Issues that sexual assault and family violence victims face in the criminal justice system.

Dr Sarah  Tapper1
1Ministry of Justice, New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand

Victims often report feeling re-victimised during their journey through the criminal justice system. This is particularly the case for sexual assault and family violence victims who face disbelief, judgement, loss of control and delay while trying to cope with the trauma and loss caused by the crime.

The adversarial system, by its very nature, puts victims at the centre of a contest between the prosecution and defence in court proceedings. The criminal justice system is not designed to serve a therapeutic function, but victims bear the major impact of crime and are involuntary participants whose involvement is essential to the proper functioning of the system. Despite high attrition and low conviction rates for sexual assault cases, the criminal justice system remains an important avenue of redress for sexual assault victims. However, many victims believe that procedural justice is more important than substantive justice. Being treated fairly and with respect validates their experiences and helps victims to regain a sense of control.

I will discuss the issues that sexual assault and family violence victims face in deciding to report their victimisation to the police and begin the journey through the criminal justice system. How victims are treated by the criminal justice system influences the trust and confidence of the public in that system. I will propose that any substantial reform to the criminal justice system must involve a victim-centric approach.


Biography:

Sarah received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Western Australia, followed by a law degree from Murdoch University in Perth. She worked as a lawyer for 7 years in Perth, and then moved home to New Zealand where she studied Psychology and completed a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington. The research focus of her thesis examined the extent to which serial sexual offenders are consistent in their offence behaviour. Sarah currently works as an Advisor to the Chief Victims Advisor in the Ministry of Justice, New Zealand.

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