US woman raped in Belfast forest slams idea of victim-attacker meetings
A US woman who was raped by a teenager while hiking in a Belfast forest has voiced fears that sexual abuse victims could be retraumatised if brought face to face with their attackers.
Winnie M Li, who was assaulted in Colin Glen Forest Park in 2008, was speaking out after former judge Sir John Gillen suggested the idea as he continues his review of how the criminal justice system handles sexual offences.
At the time of the rape Ms Li was a successful film producer, but afterwards she suffered from severe anxiety and depression and was unable to work for two years.
She spent five years going through therapy and attempting to rebuild her life.
Ms Li (39) said she believed that unless it was specifically the choice of the victim, it was a very bad idea to meet an attacker.
She said: "The very thought of crossing paths with one's perpetrator can bring on unbearable nausea, fear, and distress.
"I spent 10 months dreading the day I would have to see my rapist in court. My life ground to a halt while I waited for the trial.
"That is the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder. It can completely debilitate you.
"It is very damaging. A victim should not have to be in the same courtroom as her perpetrator in order for the truth of her story to be believed.
"I can't speak for all victims out there, but I don't think I would find any peace in meeting my rapist.
"It would likely retraumatise me and set back my recovery process - and I think that might be the case for many other victims."
Ms Li is urging Sir John Gillen to rethink his suggestion.
"To compare rape to a 'low-tariff' crime is a complete insult to victims who have had their lives temporarily destroyed and permanently impacted by sexual trauma," she said.
"Rather than find an alternative form of justice, why don't we just focus on fixing the actual criminal justice system so it can adequately address sexual abuse cases and hold perpetrators accountable?
"If rapists don't serve suitable prison sentences, then I don't see how we can call that justice."
Sir John suggested that sex offenders and their victims could be brought together outside the courtroom as part of a plan to tackle under-reporting of sexual crime.
His review was launched following the trial of former Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were acquitted of rape.
The retired Appeal Court judge has described Northern Ireland as a "shining" example in its use of restorative justice in other areas involving low-level wrongdoing or offences committed by youths.
The PSNI and other official agencies have just launched a new sexual consent awareness campaign, aimed at those aged 16-28, which seeks to raise public consciousness of what sexual assault and consent is.