Nine convictions out of 647 rape reports – study says court cases often re-traumatise victims
Stabroek News – July 31, 2005
Although the number of reported rapes is on the rise a new study has found that there have only been nine convictions coming out of the 647 rape reports to the police in the last five years.
In fact, only three per cent of reported cases went to trial during that time and the rate of conviction has declined from 0.9% in 2000 to 0.6% last year.
“Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in the Guyana Justice System” is the new study done by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) to raise public awareness over what the organisation says is the low level of legal and judicial protection from sexual violence available to women. Statistics for the study were accumulated from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police Force and the High Court Registry in Demerara and in Berbice for the period 2000-2004.
Notwithstanding the disparity between the number of cases and convictions, the human rights group feels the biggest problem is that only the miniscule 3% of the reported cases during the period actually made it to trial, while the other 97% of cases dropped out of the judicial process. Moreover, the group says that apart from being “scandalously high,” the attrition rate shows that “the judicial system… no longer functions” in matters related to sexual crimes.
The 60-page report says that sexual violence crimes against women in Guyana are escalating as is evident by the rise in rape reports by a third between 2000 (when there were 117 reports) and 2004 (when reports rose to 154). The study also found that there was a 16-fold increase in the statutory rape reports that rose from 2 to 34.
But commensurate with increase in rape reports is the increase in the number of cases that do not make it before the courts, 60% last year as compared to 44% in 2000. And of those that did make it, only 20 of the 647, or 3%, actually went to trial, with nine of them yielding convictions. Additionally, only 3 of 31 statutory rape cases were tried in the High Court in the period between the study and none of them ended in conviction.
Though the growing number of reports alarmed the human rights group, it says, “even more disturbing is… how little protection the administration of justice provides against this menace.” In this vein, the study identifies a number of deficiencies and weaknesses in the justice system that, in part, result from the lack of qualified professionals, inadequate resources to train and remunerate officers and staff, along with outdated systems and practices, which prevail in the courts.
However, what is described as the “unreconstructed chauvinism” of the country’s legal culture is also seen as one of the biggest obstacles to the delivery of justice.
“The judicial process is an experience frequently as traumatic for the victim as the original sexual violence. Rape survivors are bewildered by the coldness, suspicion and humiliating treatment they must experience,” the group says. It noted that not only were victims unlikely to win their cases, “they can expect to undergo a process of re-victimization.” As a result, it said improving the conviction rate for sexual violence crimes is the major challenge in order to get those responsible for the administration of justice to take crimes of sexual violence seriously.
Among the recommendations coming out of the study is the need for urgent consideration to be given for the creation of a special court to deal with sexual offences since they make up more than half of all the cases before the high courts.
The study found that 79% of reported cases were out of the judicial system by the end of the preliminary inquiry, which the group says should be replaced by a paper-based process in sexual assault matters with adequate safeguards to ensure honesty and transparency.
The report also says that the entire process involving the investigation and prosecution of rape cases ought to be rethought, while the development of policy and advice on investigating cases involving young children is also needed.
In addition to this, the report urges that priority be given to developing an obligatory national medical protocol for clinical examination of sexual assault victims.
On this note, it urges that there be efforts to co-ordinate survivor-oriented forensic, medical, counselling, support, information and case-tracking services. Also a priority in the report is a review of the courtroom advocacy in both the lower and high courts.
Also, the report says that in order to adequately address sexual violence in the country profiles need to be constructed to identify specific factors, like the age of victims, their relation to the aggressors, the causes, etc.