I was delighted to be asked by Jane Gordon of Sisters for Change to meet a delegation of Indian women who are in the UK to look at our policies and practices in this area. They were keen to have an interchange about some of the changes I was able to institute while I was the Director of Public Prosecutions. (Read more below).
I began by saying that we are on a very long journey in trying to improve the situation in Britain: while some progress has been made we still have a long way to go.
1. There is a real unwillingness to confront the scale of the problem. Some 80 – 90% of all victims do not have the confidence to report the abuse to the authorities. We have begun to make some progress on this by establishing sexual assault referral units or (in the North-East) providing an innovative service which allows women to report attacks to designated people while at work. But there is much more that needs to be done.
2. The reaction of police, when violence was reported to them, used to be that it was “just a domestic”. This has now generally gone, but there is still a tendency to question the reliability and credibility of witnesses – particularly if a length of time has elapsed between the incident and the report.
3. The criminal justice system offers little space for the victim, and the nature and extent of any counselling is not always easy to predict under our system. Recently prosecutors have begun to explain to the victims just what will happen when they come to court and to offer then screens to block off their alleged attacker, but a day in court remains intimidating.
After my presentation we had a lively discussion. I pointed out that, on average, women had experienced 35 episodes of domestic violence before reporting it to anyone and that following the Jimmy Saville exposure around 600 women had come forward to make allegations against him.
Ms Sonal Mehrotra, Chief Corresponent, NDTV
Dr N. Vijaya Lakshmi, Managing Director, Women’s Development Corporation
Ms Vrinda Grover, Senior Lawyer, Supreme Court of India
Ms Moushumi Das Gupta, Senior Assistant Editor, Hindustan Times
Ms Sumshot Khular, Women’s rights and peace activist