Rape victims who are too traumatised to go to court now have the help of a group of six lawyers to see them through the process gratis. This was disclosed by attorney Lennox Sankersingh who said he and the lawyers in his Couva chambers last year came up with the idea to help victims of crime, including those who were sexually assaulted.
"Rape is such a severe crime affecting a lot of young women who are totally traumatised. "If they have lawyers accompanying them to court, they will feel more comfortable. We will explain to them the legal process and protect them as much as possible in the courtroom process." Sankersingh said his law firm has assisted a few crime victims so far, giving them advice and support to help identify perpetrators in ID parades.
"We have seen in actual practice victims refusing to attend ID parades because they were afraid. When we offered to accompany them, they agreed to go," Sankersingh recalled. He said his firm was considering working with MPs and councillors, who would be in a position to refer crime victims to his firm.
"It is difficult to co-ordinate this activity on our own. MPs can co-ordinate it and contact the lawyers," he suggested. Sankersingh said he did not believe the police had been handling sexual-offences cases better than in the past. "No, I don't think police officers are adequately trained to meet these kinds of challenges," he said, responding to questions. "The main challenge is understanding the trauma victims go through and their great reluctance to go to court.
"The police need to be extremely sensitive about this, but I don't see that happening much." Marion Taylor, director/board member of the Rape Crisis Centre (RCC), said pro-bono representation by attorneys for rape victims should be encouraged. "Especially since most survivors of rape are not financially equipped to retain the services of lawyers," she said.
Asked if she felt the police were handling sexual-offences cases better and whether they were trained, Taylor said, "In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the RCC trained and sensitised police officers on how to treat with survivors. "What is needed again is for the RCC?to return to the training room of the police."
Asked why the training was stopped, Taylor replied, "I suppose it was stopped because those in charge did not see it as a necessity or a requirement." But she added, "If officers are not properly trained to treat with issues of this nature, this can further traumatise the survivor, in that insensitive statements and questions can be made or asked."
On the role of magistrates, Taylor said, "The role of magistrates is to make decisions. Yes, they are trained. It is what is presented to them and in what manner.