Voice4Victims drafts Sexual Offences Bill 8th February 2017

A new private member’s Bill will be introduced today, to coincide with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness week, to prevent the cross examination of rape victims about either their sexual history, previous behaviour or appearance. The Bill has been drafted by Harry Fletcher and Claire Waxman of Voice4Victims following their analysis of numerous case studies which illustrate major loopholes in current law and procedure. Voice4Victims has received cases where rape or attempt rape victims have been cross examined about their number of previous sexual partners, affairs they may have been involved in, any previous history of alcohol abuse or mental health and the clothes they were wearing at the time of the offence.

The Bill is being introduced by Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cyrmu) and has all party support (see full list below).

The new Bill means that British legislation would replicate the Rape Shield Law which exists in USA, Canada and Australia. This law seeks to avoid putting the victim on trial for her clothing, attitude, behaviour or sexual past. In essence it prevents a defendant introducing evidence about the complainants past sexual behaviour.

In 2015/2016, there was estimated 85,000 rapes against women. Official statistics show that there 35,798 reports of rape to the Police in England and Wales and of these, just 2,689 resulted in a conviction. These figures reflect that the majority of women do not have the confidence to come forward and report and fear that if they did, they would either not be believed, inappropriately cross examined or blamed for the offence.

Ivy, a rape victim was told at a Ground rules hearing that her sexual history would not be used. However, in Court she was asked by the defence how many sexual partners she had experienced and alluded to the fact that she was promiscuous.

Jenny, a teenager made a complaint against an adult male. She had a history of abuse within the family including a rape conviction against her uncle. She ran away from home in order to escape from adult males. She later did have sex with a male at a homeless shelter. At the trial the defence implied that as she had consented to sex with an adult male, she must have also consented with the alleged rapist.

In a further case a victim of an alleged attempted rape, M, was asked why she had chosen to wear a red dress on the day of the attack which occurred on a hot summer day.

A year long study undertaken in Newcastle by Dame Vera Baird QC concluded that in 1/3 of 30 cases observed, there was question about prior sexual conduct of the complainant. In a further 4 cases, the court rules about cross examination were disregarded as applications were made on the morning of the trial or after trial commencement to introduce sexual history.

This private members Bill would severely restrict the cross examination that occurred in the cases above and numerous other cases which greatly affect victims’ confidence in coming forward to report rape.

The Bill also prohibits in certain circumstances the disclosure by the Police of a victim’s identity to a stranger attacker. It also extends the range of serious offences which may be referred to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency. It amends the requirements for Ground rules hearing to make it clear that cross examination on the grounds of sexual history is unacceptable. It also makes provisions for the guidance on safeguarding in schools following cases referred to Voice4Victims which showed that underage female victims were further traumatised by being placed in the same class as their alleged abuser.

Harry Fletcher, Co-Director, Voice4Victims says ‘there is clear and overwhelming evidence that rape victims are questioned about their previous sexual history, behaviour and appearance. This would not happen to victims involved in other types of trials. Changes to legislation are needed urgently. The government needs to act now’.

Claire Waxman, Founder Voice4Victims said ‘this brutal cross examination of rape victims re-traumatises the victim and causes them irreparable harm. It’s this victim blaming attitude of rape victims that needs to be stamped out from the justice process to ensure victims have the faith and confidence to come forward and report these serious crimes’.

Top Cop urges Rape victims to speak out

Ivy interview and Claire Waxman & Baroness Brinton on Victoria Derbyshire 25th January 2017

Hear Ivy talk exclusively to Victoria Derbyshire Show about her awful ordeal of the Criminal Justice System and how she was failed and hoped for a Victims’ Law.

Ivy Full interview with Victoria Derbyshire

Voice4Victims Founder Claire Waxman and Baroness Brinton talk live to Victoria Derbyshire about Ivy’s case and Victims Code failings and the need for Government to commit to a Victims’ Law.

Listen to Claire Waxman & Baroness Brinton discuss Ivy’s case on Victoria Derbyshire Show and why Victims’ Law is needed

Abuse of Process Campaign Launches to help victims

Voice4Victims is launching today their new Parliamentary Campaign, ABUSE OF PROCESS which aims to prevent perpetrators making vexatious court applications and complaints across the whole of the Criminal Justice System. This legal abuse, often sanctioned by the Courts and Justice agencies, is placing victims at great risk of harm and causing emotional and financial distress.

