Rape survivors ‘battered and bruised’ by justice system

Posted: 30th August 2023

Source: BBC News

Three women who were raped by the same man say their experience of the justice system was so damaging they would think twice about reporting an attack again.

Jennifer McCann, Hannah McLaughlan and Hannah Reid say they have been left “battered and bruised” by the process.

They waived their anonymity after Logan Doig, 23, was jailed for nine-and-a-half years for a series of rapes and sexual assaults.

And they want to reform the way victims of sex offences are treated in court.

The trio were among five women, including Holly Prowse and another who has retained her anonymity, who gave evidence against Doig in court.

After he was sentenced, Jennifer, Hannah, Holly and Hannah were photographed arm-in-arm outside the High Court in Glasgow.

They said they hoped the image would send a signal to abused women everywhere that they were “turning our pain into power”.

Hannah McLaughlan told BBC Scotland News their close bond was forged through shared experience.

“None of us would have any reason to know each other,” she said. “He’s the only common denominator.”

Having reported that she had been raped by Doig, the 25-year-old said she made contact with his previous girlfriends.

Hannah Reid, 23, said: “We all came together in a group chat that we called Safe Space. And that’s just exactly what it was.

“We got to know each other, sharing bits and pieces about what had happened to us. And we soon began to realise that we’d actually experienced near enough the same. And then the trust just grew where we felt we could confide in each other.”

“There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other,” Jennifer, 23, said. “And that’s just been built on the trust in each other, knowing the ins and outs of our deepest, darkest things.”

‘Left in the dark’

Not only do the women have to live with the trauma of being abused and raped by Doig, they say the way they were treated when they were called to give evidence at his trial has also been scarring.

“It was inhumane,” said Hannah Reid. “It’s really horrific the way that victims are treated specifically in sexual assault cases. You are not really told your rights. You’re told the rights of the accused.

“He had guidance and support the entire length of the process, and we were left completely in the dark, having no idea what to expect.”

Hannah McLaughlan added: “There needs to be stricter guidelines on what defence lawyers can say to a victim giving evidence because you aren’t treated like a human.

“You’re just treated like a bit of evidence and it’s disgusting. It’s so re-traumatising the things that they get away with saying to you.

“It became like an emotional combat between myself and the defence lawyer. It was relentless and and I didn’t think he was ever going to give in.”

She said that after being abused by Doig for two years, the way she was treated by the defence lawyer was triggering.

“He just was like, putting words in my mouth, calling me a liar. It was just awful and no one in that room intervened.”

She said there was no support after the trial.

“I think they forget that we’ve put ourselves through this, and come out battered and bruised.”

Jennifer said: “He was always treated as innocent until he was proven guilty – we were treated as liars until proven truthful.”

‘Inspirational women’

In Scotland, conviction rates for rape and attempted rapes are the lowest of any crime type.

For cases that reach trial the conviction rate is about 51% compared with 91% for all other crimes.

Most cases never make it as far as court: in 2021/22 there were 2,298 rape and attempted rapes reported to the police, but only 152 prosecutions and 78 convictions.

The women have met the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, to discuss what they would like to see changed for future victims.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said she was “very grateful to meet this inspirational group of women”.

“At the Lord Advocate’s invitation they shared their experiences with the ongoing review of how sexual crimes are prosecuted in Scotland,” they added.

“The result of the review will help make important changes and further embed trauma-informed practices.”

The women say reform is so badly needed that if a situation came where they had to report abuse to the police again, they would think seriously about it.

Each had a different experience in reporting their abuse, in receiving communication about the trial and in the support offered.

They said they were advised to stay out of the court for the verdict because it would not “look good”, and they said they would have liked to have had the opportunity to read their victim impact statements in court, something they feel would have helped their healing process.

The Scottish government said it had committed to expanding and improving the victim statement scheme and was working on an approach which would better reflect the needs of victims.

A spokesman added: “This government has been clear we must take action to improve the experience of those who suffer sexual abuse, the majority of whom are women.

“Victims must be supported to have trust and confidence that the processes of justice will serve their needs, allow them to give their best evidence and support them in their recovery.”

He said the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill seeks to further improve the experiences of victims, and the creation of a commissioner to champion the rights of victims and witnesses would help “ensure that they are treated with compassion and have their voices heard”.

The four women, who say they couldn’t have gone through the trial without each other, had it put to them by the defence that they were colluding, “jealous exes” determined to “ruin a man’s life”.

But their group strength led them to the front row at the High Court in Glasgow on 11 July.

Holding hands, they listened as Lord Clark described Doig as a risk to women and handed him a nine-and-a-half-year custodial sentence, plus three further years under supervision in the community.

Jennifer and both Hannahs said they knew other victims would walk into that court after them, but they hoped to improve the experience for them.

“Although the process is a rollercoaster in the worst way possible, from the second you leave that court for the final time you’re now free to live your life on your terms,” Jennifer said.

“The strength, bravery, courage and determination you used to get to that point is what you should carry the rest of your life – not the shame imposed on you – because it was never yours to carry.”

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