The role of Hampshire Constabulary's Witness Care and the Crown Prosecution Service Wessex Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit (RASSO) in supporting victims of rape and serious sexual assault.
As part of the week long Rape Awareness campaign, launched by Hampshire Constabulary on Monday, July 23, Hampshire Constabulary's Witness Care Officer Trina Murton describes how Witness Care, working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and the court's Witness Services, try to make the process of going to court for a rape or serious sexual assault victim as easy as possible.
"We tend to get involved when the case heads into the court process; the trial is the main area where we take over. When Witness Care get a rape case through the first thing we do is ask the SOIT (sexual offence investigation trained officer) if it is ok to contact the victim.
"Witness Care tends to correspond with the victim through the SOIT. We are very aware that there are often a number of people assigned to a case, the officer in the case, the SOIT, witness service at the court as well as us. The victim may already feel overwhelmed with all the information directed at them on their case and so I tend to make sure they are happy for us to be involved too.
"Many victims want a pre-trial visit, and we liaise with witness service at the court so victims can see what special measures can be put in place. In the case of young witnesses we often find the victims parents will want to speak to us on their behalf. But we do actively seek to correspond direct with the witnesses if we can so we can ensure they do understand the process and have all the support they need in place.
"Many of the victims at this stage are more compliant, because they want to seek justice and closure for themselves, although frightened of what is to come. We offer them enhanced victim support as many anxious of the whole court process. The pre-trail visit often alleviates some of the individual's concerns. They can go and see the court room and the TV link room so they can then imagine themselves there. Many only have a view of court based on what they have seen on TV and many are worried about being addressed by the defence team who they fear will pull them a part. We also arrange transport, if they want a taxi, and access to the side entrance of the court as obviously they don't want to see the defendant. We also look after the requirements of the victim if they want to bring additional support with them.
"We keep them up to date all the way through. Once the trial begins there can be changes to times so we make sure they are aware of this and not waiting at court when they don't need to be.
"When we see a rape case come through we prioritise it above others as their needs are often greater. I take time to read through the case files to gain better understanding of what the needs of the victim will be and the best way of supporting them and getting them through it.
Simon Brenchley, Head of Crown Prosecution Service Wessex Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit (RASSO) talks about the CPS's role in prosecuting rape and serious sexual offences.
"The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) takes very seriously violence against women and girls and it is a top priority for our service.
"We want anyone who has been a victim or a witness of this callous and pernicious crime to report it to the police. If there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, we will liaise very closely and pro-actively with the police to build the best possible case to take to court and to determine what types of special measures can be applied in court. We want victims of sexual offences to take advantage of all available special measures to enable them to give their best evidence in court. This can, for example, include victims having their evidence recorded on DVD and then at trial being questioned via a TV link in a separate room or from behind a screen in court.
"CPS Wessex, which includes the counties of Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and Wiltshire, with its Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit (RASSO) has a dedicated team of specialist lawyers and staff who have all volunteered to only work on these types of crimes.
"The RASSO Unit has been established since 2010 in Hampshire and since October 2011 in the whole of Wessex.
"These specialist lawyers carefully review these cases and make sure that the following myths and stereotypes have no weight in their decision to prosecute and if those myths and prejudices are raised in the courtroom, our prosecutors have been trained to challenge them robustly. During 2011, the RASSO team prosecuted over 300 rape and serious sexual offences cases, 63% of which resulted in a conviction of some sort.
"CPS Wessex always seeks to improve its service to victims and witnesses and our Hate Crime Scrutiny Panels give us invaluable feedback to continuously improve our service."
Current myths and stereotypes
- rape occurs between strangers in dark alleys;
- victims provoke rape by the way they dress or act;
- victims who drink alcohol or use drugs are asking to be raped;
- rape is a crime of passion;
- if they did not scream, fight or get injured, it was not rape;
- you can tell if they 'really' have been raped by how they acts;
- victims cry rape when they regret having sex or want revenge;
- only gay men get raped/only gay men rape men; and prostitutes cannot be raped.
Mr Brenchley continues, "Prosecutors who deal with rape cases are taught to deal with these myths and stereotypes as part of their specialist training. We will not allow these to influence our decisions and we will robustly challenge such attitudes in the courtroom."
The Rape Awareness Campaign seeks to reinforce important messages about personal safety and how to prevent becoming a victim of sexual assault, focus on potential offenders and making them aware of the issues around consent and the consequences, promote the services of local support agencies and encourage victims to report sexual assaults to the police.
The week will also focus on:
The support provided by local Rape Crisis organisations - Southampton Rape Crisis and Portsmouth Area Rape Crisis.
Simple and effective personal safety advice from Hampshire Constabulary's crime prevention officer.