New laws aimed at tackling the prejudice faced by rape victims in Scotland’s courts will come into force today, after widespread concerns for years about low conviction rates for the crime.
Victims who do not fight back against their attacker are to be aided by new guidance from judges to combat preconceived notions about how someone “should” react.
Last month, Rape Crisis Scotland launched a media campaign titled “I Just Froze” to challenge misconceptions about victims’ reactions.
It will also now be easier for victims to gain non-harassment orders against abusers as part of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act, which was passed by MPs last year.
Courts will also be required to take into account whether or not an offence involved abuse of a partner or former partner, meaning that crimes are of a domestic abuse nature.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson warned that abusive behaviour “will not be tolerated in Scotland”.
He said: “Tackling these crimes requires a bold response and speedy and effective enforcement, which is why we have introduced new laws to improve the way our justice system responds. By continuing to modernise the law we can support victims in accessing justice and ensure perpetrators are properly held to account for their actions.
“All of the measures coming in to force have one thing in common. They will improve the way the justice system responds to abusive behaviour and help ensure perpetrators are clear that their actions will have consequences.”
It will now be mandatory for judges to give special information to guide juries where victim did not appear to physically resist an attacker. It also covers cases where there was a delay in the victim reporting the offence. The move is designed to challenge any pre-conceived notions jurors may have about how a person “should” react when they are the victim of a sexual offence.
Rape Crisis Scotland co-ordinator, Sandy Brindley, said: “Survivors often tell us that during a rape they froze and were unable to fight back or scream. This is a completely natural and common reaction, but not always one that members of the public will necessarily be aware of.
“We welcome the introduction of jury directions in rape cases as a significant step forward. Providing jury members with factual information on different reactions to rape should help to ensure that verdicts in sexual offence cases are based on the evidence presented, rather than being influenced by assumptions about how rape victims should react.”
About 1,000 women in Scotland secured non-harassment orders from the country’s courts last year. Numbers have soared tenfold recently, and with police receiving 60,000 domestic abuse calls a year, there have been calls for a greater array of tools for the authorities. The new powers will mean the orders, which are issued after conviction, can be imposed in a wider range of circumstances.