Plans to abolish character references in sexual offence cases pushed back yet again 

Plans to abolish the controversial use of character references in trials involving sex offenders have been put on hold for at least another three years. Another devastating blow for victims and survivors of SA and GV.

Plans to abolish the controversial use of character references in trials involving sex offenders have been put on hold for at least another three years. Another devastating blow for victims and survivors of SA and GV. 

Character references have no place in sexual offences cases – they feed into victim blaming and rape myths that serve to simultaenously discredit survivors while protecting abusers. They undoubtably contribute to the indefensibly low conviction rate of sexual offences and rape in our court system. 

The use of character witnesses in trials and at sentencing hearings “further traumatises the victims and survivors” as Sonya McMullan, Women’s Aid regional services manager put it. They serve to perpetuate the dangerous idea that if you’re charming and well liked, you cannot be an abuser. And by the same token that if you’re an imperfect person whose behaviour or moral character can be questioned, you cannot be a victim of abuse – in essence, a thinly veiled notion that you deserve it, or were asking for it. 

We cannot and will not accept more setbacks for victims and survivors of SA / GV. We’re 3 months in to Stormont’s return and already we’re seeing a roll back on the grand plans and promises made by those across the political spectrum. The reality of a £2 Billion deficit in the budget poses a huge issue –  as time and time again we see how essential services and policy measures are the first to be cut in times of ‘financial difficulty’. We’re told the same story every time: no funding for Regina Coeli hostel;  no funding for Nexus; not enough money for Women’s Aid; and now this. The wealth and resources absolutely exists in society to implement what in reality is the bare minimum when it comes to tackling misogyny and GV.

The need for wider change and a transformation of society on every level couldn’t be more clear.   On the basis of a system where wealth is hoarded and privately owned, where ‘money saving’ = budget cuts and attacks on essential services for working class people i.e., more misery and hardship for working-class people, victims and survivors of GV will always be let down and disregarded. The gains that we do win – will always be in jeopardy, as we have seen with the erosion of our NHS, the attacks on our rights including bodily autonomy and now the blockages on attempts to introduce progressive legislation on the issue of GV. 

This will require a united and sustained struggle of working class people of all genders, young people, and our trade unions to fight for a needs-based-budget, i.e. a budget that actually meets the needs of our society. Beyond that – the necessity to build the socialist feminist movement in our workplaces, our trade unions, our schools and homes is urgent. Stormont should not be let off the hook at any point.

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