Voice4Victims has received scores of cases of victims of stalking, harassment, domestic violence and coercive control, who are being re-victimised by their perpetrator initiating baseless claims or complaints via the Courts or the Police. The perpetrator’s only motive is to cause further damage, humiliate, discredit and frighten the victim.

Voice4Victims held a conference in July this year, in the House of Commons, with key note speakers Keir Starmer, MP and Jess Phillips, MP to highlight the different legal platforms, perpetrators have the right to access and exploit, in order to keep unwanted contact with their victims and abuse them further.

Voice4Victims is today launching their Abuse of Process report with their recommendations abuse-of-process-28th-november-report-final-1-pdf
based on this conference and their work so far in supporting victims experiencing this form of abuse. Their report highlights the alarming rise in cases where victims are being cross examined, stalked, harassed and abused by these proceedings.

There is a common misconception that perpetrators have an absolute right to access a range of legal processes. These include the civil courts, often with spurious financial claims and the family courts through contact orders. Due to cuts to legal aid, perpetrators have the ability to cross examine their victims in person. In addition, private prosecutions and false allegations to the Police are being initiated for a range of matters including sexual harassment, stalking, theft, fraud, professional misconduct and malpractice.

The impact on the victims is further fear, anxiety, distress and financial hardship causing a severe effect on the quality of family life. Often children are deliberately used as part of this abuse of process in the Family Courts and victims are forced to respond and engage with their perpetrator’s legal claims or else they will face penalties. This process makes the victim become isolated as many are not eligible to access legal aid nor specialist support to help them achieve justice and protection from this form of abuse. The predominantly female victims are being re-victimised by the State with agency or court officials allowing these vexatious claims to proceed due to a lack of understanding of the real intention of the perpetrator. These perpetrators are fixated and obsessed with the victim and have a strong desire to control their lives and are using the courts and legal processes as a weapon of power and control. Many have criminal convictions or are subject to restraining orders or prohibitions orders and the Family & Civil courts are often unaware of their existence. Voice4Victims is finding that the state is often complicit in this abuse by facilitating these unsafe proceedings and as a consequence, the voice of the victim is lost in the process.

Today, Voice4Victims is launching this much needed campaign through a combination of Parliamentary activity and test case advocacy. This will involve the drafting of a Parliamentary Bill and with the support of a specialist Human Rights legal team, the evaluation of cases in order to pursue remedies for the victims. These will be through Judicial Reviews and other actions which will help bring about much needed change through case law and directives.

Voice4Victims will draft a bill which is likely to gain All Party Support. The Bill will:
• Place a duty on all Court jurisdictions to cooperate and communicate when the same victim is involved
• Strengthen the sanctions for breaches of all prohibition and restraining orders
• Give victims the right to bring to a court details of their perpetrators behaviour and convictions
• Place a duty on the complainant to give the court details of any convictions, restraining orders or past applications involving the victim
• Allow the Family or Civil court to investigate a victim’s claim of abuse of process
• Allow the courts to strike out vexatious applications before impacting the victim
• Introduce mandatory training for all court personnel and justice agencies on abuse of process
• Ensure that directions and guidance are issued by the Secretary of State.

Claire Waxman Founder and Co -Director of Voice4Victims said ‘Voice4Victims has seen an extraordinary rise in the number of perpetrators initiating legal proceedings against their victims, in order to emotionally harm them and continue unwanted contact with them. It’s very worrying that the Courts, Police and CPS are not recognising this abuse and often collude with the perpetrator by sanctioning it. Our campaign will ensure that this abuse is recognised and that the courts and agencies understand that these perpetrators are fixated and that they do not have an absolute right to bring these legal claims, when they are doing it just to further their objective of harming and harassing their victim.”

Harry Fletcher Co -Director of Voice4Victims said “There is an urgent need for training on abuse of process for all involved in the Courts and Justice System. Perpetrators are able to assert their basic human right to continue to abuse victims through the legal system. The Bill being drafted by Voice4Victims will ensure that perpetrators can no longer use vexatious applications and complaints to the Courts and the Police and that the victim’s safety is paramount”.

Link to Abuse of Process report abuse-of-process-28th-november-report-final-1-pdf

One of the Victims Rights Amendments for Policing and Crime Bill

This amendment calls for sexual assault and rape victims to have their identities protected when the attacker is a stranger. For full article

The Desperate Need for Victims’ Rights

On 20th October, Claire Waxman spoke to Victoria Derbyshire about the urgent need for a Victims’ Rights Legislation and why her campaign organisation Voice4Victims with Sir Keir Starmer, have drafted the first ever Victims’ Rights Bill. Due to the government inaction on implementing the Victims Law, Voice4Victims has taken key elements of this vital bill, which Baroness Brinton and Lord Wigley are sponsoring and tabled as amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, to be debated in the Lords in November. Claire explained the amendments and how these would greatly help victims of all crime and would have helped Anna Hemmingfield, who spoke of the many failings she has experienced of the justice system and the impact this has had on her life.

