RPE PRESS RELEASE: One in a Hundred: Improving Justice for Sexual Violence Survivors

Louise Nicholas, National Sexual Violence Survivor Advocate at Rape Prevention Education is a key speaker at this years’ Cartwright Anniversary Seminar “One in a Hundred: Improving Justice for Sexual Violence Survivors.”

The title of the seminar comes from research suggesting that only about 7 out of 100 incidents of sexual violence are reported to police. Of those 7, only 3 cases are likely to get to court, and of those only about 1 is likely to result in a conviction.

There are a range of reasons why rape survivors do not report the crimes committed against them. Many survivors believe the inaccurate but widely held victim-blaming attitude that they were responsible for the sexual assault.

Of the 3 out of 100 cases of sexual violence that go to court, Louise Nicholas says “Defence lawyers play on victim-blaming attitudes to slam survivors of sexual violence around the court like tennis balls.”

“It is not the defendant who is on trial; it is the rape survivor who is on trial.” Nicholas says.

“Rape survivors are called names like ‘vindictive liars’ by some defence lawyers and judges rarely step in to protect the victim from these verbal attacks.”

“Rape survivors often ask me, why are defence lawyers so nasty and why do they make it so personal?” the Survivor Advocate Louise Nicholas says.

At the ‘One in a Hundred’ seminar ex-Commissioner Warren Young will speak about the 2012 Law Commission recommended reforms that aim to improve the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the trial process, with particular regard to sexual offences.

These recommended reforms include replacing the jury with a decision-making panel that includes one judge and two trained jurors, ensuring that judges and counsel are trained in the particular dynamics and challenges associated with trying crimes of sexual violence, and offering alternative routes for resolution. In particular, Project Restore will also be profiled at the seminar. This is a collaborative project which provides a specialist restorative justice response for those impacted by sexual violence. HELP and Rape Prevention Education continue to be key supporters of this project.

Dr Kim McGregor says “If we are to make our communities safer from sex offenders, especially for our children, youth, and women, then the Government must ensure the Law Commission recommendations are given full and urgent consideration.”

“The current adversarial system is inhumane especially for survivors of sexual assault. Why on earth would survivors of sexual violence want to enter the current criminal justice system that blames and re-brutalises them? ” McGregor says.

McGregor states, “If sexual crimes are not reported, and those who commit sexually harmful behaviour do not get a sanction and the specialist treatment they need, then our communities will continue to be unsafe especially for our children, youth, and women.”

The government’s action plan for the Reducing Crime and Re-offending targets of the Better Public Services initiative includes providing support for repeat victims, and specialist support for victims of particularly traumatic crime such as sexual violence.

According to research from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, at least 50% of girls and women who are sexually assaulted are likely to be sexually re-victimised and survivors of childhood sexual abuse are twice as likely as non-victims to be sexually assaulted later in life.

The panel of high profile speakers at the Cartwright Seminar includes National Sexual Violence Survivor Advocate Louise Nicholas of Rape Prevention Education, Victoria University Associate Professor of Law, Elisabeth McDonald, and Ex-Commissioner Warren Young. The panel will explore some of the barriers to justice for survivors of sexual violence in New Zealand with a focus on court processes, and what can be done about them.

The seminar ‘One in a hundred: Improving Justice for Sexual Violence Survivors’ has been organised by Women’s Health Action in partnership with Counselling Services Centre, HELP, Rape Prevention Education and Tu Wahine Trust.

The seminar will be held at Parnell Trust Jubilee Building from 1-3 pm on Tuesday 13th August, 2013, followed by afternoon tea. Registration costs $10 and can be obtained from Women’s Health Action www.womens-health.org.nz or (09) 520 5295.