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Judges are being called out for dismissing rape claims in a powerful letter

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Hollie Richardson
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Domestic Abuse Bill UK 2019

A recent family court case proves just how “outdated” many judges’ views on domestic abuse and violence are, and this powerful new letter says we’ve had enough of this treatment. 

The Victoria Derbyshire Show has reported that 130 women’s rights groups and lawyers have co-signed a letter urging for family court cases to be reviewed.

The ways judges deal with rape and abuse in family cases is “outdated” and they need to be trained on “the meaning of consent”, according to the letter.

It comes after a case showed a judge dismissing a woman’s claim that she had been raped, because she had done “nothing physically” to stop the alleged rapist.

It focused on a woman who objected to her former partner from spending time with their son because she said the man had been controlling and had raped her.

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In his ruling on the case, Judge Tolson told the family court that because the woman “was not in any sense pinned down”, she “could easily, physically, have made life harder” for the man - and it “did not constitute rape”.

The woman later appealed, arguing that Judge Tolson’s approach had led to her losing the legal battle with the man.

Speaking about her ongoing experience on The Victoria Derbyshire Show, the anonymous woman said: “All I want is for this to be properly investigated. I’ve been in court at least 20 times.

“He can afford lawyers but… I have to represent myself.

“He’s continuing to control me and abuse – and that’s enabled by the courts.”

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Ms Justice Russell has since ordered a fresh case to be held before a different judge and said specialist training was needed on how family-court judges dealt with sexual assault allegations.

Welcoming these recommendations, the letter adds: “There are wider systemic issues, including some lack of understanding of domestic abuse and serious sexual assault and a failure to apply the practice directions to afford victims a fair trial.

The UK Judiciary has responded, saying that further training has been made since this case.

It said: “Prior to the delivery of the appeal judgment, the president of the Family Division had asked the Judicial College to provide additional bespoke training in dealing with cases of sexually related assault for judges trying domestic abuse cases in the Family Court.

“The enhanced training will be delivered - initially electronically - from May 2020 and from then on will be included in every continuation training course for the Family judiciary.”

Women’s Aid, who co-signed the letter, tweeted: “Since this judgement, we have heard of many more cases with shocking levels of understanding about domestic abuse and rape in the family courts. Urgent change is needed to make the family courts a safe place for survivors and their children.”

And Centre for Women’s Justice, who also support the recommendations, said: “Lack of understanding around male violence and abuse is rife in the courts and it’s horrifying how the family courts, in particular, are often complicit in the ongoing abuse of women and children by their ex-partners.”

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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