More often than not our clients tell us they are motivated to do something about the abuse they suffered in order to achieve justice. So what does that mean? In reality, what does that look like? We are all familiar with the typical TV courtroom scene and the pursuit of justice. We regularly see news coverage outside the courts with someone expressing their relief to the camera that justice has been done.
In my experience of supporting people through these processes the feeling of getting justice is a very personal one. For some the thoughts of having the person who harmed them locked up feels like it could achieve justice. For others, an acknowledgement of the harm caused or even an apology can feel like justice. Surprisingly while a guilty verdict can ease the fear of not being believed it often doesn’t feel like justice. In my opinion, this is because the process is not what people expect.
Before I began supporting people in court I thought if someone committed a crime and a witness was willing to tell their story: job done, It would result in a conviction. It sounds naïve now but I don’t think I am on my own with that. Most of us want to believe if a crime has been committed justice will be done. If it can’t be proven in a court do we then believe it didn’t happen?
We have an oversimplified understanding of the justice system, I’d guess given to us by TV courtroom dramas. I’ve seen time and time again how this concept has a negative impact on complainants who come forward. TV doesn’t portray the complexity of prosecuting sexual crimes. TV doesn’t depict the responsibility a witness feels for proving they have been intimately harmed by someone nor does it depict the powerlessness people feel in the process.
In reality, most people who experience sexual violence don’t report it to police. That does not mean the abuse did not happen. Those who do report sexual abuse see how the law is applied to the crime. Sexual crimes also have an enormous emotional fallout. The pursuit of justice is a complex emotional roller-coaster. We see the feelings of fairness and moral rightness on TV and we hope this is integral in our society. Fairness and moral rightness are not commonly felt by those who have experienced sexual violence, regardless of the verdict.