Mairi was the target of repeated sexual assaults and stalking by a family friend over the course of many years. She reported her experiences to the police after they initially contacted her in relation to another incident by the same perpetrator. Whilst her initial experiences with the police were positive, poor communication from the police and the prosecution, charges being dropped due to lack of witnesses, and the overall duration it took for the case to reach court made for a very difficult time. Her experiences in court were similarly fraught with what she saw as unfairness and a lack of concern for her safety. She argues for the need for women to have independent legal representation in order that they are fairly represented through the justice process.
Initially it was all absolutely fantastic. The specially trained police officers couldn’t have been more sympathetic or understanding. The whole team were absolutely fantastic at getting the story out and getting the reports done and talking to everybody. They had a lot of patience, they were kind. That was the best part of it. We felt supported and I felt like they believed me, they listened to me. It was all going really well. It was only when it got to court that things completely broke down, or even before then.
He had bail conditions set that meant he couldn’t approach me, and he couldn’t come into the street where we lived, but for some reason the court didn’t impose bail conditions to stop him from attacking my 18-year-old son. I’m a wheelchair user, he’s my son and there’s only the two of us living at home. There should have been bail conditions set to protect him as well, because in the middle of the court case, a year and a half down the line this middle-aged guy was able to again viciously assault my son. He was constantly terrorising us and threatening us at every opportunity. It was incredibly scary and very intimidating.
We were advised by my Advocacy Worker to keep a record of everything that was going on and to present it to the police prior to the court case to show what the intimidation was like, but when I went in the police officers were very rude. They weren’t interested, they were like what can we do? He hasn’t touched you so what do you want us to do? I ended up insisting on seeing a sergeant and sat there until he came down. I think he left me waiting for about two and a half hours. Then eventually he graced us with his presence. He started off very rudely, but I was strong, and I told him exactly how we’d been living and how it was unacceptable. He eventually calmed down and then explained where they’re at. They’ve got no resources, no manpower, so they can’t do anything about it. Unless the guy commits an actual offence there’s nothing they can do, so again we didn’t feel supported by the system. The bail conditions felt meaningless. In the beginning it was fantastic. But the minute they withdraw you’re on your own, completely on your own.
It’s so hard when you’ve got to the point of giving the police your statement, you’ve exposed yourself, you’ve opened yourself up to everybody talking about you, judging you. Once you say it to the police it’s no longer that secret you have held onto for months.
So, it felt like an important part of the journey, to be in court and to be in front of the judge and be able to say what happened. Just the reality of it wasn’t as good. You see it on TV, and you see victims being supported and you imagine that the court is like that, but it was nothing at all like it.
Court was terrible. It was just the three people in front of me and I didn’t feel like any of them were on my side. I felt like I didn’t get a chance to speak, I didn’t get a chance to finish sentences. The defence lawyer was very snappy, short, and impatient and kept asking me the same questions repeatedly, he just reframed them. I was basically just allowed to answer yes or no. I was in for about three hours with three breaks because when I did try to talk the perpetrator stopped it by insisting on speaking to his lawyer and I was put out of the courtroom, then back in again. It stops your train of thought it stops everything and you can’t think again and then you’re off onto another subject when you come back in. It was not a good experience at all. It was all very unfair and so confusing. The Procurator Fiscal didn’t help either.
I had a lady from the court come in and sit with me during the trial. That was helpful, because it’s quite intimidating especially when there was only a thin screen between me and the perpetrator who was sitting clicking a pen, clearing his throat and shuffling papers. I mean, I don’t even know why he was allowed to take notes in court. I wasn’t allowed to take notes or take pieces of paper in with me to remember things. But he was sitting there on the other side of that screen being able to take notes, write things down. He was able to prepare for the next witness coming in and twist things with his lies. It was very unfair. He should’ve had the same conditions in court as we had, it should’ve all been on an equal footing. During the whole trial we also had to deal with multiple sleazy newspaper headlines naming my son and thereby making it easy to identify me, all because of the perpetrators previous convictions and his involvement in the entertainment business.
When I gave evidence the court was closed, but when everybody else in our group gave evidence there were friends of the perpetrator there and they were tutting and sniggering and weren’t stopped either. I felt it was all ridiculous. My son wasn’t given a chance to speak either. He was beaten up quite badly the night that the guy trashed our house and things, and he didn’t get a chance to tell any of his story. It was just one-word answers, yes, no and things like that. His petite girlfriend was even made to get out of the witness stand and demonstrate a kick that was given to my wheelchair, again I felt this was just a ridiculous waste of time.
On the whole I came away feeling very cheated, like I just didn’t get a chance to explain anything.
The sexual offences were dropped because there were no witnesses. But there was a stack of other offences. Out of eight charges, I think he got done for three of them. The rest he got off with and just did community service. The court case took three years to go through in total which again is absolutely ridiculous. You wait for a full year to even get a date, then you get a date, and he was just allowed to repeatedly push it back. Several times we were all ready, witnesses had got days off work and then nothing, the whole experience was quite traumatic for all of us.
I think I’ve given up on the whole justice process after being through the courts and seeing how unsupportive the criminal justice service is. It’s stupid to call it the criminal justice service because it’s really the criminal supportive service. But, you know, I just don’t think there’s any justice. I wouldn’t do it again, but I’m glad that I have done it, I’m definitely glad I’ve done it. I’m really glad that everybody now knows what he’s like. He’s got a lot of access to women and in a place where women could be vulnerable, so from that point of view I’m very, very glad that I went to the police and exposed him in such a big way because it does give some protection to other women.
He still continues to harass us at every opportunity. I can be driving through the village where we live and he’ll jump out on the road and stick his two fingers up at me, or a middle finger, he’ll shout abuse as I drive past, he constantly talks about us and says I’ve got a vendetta out against him and I’m ruining his life. Wherever he can spoil stuff for us, he’s doing it. It’s like he’s got the vendetta against us, that’s what it feels like, and we’ve got no protection, there’s nowhere we can go with it, there’s no one we can talk to about it. He can just continue to do this indefinitely. He is such a bully.
I live very quietly now. I don’t use the chemist or the shops in the village. My son tries to do the same and we just avoid places where we know he will be. We try our best to avoid him as much as we can. We want to just move on with our lives now.
The support from the Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre has been invaluable. I know that without my advocacy worker’s support I might not be here today. I think having survived it makes me feel proud, proud that I got through it and proud that we’ve survived it and we’ve come out the other end. Ultimately women need their own legal representation during these trials, without it there’s no point, there’s no fairness, there’s no justice, and it can all just become too overwhelmingly difficult.
Ultimately women need their own legal representation during these trials, without it there’s no point, there’s no fairness, there’s no justice, and it can all just become too overwhelmingly difficult.
Photograph of a statue of Lady Justice – a personification of the requirement for the weighing of evidence and impartiality in judicial systems. Mairi strongly argues that fairness and equity must also be a decisive factors in the pursuit of justice through the courts, and argues for the right to legal representation for rape and sexual assault victims.