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Should one rape testimony be enough?

By johnboy 14 March 2006 8

The ABC has a story on calls by the Rape Crisis Centre for the testimony of rape victims to be re-used, in order to spare them the trauma of having to re-state it in cases where multiple trials occur.

There’s a very real problem with securing rape convictions so I have some sympathy for this view. Does the same evidence need to be brought by the victim over and over again?

The Chief Minister thinks so, with some merit to his argument as well:

“The right of a person to a fair trial to the presumption of innocence would be seriously affected,” he said.

“I’m not persuaded that it would be appropriate in a trial for a person accused of a crime, particularly a serious crime, that they not have the opportunity to face their accuser and to examine their accuser or cross-examine their accuser as to the allegations or the evidence they give.”

Is there room for a compromise where the complete testimony of the witness, including the cross-examination, would be included in a re-trial?

What’s Your opinion?

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8 Responses to
Should one rape testimony be enough?
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boomacat 2:08 pm 14 Mar 06

As the Chief Minister said, this would seriously undermine the principal of natural justices, whereby a person has the right to face their accuser and respond to their allegations.

Also, this may not be in the interests of the complainant, as actual face-to-face testimony from an alleged victim of sexual assault could be much more profound (and therefore more effective in persuading a jury) than a mere audio recording/typed transcript.

One must feel for the alleged victim however, this must be an extremely traumatic experience and the criminal justice system should be continuously looking for ways to make their experience of the prosecution process less painful (as much as this is possible of course, I can’t imagine it would ever be easy).

johnboy 1:16 pm 14 Mar 06

many rape accusations are often unfounded

That get to trial?

bonfire 1:12 pm 14 Mar 06

the person on trial is the accused.

all evidence needs to be assessed.

if you are going to testify against someone, that person needs to able to be questioned.

many rape accusations are often unfounded.

therefore the evidence needs to be tested.

if the accused is found guilty – off to the pokey with an r branded on their forehead.

i dont liek the idea of not having the alleged victim not having to provide evidence. it will simply play into the hands of defence lawyers – remember its reasonable doubt that needs to be established.

the act system has too few juries and too many activist judges as it is.

enigma 12:58 pm 14 Mar 06

There may be many reasons a sexual assault victim withdraws their co-operation which could fall under the rubric of “fragility” such as family/social pressure to withdraw, reconciliation with the alleged perpetrator, wanting to move on with life without having to regularly engage with the Criminal Justice System, the alleged victim made false allegations initially, the witness victim perceives that there is little chance of success, as well as the inherent trauma of being a victim witness. Hence “fragility” needs to be unpacked so as to arrive at adequate solutions to this problem.

There are already methods of reducing trauma in most jurisdictions such as rape shield provisions (i.e. past sexual history cannot be admitted to evidence), testimony by closed circuit television for child victim witnesses.

However the mitigation of trauma as a result of testimony is probably better addressed through extra-legal means such as increased social support services for victims, changing public perceptions of victims of sexual assault in order to alleviate victims feelings of shame at being a victim, prompt treatment of mental illness that occurs subsequent and as a result (or partly as a result) of the crime, etc.

Being a victim of sexual assault is traumatic however going to jail for a substantial period is also traumatic, thus a concerted effort should be made to avoid inflicting the trauma of incarceration upon the innocent as well as making an effort to mitigate further trauma to a victim.

Absent Diane 12:57 pm 14 Mar 06

If there is some quantifiable evidence that process is harder for sex victims (which would not suprise me).. then there needs to be a means of reducing stress for the victims in these cases..

Im not an advocate of anti-depressents but maybe something along those lines would help + intensive counselling??

johnboy 11:53 am 14 Mar 06

All good points enigma,

but my information is that sexual assault cases fall apart far more than others because of the fragility of witnesses.

so what do you suggest should happen to address this?

enigma 11:46 am 14 Mar 06

It is generally considered necessary for a jury to view the testimony of a witness as it is given, so as to be able to gauge the credibility of the witness. Hence it is necessary for the witness to appear at each trial, given there will be a different jury (if it is a jury trial) at each trial.

Being a victim witness or even an innocent bystander witness can be traumatic for a variety of serious crimes, why should sexual crimes be singled out for special treatment.

The other obvious point is that merely admitting the transcript of past testimony of the witness into evidence denies the prosecution and defence the opportunity to further examine/cross-examine the witness, this is problematic in that new evidence may have been uncovered between the two trials, other witnesses may have changed/clarified their testimony etc all of which may need to be put to the victim witness at the second trial.

RandomGit 11:16 am 14 Mar 06

Working in IT, I have to say that manual repetition of information is bad enough, that a human is doing it is a recipe for disaster.

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