RAPE victims have complained of being re-traumatised during the encounters with police who do not believe them, insensitive doctors who examine them and defence attorneys who ask humiliating questions, reported Rape Crisis Society management member Marian Taylor.
She was speaking yesterday at the launch of Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean Region held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port of Spain. The guidelines were created by the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project in the Caribbean, an initiative of the Canadian government, and in collaboration with the Caribbean Court of Justice and regional judiciaries.
Taylor spoke about the experiences of survivors of rape and their clients who engage with the justice system, with emphasis on their interaction with police, medical professionals and the court.
She said some female survivors have shared that they perceived male police officers to be quite insensitive to their plight during interviews.
“They stated that some officers refused to believe that they were sexually violated and had no support rendered during the time statements are taken.”
The survivors expressed a preference to be interviewed by female officers.
“Survivors also claimed that they received no support from the police while giving statements and at times they felt like criminals because of the treatment meted out to them.”
Taylor said survivors cited the length of time taken to bring perpetrators to justice and in many instances where minors and others had raped, a long time had elapsed, sometimes three to six months, but perpetrators were not charged. She recalled at a recent session a client reported she was raped at home and a month had passed since her complaint, but the police had yet to return to gather evidence, though they had said they would.
Other issues included complainants and their families being sent to different police stations before reports were actually taken, and investigative officers seeming to disappear, with efforts to contact them proving futile.
“Consequently frustrations got the better of some complainants and they chose not to continue their matters.”
On interacting with health professionals, she said female rape survivors reported male doctors examined them after they had experienced vicious rapes and not only did they experience flashbacks of the ordeal, but the doctors were not sensitive to their trauma.
“They lacked gentleness and compassion while gathering the evidence.”
She said survivors who were minors at the time they were raped and as a result became pregnant reported instances of being victimised by nurses attending during delivery.
“Those nurses operated on the assumption that the minors who were reluctant (in) the genesis of their pregnancies were involved in voluntary sexual relationships.”
In terms of the court, she said survivors complained that cases take a long time to be heard and they felt victimised a second time when they are called upon to give evidence.
“They mentioned that the lawyers for the defence ask questions which were designed to humiliate them and degrade their character in the presence of family and friends.”
At the conclusion of a trial, she said, even if the perpetrators were severely punished, the survivors still felt worthless, re-victimised and afraid to face society.
“Because of this experience, most survivors swore never to pursue justice if they were the subject of rape again.”
Other issues included not being able to give evidence via video link and the courts failing to communicate to complainants that bail had been granted to their attackers, leading to regular instances of being re-tramautised when victims encountered them in the community.
She said the sexual-offence case guidelines could improve the treatment of survivors in terms of time for completion of the case, sensitivity to the plight of survivors, lack of support systems, disregard for the safety of complainants when granting bail and victims being traumatised by defence lawyers during trials. She also reported that the Rape Crisis Society is looking at providing support for survivors during their court cases.