I registered today to say: THANK YOU.
I imagine a lot of readers are finishing this article in stunned silence.
Many will be reading, nodding their head, in tears.
Either way, this is an important piece, and I stand with you in solidarity and anger. So many of us do.
It is an outrage that rape is essentially legal.
Our system is shattered.
My experience is different, I thought that I was a criminal, because what was going on was illegal ( gender) ... And here I am now, openly mentioning it on the internet. But at my own pace.
Good for you, Steven. I'm pleased that you've been able to share your story here too. We both remember it got a bit rocky in the early days, but I'm gratified by the trust that lets people talk about tough things here. Respect.
Right back at you. It's your moderation and support that makes this possible.
I can only echo everyone’s thanks, June. There is nothing quite like communicated experience to allow other people to consider things. I can feel the ordeal – and its awful repetitions.
I sat on a jury in a sexual case two years ago. It was vastly different from your own. Two charges of attempted sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection. Evidence was given by close-circuit TV, so there were more distances than in your own case – the downside is that appearance on TV changes the way a jury in the TV Age views testimony. There was an amount of evidence that the charge had been constructed by family dynamics and revenge. There was ample evidence that stories had been substantially changed over time – from ‘nothing happened’ to ‘something happened’. There were no real witnesses and no forensic evidence. Nothing really made sense when it came to reactions or time. There was also a surety that there was a lot that we weren’t being told based upon us having to leave the court so frequently for legal discussion – and when these directions came.
As a jury we took four and a bit days in an airless, windowless room to reach what could be loosely called a decision. Hung on one charge and 11-1 for innocent on the other – both results were given in open court. The debate in the jury room was intense and the case hit every raw nerve in modern society – race, underage sex, religion, and money. The final hung vote on the last charge (we took votes at frequent intervals towards the end) was really a self-engineered vote by the jury to say that we didn’t know and were stuck. After four days we were exhausted. I barely slept for two of the four nights, and not much for the other two.
The discussion was seldom rational after the second day. It was as if everyone’s fears and worries had raised barriers that were eventually insurmountable for our twelve jurors. I hated the racism. I really did not like the way one juror’s prudishness dominated his reaction. I did not like the unexamined sexism. The personal dynamics in the jury room became awful and counter-productive the longer we were there.
It made me realise that the adversarial system in cases like this isn’t quite the answer. The inquisitorial system where a judge has a bigger role in conducting the case strikes me as being better – based on my small experience. I saw just how the adversarial system hurt both witnesses and complainants.
In the adversarial system the jury becomes a audience manipulated by showmen. It isn’t fair on complainant or witnesses – or the jury, to be frank. Then sitting in the jury room, with an inexperienced jury foreman (and how do you get experience?) was not productive in other ways.
I don’t know any answer, but I do know that my experience left me sure that things weren’t being done well – and with some very profound doubts.
Thanks again, June, for giving the matter a very human face.
June, I went through a shorter version of what you did. Only one trial six months after the first aborted one and 8 years after the initial complaint. I was naive about the trial process because I thought I knew about courts. I had worked in news and for the police.
I also went into court without a supporter because I didn't want the offender to see anyone attached to my adult life. My detective was not allowed into court at the same time because of a request by the offenders lawyer and this felt patently cruel.
I was still totally unprepared for the assault of the defense lawyer. We eventually got a guilty verdict but with some charges dropped. I was too traumatized by the process to even find out what charges were dropped.
The offender (a direct family member) was released early fro prison and not even the police were informed.
Like you, I remain terribly conflicted on what to advise other people about this process. I often think that if it nearly broke me then what would it do to the more brittle?
The offender in my case also successfully received his firearms license back after a few years which the police were powerless to stop.
I sincerely thank you for writing about this. I have wanted to but it remains too unpleasant for me to navigate.
In the act of writing this and reading the responses, I hope you have felt some potency in what has been a situation forced on you.
Thank you again.
I just registered to say thanks for sharing. It's heartbreaking to read about the court process you endured.
I was part of a jury a few months back for a sexual assault case. The trial was a horrible experience and I was completely shattered at the end of it. The only good thing was the system worked and it ended with a couple of guilty charges.
Kia kaha June.
I wish I could give you a hug, June. For what you've been through, and for your extraordinary moral courage.
I am about to head off to Jury Service for the first time. While trying to sort out the household and childcare arrangements so I can do this, I have found my thoughts coming back to your story quite often. I am sorry for your experience, but grateful for your sharing. For me, the 'innocent until proven guilty' and 'judged by your peers' is a crucial element of our system (especially as our democracy and rights are bullied away) BUT I now realise I need to incorporate more than just empathy for victims and witnesses; I somehow need to keep front of mind that the process is trying to break the prosecution. I'm a very ordinary NZ Mary Sue, who has never participated in the court system, but I just wanted to let you know I will be thinking of you as I learn about it.
Thank you for your courage in sharing, June. Arohanui.
The plight of victims of crime is appalling and made worse by the justice system. It's not the lawyers' fault, nor is it the fault of the judges, it's legislation that must change for things to change. Defence lawyers unfortunately are duty bound to do all that they can to challenge the prosecution case, even to the extent of re-victimising complainants.
The system can fail victims in more ways than June has described. I've served on a jury for a sexual abuse of a minor case that got abandoned (charges withdrawn) because it turned out some of the prosecution evidence had been exaggerated by the complainant. It was really a shame because even the judge remarked that it was obvious something had happened, but it could no longer be substantiated in a reliable enough way to bring an unchallengeable conviction. The end result being that an immature teenager whose evidence should have been more closely examined by the police before presenting it to the courts was let down and made to feel unworthy of justice. The alleged abuser was probably left feeling vindicated and would undoubtedly not seek to make any meaningful change in their own life. And this juror was left feeling dissatisfied with aspects of our legal system.
I don't know what the answer is, but some of it must lie in the more robust examination of evidence in a way that is less traumatic for victims BEFORE it gets to the point where entire cases swing on the smallest margin of error.
Substantial change can only happen through legislation, but not the type of change that politicians want to sell us. Let's not get tougher on crime, but fairer on victims