I suppose that in a society where lighting a joint is punished more heavily than ferociously attacking a woman, the figures released by the Women’s Resource Centre this week should not come as any surprise. Still, it made very uncomfortable reading. Of 204 reported sexual assaults on women in Bermuda from 2000 to 2004, only 27 made it to court and there were sixteen convictions. I know we’ve covered this topic before on BermudaSucks.com and I make no apology for brining it up again. Something is very wrong with this picture.
So where is the system falling short of protecting women against violence? A forum regular on this site, posting under pseudonym Sigh, recently encountered a sexually motivated assault and bravely agreed to tell us about her experience of reporting the crime and standing up in court in the hope it helps to drive some improvements. Most of you will have heard of the case; some 23 women reported a young man trying to lure them to secluded locations on the pretext that there was a fault with their car, then assaulted them. The man was acquitted in a case that it appeared should be straightforward. What went wrong?
Sigh says that she was treated "amazingly well" by the police. She was nervous to report it, both because she felt somehow stupid for being taken in and because, as an expat, she had heard so much negativity about how she would be treated by police. Her fears, I’m glad to say, were unfounded in this case. "The two police officers I dealt with were so positive and supportive. They were working very hard to apprehend this guy," she commented. It was time consuming to go through reporting the crime, visiting the police station three times to give a statement. Their thoroughness was impressive and Sigh felt reassured by their commitment and dedication to "doing everything in their power to build a watertight case." An identification parade, attended along with many other women, and a pre-trial meeting with the prosecutor were made possible thanks to a supportive employer.
Four women testified in court. As was widely reported, the accused was acquitted in spite of so many positive identifications; the prosecutor was deemed to have failed to adequately tie all four assaults together, so they had to each be considered separately by the magistrate. With there apparently being no court reporter present, it appeared that the magistrate had to take his own notes, meaning that he seemed unable to focus fully on the defendant and trial. The accused clenched his fists and lunged at Sigh while she was speaking during her two hours on the stand. "I think that the police are working as hard as they possibly can," says Sigh, continuing, "I don’t feel that the prosecutors and magistrates are taking it seriously enough though." She feels that the accused will re-offend "without a doubt" and fears that next time he will do much worse.
In spite of this experience, Sigh says she would still report incidents in the future, but has lost faith in the legal system – "I was devastated by his acquittal." More positive aspects have come in the support of police, friends, family and other victims.
As for other cases not making it to court, part of the problem according to the WRC is that, with around 80 percent of the victims being known to the perpetrator, victims may be intimidated and withdraw their complaint. Additionally, the social stigma is often a hindrance, with women fearing insensitive reporting, finger pointing and becoming the subject of unpleasant gossip. Cases can take up to two years to come to court, undoubtedly stringing out the trauma for all involved.
What can we do? Once again, we urge you all to consider contributing to the WRC, whether in time, money or expertise. Pressure your local MP to commit to tackling this issue. Try to avoid judging victims of assault. And probably the best suggestion I have heard, from Sigh, "I don’t know how the everyday person can fix this problem other than by calling attention to it over and over again, hoping that the lawmakers will get the picture."