Victim Blaming Is At The Core
When I first spoke to Jessica I was blown away by the wealth of her experience in this field. The biography she provided for the end of her chapter hardly seems to do her justice. She is a tour de force, campaigning on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse, and other vulnerable people. With the Eaton Foundation, she set up the first male mental health centre in the UK. She managed the Vulnerable & Intimidated Witness programme for the Midlands. She’s designed, accredited and delivered training to thousands of local authorities, mental health services, care homes and police forces. This year she was shortlisted for the Emma Humphreys Award 2017.
Jessica’s chapter in Part Three of the book focuses on the endemic victim blaming which is at the core of the Criminal Justice System. Many of the issues faced by the System already have solutions written into law and legislative guidance, which simply isn’t followed. Those rights and legislation are often not put into practice because officials simply don’t believe the victim. As Jessica observes, it’s rare for a police officer to have any training in terms of evidence assessment, so they don’t get to the point where they’re using the legislation. Complainants are simply not getting past the gate keepers.
One of the things that absolutely shocked me in my conversation with Jessica was when she stated that the more specialist a police officer is, the more they endorse rape stereotypes and rape myths that blame the victim. It seems so counter-intuitive that a specialist would be more likely to blame, but as Jessica pointed out, it makes sense when we think about biases and how they develop. When sexual offences specialist teams only take forward stereotypical cases, knowing they will be taken seriously because the victim has presented with injuries, DNA and witnesses (for example), the officers become biased towards those cases that they think will make it to prosecution. Over a period of years, the officer takes the stereotype as a ‘real’ rape – and questions accounts that do not fit that mould (for example, cases where the victim is in a relationship with the abuser, has no injuries and has not reported quickly). It’s assumed that a specialist team will become a team of objective experts, but it rarely happens this way and humans are known to be irrational decision makers. (This research was by Emma Sleath and Ray Bull in 2014).
Jessica also talked about the imbalance in the defence/prosecution approach. We now have a system where the victim needs to 100% prove their case whilst the defence barrister’s only job is simply about ‘can they discredit the victim so that they are not taken seriously and the jury can’t reach a unanimous guilty verdict?’
To find out more about Jessica:
There was a lot more we discussed, but I don’t want to give it all away before you read it!
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