News

01 Nov 2012

Criminal Justice Responses to Rape and Sexual Assault (Michele Burman) …

Criminal Justice Responses to Rape and Sexual Assault (Michele Burman)

Michele Burman has undertaken a range of separate, yet inter-related, empirical projects in relation to criminal justice responses to gendered violence, in particular rape and sexual assault.  Following a series of evaluation projects undertaken with Professor Lynn Jamieson of Edinburgh University on the introduction of successive attempts at ‘rape shield’ legislation, and the relevance and admissibility of sexual history and  character evidence in sexual offence trials, Michele has recently completed a study tracking the rates of attrition in rape. This was a comparative European study, funded under the Daphne II programme led by Professor Liz Kelly of London Metropolitan University, and Michele produced the Scotland country report.

With Jenny Johnstone (an SCCJR associate), Michele has also recently completed two projects on the impact and potential of the Gender Equality Duty (GED) for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission: the first examined the impact of the GED on the Scottish criminal justice process, and the second examined the scope of the GED as a driver for change in relation to responses to gendered-violence.

Key Findings from the Research
Michele’s research reveals the contextualised and gendered features of the principles and practices of criminal justice processes. For example, the work on rape shield legislation reveals some of the limitations of legal reform in the area of gender-based violence; it shows clearly the ways in which the outcome of various strands of legal practice can have consequences which undermine reforming intentions. The introduction of rape shield legislation, designed to restrict the use of questioning and evidence about the complainer’s sexual history and character, has had an unanticipated and perverse outcome. Paradoxically, use of the legislation has increased the likelihood questioning on sexual history and character rather than limiting it, such that 7 out of 10 complainers in the most serious sexual offence trials are now virtually guaranteed to be questioned on their sexual history and sexual character. In sexual offence trials, lawyers are not just “interpreting” the law but are implementing it through legal practice in ways that “fit” with legal constructions and understandings of fairness, and this can often be in tension with the legislative intent.

Impact
Michele has presented findings from her different research projects to a range of academic, policy and practitioner audiences. In the course of the past year, she has delivered presentations at two inter-sectoral policy seminars in Glasgow (in March and May 2009); to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service annual conference on Sexual Offences (June 2009); to the British Criminology Conference in Cardiff (July 2009) and to the Association of Criminal Justice Research and Development annual conference in Dublin (Oct 2009). She presented a paper on the limitations of law reform in relation to sexual offences to the European Society of Criminology in Sept 2009, and was invited, along with Gill McIvor to present at an international symposium on gender, crime and justice in A Coruna, Spain in January 2010.  Michele’s article entitled ‘Evidencing Sexual Assault: Women in the Witness Box’ published in the Probation Journal won the prize for best article of 2009.

The findings from her most recent research on rape shield legislation are currently utilised by the Crown  Office and Procurator Fiscal Service within their accredited training programme for prosecutors investigating sexual offences; this research has also been cited in a 5 judge bench House of Lords Appeal Court judgment; it informed the Government’s policy consultation document  Redressing the Balance: Cross-examination in Rape and Sexual Offence Trials; it formed the basis of expert evidence provided to the Justice 2 Committee during the pre-legislative stages of the Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence (Scotland) Bill , and has been used in a series of judicial training seminars from 2006-2008. In April 2010, Michele took part in the filming of an innovative training DVD on sexual offences for the Judicial Studies Committee.  Michele also provided input to the Scottish Law Commission during their root and branch review of the Law on Rape and Sexual Offences, and gave expert evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill. Michele is regularly called upon to provide input and advice to the Scottish Government and other organisations: most recently in relation to the development of a Victimisation Strategy for Scotland, and to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission on their Inquiry into Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation.

To view details of Michele’s publications in this area see http://www.sccjr.ac.uk/staff/Prof-Michele-Burman/2.