Rape victims sex lives may be off limits in UK

Following a government review, a ban on such questioning is being considered

Rape victims sex lives may be off limits in UK

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Rape victims could be spared questions about their sexual history after a government review in the UK on the topic.

The Times UK reports today that Ministry of Justice officials are looking at banning such lines of questioning.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has ordered officials to review the impact on rape victims of the existing law, under which a victim's sexual history is admissable in court for exceptional circumstances. The bar for disclosure of a complainant's sexual history is supposed to be high, and the disclosure is at the discretion of judges.

"I do not want this to be used as an excuse to shame victims of serious crimes," Ms Truss said in a speech at the Centre for Social Justice in central London yesterday.

A year-long study in Newcastle by Dame Vera Baird, QC found that in a third of 30 cases observed there was questioning about prior sexual conduct. In a further four cases, applications to introduce sexual history were made close to or after the start of the trial, contravening court rules.

What happens in Ireland?

Rape and Justice in Ireland recommends at Recommendation 21, that "… if the prosecution is to be permitted to continue to introduce such evidence, the complainant must be consulted in advance of any such introduction".

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland said in a position paper published in 2012: "There can be no doubt that the prospect of being subjected to character assassination at the hands of defence barristers, based on their previous sexual history, deters some victims of sexual crime from continuing with a prosecution, or even from making a report to An Garda Siochana in the first place.

"This fear contributes significantly to the attrition of sexual violence complaints from the earliest stage immediately after the crime, right up to and including the trial itself. Not only is it very unpleasant for the victims themselves, but it is also a problem for the legal system, as it means that prosecutions which might otherwise succeed are likely to be abandoned.

"This means in turn that the risk is increased that some accused of sexual crimes who should be convicted and sentenced as sex offenders, are not."