At the heart of my Police and Crime plan – Putting the needs of victims first
Alison Hernandez is an advocate of a new way for rape victims to give evidence.
Recently I talked about our innovative plans to help stop re-offending and therefore cut crime and take some of the pressure off the police. Most importantly it will reduce the number of victims in our society, and that is at the heart of what I want to achieve in the Police and Crime plan for Devon and Cornwall.
How often do you hear someone claim ‘offenders get treated better than victims?’ That will not happen on my watch. Indeed we must do everything we can to ensure that people feel confident and supported to report a crime, and know that they will be listened too and their concerns taken seriously. Above all, they should get the very best possible ongoing support.
I was therefore delighted by the recent announcement that rape victims will be able to avoid being cross examined in court by having the process video recorded weeks before the actual trial. This is a fantastic innovation which will help to reduce the ordeal for rape and other victims.
Devon and Cornwall are planning to have the first courts in the south west doing this. I first heard about this opportunity a few months ago and since then my team has been planning how it could be implemented. This is one of the many things that my office work on to try and improve things across Devon and Cornwall. We are working with the Police, the Court Service and the Crown Prosecution Service to make this happen.
My Chief Executive is so excited about this work that he has been pushing all of our partners to get involved and has stuck up a poster about the work on his office wall.
This is a really important change. The process covers all vulnerable victims of rape, other sexual assaults, domestic violence and all child victims. My hope is that more rape victims will feel encouraged to provide evidence to help in getting the rapists convicted. What happens is that instead of the victim having to go to court and possibly be confronted by the rapist and their family and friends they will now be able to be cross examined weeks before the trial date. No one else will be in the room with the victim apart from one of police’s excellent victim support staff.
Giving evidence in court is very intimidating, but, by making this change, the victim will no longer have to do this being viewed by all of the court, the jury and many others. The impact on outcomes is really exciting. Currently many offenders hope that their lawyer might be able to unsettle the victim and make their evidence less credible but, by recording the evidence much earlier in a less intimidating place, victims have been giving better evidence. Their brave evidence is what is needed to convict rapists and other criminals. Once the cross examination has been recorded the rapist and their lawyer often realise that they can’t win at court and then change their plea to guilty. In the pilots, five times as many rapists pleaded guilty before the trial than in normal proceedings.
Victims of rape and sexual assault get a rough deal from the criminal justice system and through these and other changes I hope that we can start to change this. We are still a few months off being able to fully introduce these changes but we already offer many victims the chance to give evidence over a video link to avoid them having to come into contact with their offender. My Victim Care unit already guides victims towards excellent high quality support to help them through the court process and after. You can access 18 organisations offering support to men and woman - www.victimcaredevonandcornwall.org.uk
If anyone reading this has been a victim of rape or sexual assault there is already a lot of help and support available. If you are ready to report a crime then ring the police on 101 - or 999 if it is an emergency - and you will be speak to a police officer specialist.
You can also get help from a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)
Devon SARC (Oak Centre) - 01392 436967
Cornwall SARC (CRASAC) - 01872 262100
Plymouth SARC (Twelves Company) - 03458 121212
If you are not ready to report your experience as a crime then you can ring 0300 3030 554 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will be available to provide care and support for you.