Charity calls for end to rape victims' ordeal

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The Independent Online
Rape victims suffer harassment by defendants and their friends or families, threats to their children, damage to property and can feel compelled to move home to escape persecution, the charity Victim Support says in research published today.

The study, based on a survey of 92 Victim Support schemes and 17 court- based Witness Services which helped 1,500 rape victims in 1995, shows that despite years of campaigning for a better deal for rape victims, they are still hampered in obtaining information about the progress of their cases and face what they view as unacceptable ordeals under cross- examination in the courtroom.

A third of the schemes taking part in the survey said they had helped victims who had been re-assaulted or harassed since the original attack.

Of these, 33 per cent reported contact with victims who had been intimidated by the friends or family of the defendant, including harassment and assault; 27 per cent had helped victims harassed by the defendant himself; and 23 per cent had contact with victims forced to move home. Thirteen per cent knew of women who had received threats to their children and 7 per cent reported victims whose property had been damaged. One woman was later murdered by the man who raped her.

Many women did not receive even the most basic information about their case, with only 51 per cent of schemes reporting that they were always or usually informed whether their alleged attacker had been released on bail. This is despite the announcement by Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, in February last year that victims would always be consulted about bail decisions.

The survey paints a bleak picture of the stress still faced by victims over delay, or when court dates are abruptly changed - often just before trial. Dismay over lack of contact with prosecuting counsel is also a recurring theme of the report.

More than 40 per cent of the schemes said women continued to be disturbed by cross- examination by defence counsel, with some victims saying it amounted to character assassination or that the trial was even worse than the rape.

Setting out a series of recommendations , Helen Reeves, the charity's director, said: "This survey confirms the difficulties which women face in trying to obtain justice. Many are too frightened to seek help from the police in case they risk further harassment from the defendant.

"In court, many women report feeling humiliated and intimidated during cross- examination. But even then, convictions are rare. Women need more protection, at every stage of the investigation and trial, before confidence in the justice system can be restored."

The report follows the call by Ray White, the new president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, for curbs on intimidation of witnesses and aggressive cross-examination by barristers. In a recent stalking case, defence counsel accused a woman of behaving like a "queen bee that dresses to kill".