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A Woman’s Story – a personal experience of going through the policing and judicial system after being raped

In 2016, we launched A Woman’s Story, a 32 page report of a woman’s moving and powerful account of going through the policing and judicial system after being raped.

She describes her experience of police, health, justice and other services. In particular, focusing on the institutional and individual responses from services and professionals which the author experienced as supportive and compassionate, and which aided her recovery, and those which she experienced as less supportive and at worst re-traumatising.

We were honoured to work together with a woman who has used our services on A Woman’s Story. The author took the difficult decision to share her personal story with the public in the sincere hope that it can contribute to making a difference to the experiences of other individuals affected by sexual violence.

Launching A Woman’s Story and making an impact

Soon after the publication of A Woman’s Story, in August 2016, the author together with representatives of ERCC met with the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson to provide feedback on her experience and her recommendations for change within the justice system. She also met with a representative of the local forensic medical examination services.

Speaking at our 2016 AGM, A Woman’s Story: A Call for Change, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice thanked the author for telling her story and said that it had given him powerful insight and an opportunity to learn about the whole system through the eyes of a victim and their experience. Such as how the trial caused extreme stress and anxiety and that the author felt she was on trial as her actions were under heavy scrutiny, and how invaluable ERCC’s expertise is for victims, as without it, their experience in the justice system would be much more difficult.

As well as speaking about wanting to improve the experience of women and men who have the courage to go through the legal process, the Cabinet Secretary also made the announcement of a survey to try to find out what more can be done to encourage more female doctors’ participation in forensic examinations for victims of sexual offences. As part of an effort to help regain the gender balance, as victims almost always prefer to be examined by a female examiner

Speaking about this announcement Sandy Brindley, National Coordinator, Rape Crisis Scotland, said:

“Rape survivors consistently tell us how difficult they find it being examined by a male doctor in the immediate aftermath of being raped. The least we should be able to offer in these circumstances is an examination by a female doctor. We are very supportive of the new survey, and the efforts being made by the Government to improve immediate responses to rape survivors.”

Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Justice (2014-18); Sandy Brindley, National Co-ordinator Rape Crisis Scotland; Ben MacPherson, MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith

Learning, healing and storytelling for change

In January 2017, our Centre Director, Caroline Burrell made a powerful speech about A Woman’s Story and how survivors telling their stories can have a huge effect on healing, at the Scottish Government’s Violence Against Women (VAW) and Girls Fund ‘Changing Lives’ conference. The conference was about celebrating the great work that VAW organisations are doing in Scotland – and below is a graphic image depiction of Caroline’s speech by artist Albi Taylor.

In February 2017, Rape Crisis Scotland launched the ‘I just froze‘ campaign to increase awareness to the responses of rape and challenge preconceived and ill-conceived ideas of sexual crimes. At the launch, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice spoke about how A Woman’s Story was a very important narrative on reporting to the justice system, and the introduction of new legislation on jury direction. That judges in Scotland will now be able to explain to jurors why survivors react in different ways after a sexual crime; such as not always reporting immediately or always offering resistance.

Reflecting on success and looking ahead

We warmly welcome the responses and changes set afoot by the Scottish Government. However, there is also still much to do to achieve a justice system that is victim centred. We will continue to work with the police, justice system and Scottish Government to improve access to justice for survivors. It is the author’s and our sincere hope that A Woman’s Story will be actively utilised by police, health, justice and other services to help inform policy, practice and training in relation to responding to individuals who have been affected by sexual violence.

Whilst improvements have been made in relation to the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes, and support and care for victims of these crimes, what A Woman’s Story tells us – clearly and urgently – is that much more needs to be done.  It is just not acceptable for women not to be offered female doctors for what can be an intimate and distressing forensic examination in the immediate aftermath of being raped – or for these examinations to be carried out in police stations. 

Additionally, the not proven verdict is an anomaly, is used disproportionally in rape trials, and in our view should be removed. It is still the case that the by far the highest number of not guilty and not proven verdicts are to be found in cases of rape and attempted rape. However, the biggest issue is how intensely violating the experience of giving evidence in court can be which can end up feeling like being bullied and harassed. 

Sandy Brindley, National Coordinator for Rape Crisis Scotland:

“Too many women have gone through experiences similar to that of the woman who has bravely written this story; too many women have told us that the experience of giving evidence in court felt at least as violating as the rape itself.  This woman’s story is a call for change, and we hope that the new Scottish Parliament is willing to listen, and take action.”

A lot of important work has taken place in recent years to improve survivors’ experience of reporting rape, and the resulting justice processes.  Indeed, the way the police investigate rape has been transformed, and we hear a lot of positive feedback from survivors about how the police treated them. There has also been a 40% increase in the number of people convicted for rape or attempted rape in Scotland (125 in 2014-15). However, a significant majority of rapes that are reported still do not result in a conviction, or even make it to court. Much still remains to be done in terms of improving the justice response for rape survivors in Scotland.

Responding to the report, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said:

“We are committed to continually improving our response to reports of rape and other sexual offences and to conducting rigorous and robust investigations.

“I have spoken to the author of this report and wish to thank her for sharing her experience. Powerful evidence like this helps to shape and continually improve our service.  Her willingness to provide constructive feedback has given all services a positive opportunity to effect change in the future.

“Tackling sexual crime is a priority for Police Scotland, we want to encourage people to come forward. Victims of sexual crime can be confident that we will listen to them and investigate their report thoroughly, no matter how much time has passed.”

Read Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s full response to A Woman’s Story here.

Find out more about Rape Crisis Scotland’s End Not Proven campaign.

Read: A Woman’s Story: my personal experience of going through the policing and judicial system after being raped

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