Week 6: Victim rights (past)

Codex Hammurabi, Louvre. This stele shows one of the first set of written laws in existence. Image: Flickr, Boris Doesburg. https://www.flickr.com/photos/batigolix/3332923984

This week was based on the viewing of Roger Graef’s ‘A Complaint of Rape’. Due to rights, I cannot make this available outside the lecture viewing.

In essence, ‘A Complaint of Rape’ was aired in the early 1980s, and was one of the first ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentaries. It is filmed from the viewpoint of a woman who has told the police she was the victim of a gang rape. The police in the film know they are being filmed, but are very aggressive to the woman, and in effect say she is lying about her experiences. They draw on previous mental health issues, and suggest she was a willing participant. She eventually (under obvious pressure) withdraws her allegation of rape.

This was a pivotal moment in victim rights in the UK. It raised awareness of the issues faced by victims of crime – in particular rape. The documentary came at a time when feminism and victim rights were already big issues, but this film arguably acted as a catalyst for change. Within a year, the first rape centre had been set up at a police station.

We have come a long way since ‘A Complaint of Rape’ was filmed – but the historic low reporting and recording of rape suggests that there is still a problem. We also see this problem in other crime types – for example hate crime and domestic violence.

Over time the balance has shifted so that victims should be able to report crime confidently and confidentially without fear of repercussion. In practice we have not yet achieved this across all crime types.

If we cannot encourage victims of crime to come forward to report their experiences, the rest of their rights in the criminal justice system are largely redundant – as they never come into contact with it. We also struggle with other issues such as prevention – as we are missing a massive amount of information which could help us develop effective strategies. Detection is also reduced, so offenders don’t face justice. Victims and society more broadly suffer if we cannot get this first contact with the CJS right.

Relevant links:
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