THE director of Cork’s Sexual Violence Centre has slammed the legal system for allowing an audience to attend rape cases, saying the trials are often treated as a spectacle.
Mary Crilly said that on one occasion she counted 40 people in a courtroom - few of whom had any links to the case being heard.
“The odd one or two might have an interest in the case.
“However, the majority of people are normally just waiting for their own case or just hanging around. It’s so hard for someone giving evidence to have to push through guys with their legs out straight to get to the witness box.”
She said that the fear of having their identity uncovered can be overwhelming for abuse victims.
“The person is usually wondering ‘will I be named?’ or ‘will people find out about me’,” Ms Crilly said.
“This is especially true of historical cases if you are in a courtroom with lots of people who are hearing your name over and over again. For as long as we are using this system nothing is going to change.”
Ms Crilly spoke of how being watched by strangers can be distracting for those giving evidence.
“The woman always finds it shocking. Anyone can sit in a circuit courtroom. It’s hard to give evidence in front of the perpetrator and their family, let alone other people. Answering questions with all these eyes on you is very traumatic. It’s the system I’m blaming, not the barristers.”
She remarked on how difficult it can be for abuse victims to be in such close proximity with others.
“When they need to be in the courtroom, which is usually all the time, they don’t have a particular seat. They have to push in beside other people.”
She urged the public to be sensitive during the legal process.
“Maybe they don’t realise what it’s like from our point of view,” she said of onlookers, “and that needs to change.”
According to Ms Crilly, a number of abuse cases are still going unreported due to fear.
“The majority of people don’t get that far. I’m amazed that any case gets through at all. People are so afraid of family and friends finding out.”
She said that the majority of victims she deals with know their abuser.
“They say it’s 80% of the time but I think it’s even more,” she said. “The victim will leave college, she will leave the workplace.
“Meanwhile, this guy is behaving like nothing happened. I’ve seen that quite a lot. Most of the time, this is a woman who is in a job or college course that she really likes.
“Nothing changes for the abuser. He will go off and do it again and again.
“Friends need to start waking up and calling these people out. They need to be doing more.”
Ms Crilly said that the mind games following abuse can be just as damaging.
“The abuser will often contact their victim the next day asking ‘did you see this film?’ or ‘do you want to go somewhere?’.
“They try and normalise it as if it’s no big deal. Women often think; ‘I was raped last night but looking at his texts maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe I am imagining it.’”
For more information on the work of the Sexual Violence Centre visit http://www.sexualviolence.ie/