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I feel like I was sold out by the system itself

Mary, one of the 11 victims who gave Victim Support their personal testimonies, was presented with a request to agree to a last-minute guilty plea when her case got to court - but only to a lesser charge of indecent assault, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

She felt the Crown Prosecution Service had assured her that he would still receive a custodial sentence, but he got a fine, "an utter insult", she said. She was also subjected to the man's plea in mitigation, which was reported in the local press as if it were evidence, and included defence counsel's statement that she had been "round the block". She said: "I feel like I was sold out by the system itself. I felt really let down."

For Paula, the victim of a gang attack, the trauma came during the police investigation when instead of looking through one-way glass at the identification parade, she had to confront each defendant face to face. "One of them spoke to me and said he was sorry - that upset me even more," she said.

She was assaulted after the court case by a girlfriend of one of the defendants. A fortnight later a family member of one of the defendants found her address and harassed her. She was not offered protection. Although she was only 15 at the time of the trial she was told she was too old to give evidence from behind a screen.

Jenny still has mixed feelings about reporting her rape. She described the medical examination as "horrendous" and learned that the defendant had got bail through reading it the paper. She got mixed up when giving her evidence. The man had a gun but was described as "the perfect gentleman" by his character witnesses. He was acquitted.

Ruth was another victim faced with down-grading of charges at the 11th hour, despite the police surgeon's opinion that it was one of the most brutal assaults he had seen.

"The policeman walked up and said 'Is it yes?' I felt that I had no option," she said. "I feel that victims are just not represented in court. The control that is taken away from you when you are raped is repeated."

Sarah, who is registered blind, moved house after a dustbin was thrown through her living-room window after someone she knew was convicted of raping her. Before the trial, the prosecution barrister warned her that the defence might imply that she was pursuing the case in order to make a claim for criminal injuries compensation.

Like the other interviewees, she said she could not have coped without Victim Support.