Wednesday, May 22, 2024

New UC book examines partner rape prosecutions

A new book launched at Parliament today analyses prosecutions of intimate partner rape with the aim of improving the trial process for complainants.

Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha |University of Canterbury Law Adjunct Professor Elisabeth McDonald says her new publication focuses on a relatively under-researched aspect of the trial process – the impact on adult complainants when misconceptions about rape and family violence are used to challenge their evidence, and in particular their credibility.

“The high level of family violence in Aotearoa New Zealand presents a systemic and resistant challenge for the criminal justice system,” she says.

“While much research focuses on the prevention of and response to family violence, there is a noticeable absence of work examining the prosecution of serious sexual and physical violence that occurs within an intimate relationship. There is also a high attrition rate because of the traumatic nature of the rape trial process.

“The purpose of the research is to provide a more informed place from which to improve the complainant’s experience in rape trials, to ensure a fair trial process for both complainants and defendants.”

Professor McDonald says it’s essential for sexual violence within a relationship to be recognised as a distinct and significant form of harm and to understand the nature of consent within a context of coercive control.

The publication, which is the third and final volume in a series of open-access resources published by Canterbury University Press, includes comparative analysis of 20 intimate partner rape trials – with five heard by a judge sitting alone – and provides the basis for wide-ranging proposals to reform law and practice.

Professor McDonald spoke to the research in the Banquet Hall at Parliament today, with the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, Marama Davidson on hand to respond to the findings.

“The fact that effectively responding to sexual and family violence remains a priority on the current government reform agenda provided the motivation for me to begin another day reading rape cases,” says Professor McDonald.

“It is my hope that this book will provide the information needed to support some real and significant policy shifts in the prosecution of intimate partner rape.”

Funding by the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation enabled the research and publication of this work.

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