State-funded counselling for rape victims ‘increases participation in criminal justice system’

State-funded counselling for rape victims 'increases participation in criminal justice system'

Dr Deirdre Healy

The provision of state-funded counselling and emotional support for rape victims in England and Wales has increased their participation in the criminal justice system, according to a new report published by the Irish Department of Justice.

Dr Deirdre Healy, director of the UCD Institute of Criminology and a criminal justice and associate professor at UCD Sutherland School of Law, has completed a literature review looking at victims’ interactions with the criminal justice system in various jurisdictions.

Her report, published by the research and data analytics unit in the Department of Justice, studies victims’ and professionals’ experiences with Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) in England and Wales.

ISVAs are state-funded, usually based in rape crisis centres and provide a flexible, 24-hour a day support service to victims of sexual violence in areas such as counselling, emotional support and referrals to other agencies.

Dr Healy’s review revealed that victims found that these ISVAs not only helped them to recover from the trauma of the crime but also facilitated participation in the criminal justice system.

Her review also refers to a study which highlights how effective emotion management strategies can help to mitigate victims’ distress and aid criminal investigations.

Norwegian detectives involved in the study believed that their efforts to work with victim emotions helped to produce more detailed and coherent witness accounts. The 21 detectives who participated in this study were experienced in dealing with traumatised witnesses, having interviewed 150-170 witnesses to the killings that took place on Utøya Island in 2011.

These detectives created a safe space in interview rooms which allowed for emotional expression and they let witnesses know that they were comfortable with emotional expression. This study shows that witnesses’ distress need not undermine police work, but can aid investigations if managed through effective interviewing strategies.

Aidan O’Driscoll, secretary general of the Department of Justice, said: “The research review focuses on best practices with victims in general, exploring victims’ experiences at each stage of the criminal justice process, namely the initial police contact, investigation, prosecution, trial, sentencing and parole. The report provides a strong foundation upon which to continue to develop our policies and practices in these areas.”

He added: “An important fact identified in the report is the gaps in existing academic literature identified considered as part of this study, particularly when looking at the experiences of minority groups – most notably, people with disabilities, members of the Traveller and the LGBTQI+ communities. Therefore, it is anticipated that this report can be used by all stakeholders for further research projects in the field.”

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