Frances Andrade's Suicide and the Re-victimisation of Rape Survivors in the Witness Box

Saturday, 9 February 2013    No comments


 I can't stop reading about Frances Andrade's suicide.

It's so sad but I can entirely understand why she chose to end her life.

I try not to talk or think about this part of my life, but I remember vividly even now -- almost two years later -- how fucking horrible it was giving evidence against my attacker. For hours and hours I had to stand in a room full of strangers, alone, as a man who did not know me was allowed to tear my character to shreds, tell the court my private business, call me a liar over and over again and there was nothing I nor anyone else could do to end it. Add to that the trauma of being just feet away from the man who only five months earlier had assaulted me, beat me, raped me. I can still remember his ugly, smarmy face as I told the court how he tore me open and left me bleeding on the floor. But I couldn't just walk away when this man accused me of heinous things -- of lying, of liking it, of asking for this -- I wasn't allowed to. No-one stood up in that crowded court room and said 'stop'. I lost my temper when he questioned me on something private from when I was a young teenager and the judge called a recess. I remember asking his QC how he could do this to people, but he didn't answer me. I wasn't going to come back. I told them I refused to come back, but I was told there would be a warrant for my arrest if I didn't. That day was one of the worst days of my life. I felt like I was being raped again -- this time with an audience.

Something needs to change. It has to. The way things are just now isn't right, it isn't fair. Survivors of rape and sexual assault are treated like criminals in the witness box. Defence lawyers are allowed to dig up and lambast your most personal details that are irrelevant to the fact you were a victim of this fucking horrible crime. The system is traumatising and re-victimising survivors and it's putting survivors off of reporting. It's making survivors kill themselves. Honestly, if I wasn't in a psychiatric hospital for the duration of the trial I may have taken the same path as Frances.

Frances' case has strengthened my belief that survivors should have their own lawyer to represent solely their interests. Rape Crisis Scotland have been campaigning this for a long time. The prosecutor, despite their best intentions, isn't there for the survivor. They represent the public. Experiences of survivors giving evidence, reporting figures and conviction rates all show that when it comes to trial a survivor's interests are not represented. They are simply a witness, they are an exhibit, they don't matter. As long as they answer all the questions thrown at them the court doesn't give a fuck what happens afterwards. Their life, their autonomy, their wellbeing doesn't matter to the court. The court doesn't care. All the court cares about is the process.

Survivors need someone in court to represent them and to be there for them. A lawyer for the survivor could stand up when the questioning turns to abuse and bullying. A lawyer could oppose the introduction of irrelevant and private medical records and psychiatric records. If anything bittersweet can come of Frances' death I hope it is that. I hope the court opens its eyes. I hope it listens to our voices, our cries, our pleas. A survivor who is cited to give evidence may, if she's lucky, get a tour of the court room and get to meet the prosecutor for a few minutes before she testifies. That is pretty much it. Survivors aren't prepared for questioning, the process and the law whereas a defendant has months to prepare and discuss the case with their lawyer -- they are told what they should and shouldn't answer, say, wear. Survivors go in there not knowing, vulnerable, exposed and alone. It's wrong.

Women are being raped on a staggering level and the court system is abetting it. It's allowing it.

A guilty verdict shouldn't be an anomaly.

Survivors' private lives shouldn't be exposed and castigated.

Survivors shouldn't have to weigh the pros and cons of reporting their attackers.

The court fed Frances those pills, they forced them down her throat.

Of course I understand that there is a balance -- due process must take place and the validity of the survivor's testimony must be questioned so the jury can make an informed decision -- but too often, as I have stated, that balance isn't right. The lawyers for the defence don't merely question the evidence, they question the character of the survivor on a scale unseen in survivors and victims of other kinds of crimes. Quite frankly it is bullying.

Frances' rapists will now spend a few years in prison for abusing her, get out half way through their sentence for 'good behaviour' and continue living their lives as if this never happened. Her family is now destroyed. Her children are left without a mother, her husband without his wife. Of course they should have been punished but is it even worth it? I don't believe in God, an afterlife or any other spiritual bullshit but I hope Frances is at peace now. It leaves me with the question that I always ask myself - how do those who re-victimise rape survivors in court sleep at night?

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Sarah


Sarah I'm a rape survivor-turned-activist trying to use my experiences to help other women. I'm in my early 20's, live in the north-east of Scotland, vegan, a feminist and most importantly, I am mama to Jacob - my beautiful six-year old son who has autism.