Janet Wilson: Adversarial justice system remains unfair on survivors

Janet Wilson is a freelance journalist who has also worked in communications, including with the National Party in 2020. She is a regular contributor to Stuff.

OPINION: In no other crime is the victim more on trial, more at risk of being judged, of having to explain their actions, than in sexual assault or rape cases.

The cruelty that the judicial system deals out to rape victims, not only in Aotearoa, but around the world, is detailed in Suzie Miller’s modern morality one-woman play Prima Facie, coming to Auckland and Wellington theatres later this month.

In it, Tessa Ensler, a working-class gal with heroic amounts of mongrel, who has defied the British class system and become a barrister, has no trouble defending male sexual offenders, calmly trotting out the usual she-was-drunk-and-therefore-asking-for-it tropes.

Until she has a drunken fling with a colleague and transforms from adversarial inquisitor triumphantly striding the bar, to the lowest rung of the judicial ladder, the victim, begging to be heard, much less believed.

In a 2018 Ministry of Justice analysis, taken over four years, Aotearoa’s sexual assault numbers paint an abiding picture; of the 23,739 sexual assault cases reported to police, 31% made it to court, 11% resulted in a conviction, with a prison sentence imposed in only 6% of cases.

Which goes some way to explain other 2020 survey figures, which show that while one in four will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, 94% of such cases will not be reported to police.

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