New Zealand rape survivors humiliated with 'irrelevant' questions during trials - study

Rape survivors are being humilated with "irrelevant" questions during trials, new research has found.

Elisabeth McDonald, a law professor and researcher from Canterbury University,  listened to the audio of 40 rape trials between 2010 to 2015 and found women were often belittled by the defence and left to fend for themselves.

The study focused on how victim-blaming being used in cross examinations. 

It highlighted how a victim's credibility is questioned, despite the issue being consent. 

One woman was questioned six times why she didn't immediately report her assault - the judge did not intervene.

While judges are allowed to step in and rule out irrelevant or improper questioning, the research found they rarely did so.

In other cases victims were asked about flirting with people, how they danced, what they were wearing, how many times they had been pregnant and how many sex toys they owned.

"The inference is, you were not raped. It was consensual sex, later regretted," reads the study.

"If you were really raped you would remember every detail, you would have fought, you would have injuries, you would have gone straight to the police."

Young, uneducated women were often spoken to in terms they did not understand. For example, brassiere instead of bra, or courting instead of dating.

One victim was asked to read her victim statement out loud - when she became distressed, the Crown lawyer realised she was illiterate - something which had not surfaced before court proceedings began. 

McDonald wrote the study was "unexpectedly tough going" even for long-term researchers. 

The 557-page report made more than 50 recommendations to the judiciary and Government. It included suggestions that the definition of consent be updated and the Evidence Act be changed to limit what is admissible. 

It also said the courts need to recognise how traumatising proceedings can be.

"A complainant's experience in a rape trial can also be improved, by those in the courtroom noticing her, responding to her and recognising her as a person in an unfamiliar environment with a difficult story to tell."

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