20th October 2016 House of Lords

Voice4Victims, with the support of Baroness Brinton, hosted ‘The Need for a Victims’ Rights Bill’ event at the House of Lords. Peers heard the harrowing experiences of victims of crime and the terrible failings of the Justice System.

One victim of forced marriage, domestic violence and rape, attempted suicide after the overwhelming process of being made to give interviews to multiple Police officers and repeating and reliving the abuse she had encountered over and over again. Ivy told the Peers ‘How is it acceptable that the system set up to provide victims with a route to justice, is the very system that could drive someone to want to end their life’.

Ivy was high risk of homicide and subsequently, her and her children were moved quickly to a safe location. However, a social worker disclosed their safe address to the abusive husband as she felt he had ‘a parental right’ to know where his children were, even though it had come to light that the children had been abused by their father as well. This disclosure led to Ivy being seriously attacked and hospitalised. The family were moved again, only for the social worker to disclose their safe address again and Ivy sustained another violent attack.

Police failed to manage the investigations properly and compromised not only Ivy’s safety but also justice. ‘As the system continually failed me and put my children at great risk of harm, I complied with the Police request to withdraw from remaining ongoing criminal cases’.

Ivy told the room ‘My offender walks free and yet, I, because our system is not effective enough to protect me, have been moved away from my life and made to accept that I can never access justice and get my old life back because the system is so flawed and broken’
‘I pray today that for the sake of me and other victims, you will support these much needed changes to ensure victims have rights to protect them throughout the awful ordeal of the justice process’
.

Mel, a victim of a serious sexual assault told the room how her name had been disclosed without her knowledge or consent to the stranger perpetrator, at the time of him being charged. Mel described the risks of this practice to the victim and how as a result, she has changed her name due to fear that her perpetrator will try and find her once he’s released from prison. Mel is also still awaiting compensation and was denied her right to anonymity in court.

‘I believe my identity should have been better protected in the 21st Century and I am willing to fight in every way I can to get this issue addressed. My question is a simple one, what I’m asking is how did divulging my name help in the interests of justice in this case and many others like it? I am asking for a review of the law that states the accusers name should be divulged in ALL circumstances, so that in completely random stranger attacks, not just in sexual cases but all cases of a violent nature, heavy consideration is given to withholding that detail, based on the facts of the case. There are other ways to identify a victim to a perpetrator that don’t have any lasting traumatic consequences’

‘To conclude – I just want to reiterate – despite the attack I experienced, the violation of my body and my mind, the trips in and out of hospital and the trauma of the court trial – by far the most extreme and lasting violation was the handing over of my identity to the one person in the world I would do anything to remain a stranger to. It isn’t good enough to cover this issue with a blanket procedure. It isn’t good enough to say everyone regardless of circumstance has a right to know the name of their accuser.’

Anna, a victim of domestic violence, stalking and harassment spoke to the room about her ongoing ordeal and how the Police and CPS have repeatedly failed her with not supplying evidence to the Court. Both agencies blame each other for the mistakes, with CPS stating ‘…so sorry that the failure of the Police to provide us with the required unused material prevented the trial of your case to take place. If the trial had proceeded and the defendant had been convicted of the offence, then you and your children would have secured some protection from him. I can fully understand why you feel let down’

Anna said ‘I believed in the justice system and now I don’t. It allowed my abuser the opportunity to get me arrested and charged without anyone hearing my voice. It allowed my abuser to be acquitted due to Police and CPS failing to communicate and ensure evidence was there on the day of trial. When I did finally receive justice, my abuser was allowed to appeal his conviction and that appeal took over a year to be heard and I was forced to have that hang over me for that long so I could not have any respite from the overwhelming cases I was involved in with my abuser. The rights for a victim to appeal against an unjust decision demands a change in the law. I am supposed to be protected by court orders but they are never adhered to and my abuser can breach them with no sanctions. My voice has been taken and I have been silenced throughout this painful ordeal. I have felt insignificant and helpless in the justice system, which to me, the victim, feels like a barren isolated world’.

