Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards expects that more sexual assault victims will seek justice through the courts as the judiciary moves to change the way it deals with such cases.
Victims of sexual assault are often terrified of reporting their experiences to the Police because of how insensitive the cases are addressed and the slow pace at which investigations are done.
And when the matters do reach the court, victims are reluctant to continue with the matter because of how long it takes and how traumatizing the experience can be.
These were some of the points highlighted by the Chancellor in her remarks at the launch of an initiative which seeks to change the way the judiciary deals with sexual offences cases.
Under a project Canadian funded called the JURIST Project, which stands for Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening, a model guideline for sexual offence cases in the Caribbean Region was launched today in Guyana at the Pegasus Hotel.
The Chancellor said with the implementation of these guidelines, she hopes that more victims feel safe to come forward with their reports.
“Because of these guidelines, many more persons will come forward. Not only will they want to come forward, but they will be treated in a way that will respect their dignity and their privacy,” she stated.
The Chancellor promised that no longer will victims be “retraumatised” by giving their evidence in court.
The guidelines outline internationally accepted best practices for the management of sexual offence cases and it promotes a rights-based approach for the treatment of complaints and in dealing with vulnerable victims and witnesses.
For example, the guidelines propose that if bail is granted to the accused, the court may impose conditions such as to restrict contact with the victim.
Another recommendation is that witnesses require support before trial. The guidelines explain that if there is no formal care unit, then the supporter may be a friend or relative.
The launch of these guidelines coincides with the launch of the country’s first sexual offence court – a courtroom designated solely for the hearing of sexual offence cases.
Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally said the two launches also correspond with the government’s review of its national plan of action to deal with sexual offences.
“Guyana’s in the process of conducting a comprehensive review of our national plan of action for the implementation of the sexual offences and domestic violence act and has initiated the resuscitation of the national task force for the prevention of sexual violence,” she stated
Ally noted that this interagency task force will have specific responsibilities for the development and implementation of a national plan of action for the prevention of sexual violence.
Meanwhile, social activist and director of the Red Thread, Karen DeSouza said it was not the judicial arm alone that needs to play a part in addressing cases of sexual abuse.
DeSouza said that it is everybody’s business.