Belfast Telegraph

Justice system still failing abuse victims

Editor's Viewpoint

It is difficult to realise the horror that Karen Taggart must have felt when she realised that a male colleague had been photographing her in the work bathroom. It was a particularly vile form of voyeurism, demeaning and invasive.

Little wonder that she was later to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, afraid even to leave her home alone and ever suspicious when she enters public toilets or changing rooms.

She very courageously has waived her right to anonymity to spell out the full scale of the trauma inflicted on her.

It was so severe that she dreaded going to court to give evidence because of the ordeal she felt she would endure in the witness box, even though she was the victim, had done nothing wrong, and wasn't even aware that a crime had been committed until informed by police.

That is a feeling many women who have been subjected to harassment, sexual abuse or even rape can empathise with.

They feel that if a case goes to court they - the wronged - are the ones in the dock, not the actual perpetrator.

In this case the perpetrator pleaded guilty, saving her from giving evidence, but her determination to see the case through and to tell her story may encourage other women who have undergone similar ordeals to come forward and tell police what happened.

As we have seen with the allegations levelled against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, once someone is brave enough to point the finger of blame, the dam of silence is breached and other women are empowered to take on men who thought they were untouchable.

We have seen other accusations levelled at stars of the magnitude of Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey, although it must be stressed in all cases these are claims, without anything yet being proved in court.

But what these cases prove is that women no longer feel the need to cower out of the limelight, afraid that they will not be believed when they identify their abusers.

Karen also makes a pertinent point about how victims often feel the justice system is weighted against them. And it does seem somewhat unjust that she is not entitled to any compensation because she was not physically touched, even if the crime had a profound mental impact on her.

Abuse does not have to be physical to be invasive or traumatic, and she is right - this area of law should be re-examined.

Belfast Telegraph

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