Baroness Newlove, the Victims Commissioner attended the event and heard these pleas for a Victims’ Rights Law directly and fully supported that Victims needed their own piece of legislation and was meeting Dr Philip Lee, Justice Minister to discuss this.

Voice4Victims, with Baroness Brinton pledged to continue to push for these key victims’ rights amendments to be implemented as part of the Policing and Crime Bill to ensure victims have legally enforceable rights without any further delay.

Harry Fletcher, co-director Voice4Victims said ‘The evidence and experiences given to peers by victims of serious crime showed that the case for the introduction of a victims’ bill of rights was overwhelming. I hope therefore that Peers from all sides support the amendments to the Policing and Crime bill tabled by Baroness Brinton and Lord Wigley’ .

Claire Waxman stated ‘I am so pleased that the Victims Commissioner, after three years of our campaigning is now agreeing with us that there is an urgent need for a Victims’ Law. This is a huge and positive step. We are now working very hard at briefing the Lords on the necessity of these vital amendments and hope they will be well supported. We are also hopeful that in the meantime, the Victims’ Commissioner may convince the government to finally implement the ‘gold standard’ Victims Bill we have worked so hard on. Either way, we are now very positive that victims will get their much needed legally enforceable rights in the not so distant future.’

Voice4Victims Draft Amendments to Change Unduly Lenient Sentences

After a few recent high profile cases on stalking and sexual abuse of children, Voice4Victims was appalled to see that the unduly lenient sentences could not be referred to the Attorney General due to a technicality that the scheme was out of date.

Thankfully, we could add this vital amendment to the up and coming amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, which gives victims legally enforceable rights.

Claire Waxman, Director who highlighted this flaw in the system said ” It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come forward and face the ordeal of the justice process. When an unduly lenient sentence is then passed and the victim cannot have their case referred to the Attorney General, because the scheme is outdated , then justice has failed. This is devastating for a victim, especially when all perpetrators have the right to appeal their sentences but it’s not the same from the victim’s side. This imbalance of rights must be addressed.”

Harry Fletcher, Director, who drafted the amendments said “The law on the the ability of the Attorney General to refer such cases to the court of appeal needs urgent revision”.

To see full article in Guardian

Claire Waxman on BBC Breakfast About Broken Criminal Justice System

Claire Waxman talking to BBC Breakfast about the publication of the Public Accounts Committee report into Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System and how delays and bad practice are failing victims of crime and putting them at risk.

The report findings are justified and mirror Voice4Victims findings. It highlights the urgent need for change and better practice, however, the time scale of four years for reform is far too late for many victims already suffering due to cutbacks and failings. Claire Waxman stresses in her interview that the introduction of a Victims Law is now needed as a matter of urgency and something that the Government who published a manifesto commitment to act in 2015, must now adhere to and implement without any further delay.

Claire Waxman talks to This Morning, ITV (Video) 18/04/2016

Claire Waxman on ITV’s This Morning following Lily Allen’s stalking ordeal and talking about what is needed to help protect victims.

Claire Waxman on This Morning

Claire Waxman wins Suzy Lamplugh Trust , Taking Stalking Seriously award

SLT award 2 SLT award

Claire Waxman, founder of Voice4Victims, today won the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Taking Stalking Seriously award at the National Personal Safety Awards. She was nominated alongside two other fantastic organisations, Hollie Gazzard Trust and the Digital Trust.

Claire has campaigned since 2010, to raise public awareness of stalking and has trained justice agencies and Parliamentarians in recognising the pattern of stalking behaviour and the impact it has on the victims. She now offers invaluable peer support to other stalking victims and shares her journey and experience in order to advise, signpost them and challenge the obstacles they face when trying to navigate the justice system.

During Claire’s twelve year ordeal, she successfully challenged the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute her stalker. Her landmark victory means the Judgement she received sets a precedent for other stalking cases with similar experiences. She now works with the human rights legal team from her own case, to help advise victims being stalked via legal processes in the family and civil courts.

Claire said after the event, ‘ Today was a recognition of many years of hard work, alongside many dedicated people, to try and improve access to justice and support for stalking victims. I am committed to extrapolating the vital learning from both my own case and the case of many other stalking victims, so authorities respond to stalking robustly ensuring better protection of victims. We have made great steps so far but the work must continue if we are to see a real culture shift in attitude to the way stalking victims are supported and treated.’

Claire is currently working alongside Sir Keir Starmer and Harry Fletcher on a Victims Law, to legislate the rights of victims.

Claire Waxman & Sir Keir Starmer interview on Victims’ Law