Judge accepts rape victim request to halt aggressor’s trial to avoid reliving trauma

A judge has accepted a woman’s request to stop the prosecution of her rapist former partner because she feels a trial will damage her mental health

The rape victim does not want to relive her trauma
The rape victim does not want to relive her trauma

A judge has upheld a rape victim’s request that her former partner not undergo trial on the grounds that it would be detrimental to her mental health.

The Criminal Court, presided by Mr Justice Aaron Bugeja, ruled on the request made by the woman, a former police officer, after ensuring that she hadn’t been coerced into doing so.

In its decision, the court observed that the woman’s request had been made in order to spare her the extended psychological trauma she would suffer, not only by testifying about her ordeal in court, but also by the simple fact that the case would still be open.

The judge noted that the woman had been “crystal clear” when she had given her reasons for this decision in court, assuring the judge that there had been no threats. She had been to therapy and didn’t want to re-live the trauma she had suffered.

“I took this decision myself, as I said. I don’t want to continue proceedings with him because I want to close this case, I don’t want to open this chapter again, meaning I want to close it from my end there are no ties,” the victim told the judge.

Partner abused her for years

The police had started investigating the 37-year-old man in June 2017, after the woman had filed a report at the Hamrun police station, claiming to have been abused by her partner for years and that she couldn't take it anymore.

The man had since been indicted and was awaiting trial for rape, holding the woman against her will, slightly injuring her, forcing her to perform sex acts against her will and damaging her property.

She had told the police about several episodes of abuse, including one where the accused had allegedly come home drunk and beaten her with his fists, demanding that she have sex with him. When she refused, he had taken a knife from the kitchen and threatened to “cover the place with blood” if she didn’t sleep with him. The woman had acquiesced to his demands, fearing for her life, the court was told.

The man, who was described as extremely jealous, had smashed her mobile phone on one occasion, after she had refused to disclose her password. Another time, he had threatened her after she told him of plans to travel abroad with a female friend of hers. He had turned aggressive when she had tried to end the relationship.

The trial was due to begin soon.

‘I don’t want to relive trauma’

Deciding the case, Mr Justice Aaron Bugeja noted that the woman had made a sworn declaration before a notary, in which she explained that she did not want the trial to go ahead because of the repercussions she would have to face.

She repeated the declaration in court, after the judge ordered her to confirm it on oath in his presence and confirm that she had made the decision out of her own free will and not because she had been coerced.

Whilst confirming that she had not been threatened in any way, the woman explained that she had to go to therapy after her traumatic experiences and did not wish to relive them.

The judge observed that the law permitted the police to prosecute the accused ex officio and did not require the woman to file a complaint and that this was a measure intended to protect victims of domestic abuse who were too fearful of their abuser to take the step themselves. Criminal proceedings on such charges could also continue against the wishes of the victim, should the complaint be withdrawn.

On the other hand, the victim had a right to avoid re-victimisation or multiplication of trauma. The accused also had the right to a fair trial, said the judge. “The protection of victims, although of the utmost importance, cannot on the other hand operate in a manner which diminishes the right to a fair trial of the person accused.”

Mr Justice Bugeja quoted at length from guidelines used by courts abroad in such cases, observing that they showed just how difficult it is to achieve a workable balance in practice.

“Her motivation was that of not continuing to suffer the consequences of the incident. She doesn’t want to continue opening the wounds she was left with after her relationship with the accused. She says the relationship with the accused is over and that she had no remaining personal or patrimonial ties to him. There were no children between them.

“She does not want the psychological progress she has made be brought to naught when she would have to once again testify in person or through video conferencing. She doesn’t want to recount the stories of what she endured in testimony as well as in cross-examination. In short, she wants to move forward with her life and wants to put this episode behind her and forget about it.”

The judge said that the court was also bound to consider whether it was in the interests of justice and the public interest that the trial, with all the costs, time spent and effort that this entails, take place when the remaining evidence would add to the intrinsic uncertainty about the verdict of every trial by jury.

Upholding the woman’s request, the court ordered that the criminal proceedings stop at this stage, abstaining from taking the case further.