Police rape trial: women victims suffer unequal treatment, says NGO

Technical errors in extracting a signed confession from rape-perpetrator took precedence over the rights of the victim, says Men Against Violence

Women will not report rape and sexual assault because prosecutions are turning into trials of their character and acquitting their aggressors, the NGO Men Against Violence said in the wake of the acquittal of a police constable on charges of rape of a fellow female officer at the Msida police station.

“Another day and another person accused of rape walks scot-free because the victim did not fight back, did not try hard enough, did not avoid the perpetrator enough – in other words, did not live up to the expectations of how the perfect victim should act,” said James Buhagiar, spokesperson for Men Against Violence.

“It is no wonder that research shows that 85% of the Maltese population would not report if they were raped or sexually assaulted... Women know that it will only lead to a trial of their character, re-victimisation and ultimately acquittal of the aggressor.”

Men Against Violence said that in the particular case, technical errors in extracting a signed confession from the perpetrator took precedence over the rights of the victim.

Buhagiar said it was a sterile legal environment that was enabling such a defence, which he called outrageous. “To free someone accused of rape by removing the damning evidence based on a technicality, whilst demanding the perfection in behaviour and character from the victim, is not justice: it’s a travesty.”

Buhagiar said the fact the accused had been set did not mean that rape did not take place. “We treat rape trials like any other criminal trial where the guilt must be proven beyond reasonable doubt, which, in most of the rape cases, is almost impossible to achieve. It’s an old adage that it is better for 100 guilty people to walk away free than have on innocent person imprisoned. This is why most of the rapists walk away without punishment, free to rape again.”

Buhagiar said the price of treating rape and sexual assault like any other crime when the rights of the accused are clearly defined whilst those of the victims are nowhere to be seen, was not paid by all equally.

“It’s paid, disproportionately, by women. People accused of a crime should have their right to a fair trial protected fully and unconditionally, but that cannot happen at the expense of the victim’s right to justice, nor indeed the right of the society to see the justice done.”

Buhagiar said Malta required standard, victim-centered policies and procedures when collecting evidence in rape and sexual assault cases in order to prevent technical mistakes. “We need to stop blaming the women for what happened to them, by judging their character, rather than judging the actions of the rapist. Last, we need those responsible for errors and mistakes held accountable for failures in the system. Then and only then the victims will see justice. Women and girls in Malta deserve nothing less than that.”