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Victims' and criminal justice professionals' perspectives on pursuing allegations of non-recent sexual abuse through the criminal justice system

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Following several recent high-profile cases (e.g., Operation Yewtree), increasing numbers of adults are reporting to the police instances of sexual assault that happened when they were children. In 2013, official statistics revealed that crime reports for events occurring between 1-20 years prior to complaint represented 24 per cent of all sexual crime reports. Complaints relating to alleged misconduct more than twenty years previously, comprised 11 per cent of all sexual crime. Such non-recent (NR), ‘historic’, or ‘remote’ cases comprise a significant subset of sexual crime and present many challenges to the criminal justice system, yet we know little about them. The present study was an attempt to begin to address that gap in our understanding. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 witnesses who had given evidence in the same trial that centred on allegations of non-recent sexual assault at a boarding school. The purpose of this study was to collect and evaluate victims’ personal accounts of their experience and treatment through the criminal justice system, from initial police report to giving evidence at court. The findings mirrored those in the wider literature, namely that the decision to disclose is better characterised as a process, rather than a binary decision, that victims identified the need for greater support at all stages of the criminal justice process, and that they found cross-examination in court to be a negative experience. Comments and reflections were also received from 17 criminal justice and support professionals involved in the case. These largely corroborated victims’ perceptions of giving evidence at court, and also raised important procedural issues around the best way to approach potential witnesses, the use of intermediaries at court, and the lack of wider support for witnesses and professionals in these challenging cases.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationPortsmouth, UK
PublisherUniversity of Portsmouth
Commissioning bodyKent Police
Number of pages44
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2017

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