocents jailed /

Police investigation is thorough. False claims are uncovered or retracted.

It is hardly possible to imprison someone without incontravertible DNA evidence.

incorrect some false claims are uncovered/ if no DNA found/ men have been charged . also/ we have to keep this real// for justice.

 

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