Rape

Testifying In A Rape Or Sexual Abuse Trial: What To Expect

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

For victims of rape, sexual abuse or sexual assault, especially those who are courageous enough to brave the trauma and stigma to bring their case to trial, undergoing the rigors of a trial especially facing their perpetrator and reliving the terrible ordeal, can be quite overwhelming. This is why it is necessary to dispel some of the myths and focus on some of the truths of what victims of rape or sexual assault can expect from the justice system.

It is necessary to state at this point that some of the issues which will be discussed are what would transpire in an ideal setting where the justice system works as seamlessly as it should. In Nigeria, cases of sexual assault that actually go to trial are very minimal in relation to actual cases of sexual assault. This makes discussing what to expect at trial a bit difficult as there are very few live cases to use as a case study.

Many victims of rape or sexual assault fear the court process as this will mean reliving their trauma and facing their perpetrator. This is totally understandable. However, victims should view this as a means of taking back control and in a way beating the bully. In addition, it is also an opportunity to seek justice and prevent the perpetrator from offending again. It is normal as a victim of sexual assault to have these feelings of fear, anxiety and in some cases shame. Ultimately it is the victim’s choice to go to court and seek justice and there is no shame in not seeing it through. The victim’s wellbeing and emotional protection are vital factors to be considered before going to trial. As such, no victim of sexual assault should be forced to bring his/her case to trial.

In the event the victim chooses to bring the case to trial, the court has a duty to fully support the victim as best as it can, especially in cases of victims of particular vulnerability, including but not limited to child victims. There are several special measures which can be taken to protect them in court. This could be testifying through a TV link or having curtains placed around the stand while they are giving evidence.

BEFORE THE TRIAL

At this stage it is important to meet with the prosecutor assigned to handle the matter. This serves numerous purposes:

  1. It will enable the victim and the prosecutor be familiar with one another as well as some detailed facts of the incident to furnish the prosecutor with firsthand knowledge which will aid him in securing a conviction.
  2. The prosecutor will be able to gauge the emotional and mental state of the victim. This will help him gain an insight as to how to go about questioning the victim in a safe and secure manner with minimal trauma regarding the incident.
  3. The prosecutor will also advise the victim as to how court processes and procedures work and familiarize him/her with what to expect in court.

It is important to familiarize victims with the basics of the trial procedures as this will go a long way in further empowering them to stand firm during the trial. In the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service have outlined the court processes explaining what victims can expect at trial.[1]

As the trial date approaches it is vital that the prosecutor goes over his line of questioning with the victim to prepare him/her to give evidence with clarity of thought and detail.

DURING THE TRIAL

During a trial for rape or sexual assault, the usual witnesses who testify are the victim, any individual(s) who may have witnessed the moments before the crime occurred, the exact moment at which it occurred or the moments after it occurred. Usually these would be the victim, doctor who examined the victim and the police officer with whom the complaint was lodged. However, the star witness is usually the victim as he/she is in a better position to give exact details of the crime.

It is good to have a strong emotional and moral support base during the trial. As such, it is advisable for the victim to bring families and friends to court with them. It is pertinent to state at this point that the court process in such cases can be very challenging for the victims’ families and friends as they may not have heard the victim describe the incident in the kind of detail it will be discussed in court. They may experience feelings of anger, pain and the pressure to sit through the trial. This is where the prosecutor also has an important role to play by guiding them through what to expect and determining which family members have the strength to sit through the trial. Therefore, prosecuting a rape or sexual assault case is a demanding skill.

In trials witnesses are usually asked to wait outside the court out of earshot of any testimonies that may be given. This is to maintain the objectivity of the trial and to make sure that no testimony is compromised by witnesses tailoring their testimony to align with one another. The victim should use this opportunity to calm down and go over the questions and answers the prosecution will ask so as to answer them with accuracy and a level head.

While testifying, it is important that victims maintain a level head and answer questions in a straightforward manner. If there are questions the victim does not understand, it is important to ask for the question to be rephrased or repeated. The victim should never guess at an answer. If the victim does not know or does not remember, it is important to state so truthfully. It is also important for the victim to answer questions that require a “yes” or “no” with a yes or no answer, and answer questions that require further elaboration by elaborating. Breaching this rule can lead to the victim being tripped up by the defense counsel during cross examination.

Rape or sexual assault can be difficult to talk about, especially in a courtroom. Therefore, it is important to bring a trusted friend or family member along to act as a support system for the victim while testifying. The friend or family member should be seated in a strategic position where the victim can see them and focus on them while testifying so as to gain strength and composure.

It is also important to consider that the perpetrator will most likely be in the courtroom during the trial. This can rattle the victim and make him/her lose composure. The victim should be informed of this fact and be reminded that the perpetrator cannot hurt them.

The most difficult and nasty part of any trial is cross-examination, and this is even worse in cases of rape or sexual assault. It is very important that the prosecutor guides and constantly reminds the victim of what to expect at this stage. During cross-examination, there is virtually no limit to the questions the defense counsel can ask in a bid to bring the credibility of the victim into question. It is normal in such cases for the defense to raise doubt as to the credibility of the victim by making various assertions such as sexual intercourse was consensual, the victim is a known prostitute, the allegation of rape is being made to spite the accused and get back at him for a past slight.

In such instances it is important that the victim maintains his/her cool and not get rattled by the barrage of questions the defense is likely to throw. Losing one’s temper during cross-examination can be damaging to one’s case especially in jury trials where the demeanor of the victim will be under critical observation.

AFTER THE TRIAL

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, it is important for the victim to know that he/she did their best. If the perpetrator was not found guilty it means the prosecutor was unable to prove the crime. It does not mean that the victim was not believed. The standard of proof in criminal trials is that they must be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. This is usually not as easy as is seen on TV shows.

Even if the perpetrator is found guilty, the victim is still likely to feel mixed emotions especially after having to relive the incident in court and have it dissected by the public. At this stage, it is important for the victim to have a strong emotional support base to cope with the aftermath of the incident and the trial. Therapy goes a long way in helping victims deal with the incident and cultivate the strength to get past it and live normal lives.

[1] (https://www.cps.gov.uk/victims_witnesses/going_to_court/)

About the Author

This blog post is written by Usman Shamaki. A Legal Practitioner, Proof Reader, Writer, and Founder: Blu Phoenix Literary. He is also a part of the Share Anonymous team.

 

Write A Comment