Disempowering the victim

Rosemary McLeod has a largely wonderful article about chequebook justice. It’s nice to see her say within this article that she is willing to accept that a woman would not want to go up against international rugby players during a rape trial, and is the closest thing I’ve seen to reason on this whole debate thus far.

But her qualified objection that she thinks it’s unfair to deny the rugby players their chance to a fair trial is ludicrous and soured the rest of the article for me. The important thing to remember is that no trial on this matter would be fair. Despite being big fans of huge drinkups, controlling their tempers incredibly poorly, and being celebrities in an enormous position of power over their fans, can anyone name me one rugby player that has been successfully convicted of rape in New Zealand? Especially a rugby player at international level who has the support of their teammates and sports organisations? I’ll be interested to hear if so.

The fact of the matter is that sports are about the only area in New Zealand where the male gender card trumps all. In such an environment, a teenager accusing a wealthy individual with the support of wealthy organisations to a trial heavily effected by the price of your lawyer and the view that sportsmen can do no harm is most definitely not a fair trial. No trial at all is much better than that, especially given some of the tactics that have pervaded the media: such as anonymous “witnesses”, slut-shaming, and the equally ludicrous claim that this was some sort of sabotage cooked up by NZ rugby to discredit the english team.

The Herald continues the disempowerment of victims with another mixed-bag story. While I am really, really pleased to see that not even a news source with such a blatant conservative bias as the Herald can no longer ignore or excuse domestic violence after our heated ยง59 debate, this article is still noticeably a Herald story with all of the implicit sexism and insensitivity to the victim this implies. Like most of the stories I’ve seen about the abuse of Kristin Dunne-Powell, the story focuses far too much on what’s going to happen to Veitch, and only spares a paragraph for what his victim suffered. It focuses on how the police could lay charges, despite the fact that the victim seems to have no desire for her day in court. It does get credit for coming out relatively strongly against him though, and for stating that hush-money is not uncommon in these cases. Why is it that the Herald can sometimes manage to come so close to balanced coverage only to fall juuust short?

Law Commission reports back

A quick note: The law comission has reported back on its review of whether previous convictions should be disclosed to the jury in some cases.

For those of you not up to speed, this inquiry started in response to the fact that Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum’s previous rape convictions were withheld during his trial.

They’ve decided that the rules should stay the same for now, but fortunately have called for a wider inquiry into the way rape and sexual assualt trials are handled.

I have mixed feelings on this issue- on the one hand, I think generally speaking it’s good that people with previous convictions cannot just be picked up by police and be cast in a highly suspicious light during a trial because of previous crimes. It makes it much more difficult to frame people. On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that in case of crimes that often take a serial nature- like rape, assualt, abuse, and murder- it might actually be quite relevant to the case whether they’ve had a previous conviction for that same crime.

Of course, I am highly pleased to hear Sir Geoffrey Palmer saying the current trial system for rape and sexual assualt victims has “disturbing features”. Recognition of the fact that defense in rape trials often involve accusing the victim rather than establishing alibis and witnesses that protect the defendent is good to hear. Quite seperate from the panic of not being believed is the feeling that going to trial is essentially being sexually attacked again in a different context.