Revictimization: it is the term used to refer to the damage that many victims of gender and sexual violence face as a consequence of the judicial, social, media and institutional response to their case. A victimization – the lack of understanding of the system, which can manifest itself in different ways – that is added to the victimization itself for the crime suffered. The details of the interrogation that the prosecutor Eduardo Gutiérrez made this Tuesday of the woman victim of a multiple rape in Sabadell in 2019 have once again raised dust about the performance of legal operators in cases of sexual assaults and the revictimization of those who denounce: ¿ There are hard but necessary questions? Is there another way to ask them? Should a victim of a crime against sexual freedom be treated like one of another kind? Where does the effective task of interrogating end and begin prejudice, intimidation or unnecessary suffering of a victim?
“When you say ‘violently’ what do you mean? Are you sure about this? How did you catch you? Did you try to escape? Are you sure that no one was sleeping? How did the event end? Do you remember if you ejaculated or no? Do you remember your face? “were some of the prosecutor’s questions last Tuesday. At another point during the interrogation, Gutiérrez questioned the victim about her contradictions, interrupted her frequently and returned to leading her to previous questions when she began to relate the assault. In an audio published by various media, four minutes of this interrogation can be heard, which was witnessed in full by the parties and accredited journalists to cover the trial. The prosecutor defended this Wednesday in his conclusions that the victim’s account is firm and credible.
Judge Lucía Avilés, one of the founders of the Women Judges Association, defends the need for the trial to delimit the context in which the events occurred in order to later be able to qualify them legally, but warns about “the trap” of the apparent neutrality that can be breathed in a room during an interrogation. “When we read that it is ‘a merriment, a rejoicing’ [en alusión a las palabras que el juez Ricardo González utilizó en su voto particular a la sentencia de la Audiencia de Navarra sobre el caso de ‘la manada’], or do we hear about ‘did you spread your legs?’ we are dealing with the obvious, but when we talk about creating a hostile atmosphere it may not be so obvious. Your own attorney may have perceived that questioning was neutral, but it was not. If we listen to those questions, that audio, it is easy to build a prejudiced and inquisitive atmosphere, “he explains.
The question, Avilés points out, is in what information has been tried to obtain and how: “There are many ways to do an interrogation and there are ways to create a friendly environment for the victims, to be respectful of their will and accompany them.” The Prosecutor of the Violence Against Women Chamber of the State Attorney General’s Office, Pilar Nájera, pronounced this Wednesday in a similar way: “Something like this should never happen. Probably, given the high penalties that are requested, the prosecutor was looking for strengthen the account of the events, but he did so without any kind of sensitivity or empathy. If this is explained to the victim, she receives it in a different way and not as a questioning “. Nájera acknowledges that there is a lack of specific training in the prosecution services, although he highlights that in the last two years they have held meetings with victims and psychologists to “learn” how to treat them and what bad practices continue to reproduce.
And how do you create a different environment, how do you fight hostility, sometimes subtle? Avilés explains, for example, that the interrogations can be less inquisitive, dispense with some questions that do not provide substantial information for the case or that focus on the victim’s behavior, and do not introduce elements in the message that convey disbelief towards the victim and monitor the tone of voice with which the questions are asked. “An effective interrogation is compatible with not delving into re-victimization,” he concludes. He gives as an example questions such as ‘did you try to flee’ or ‘why didn’t you scream?’, Which value the attitude of the victim and revictimize her. An ‘are you sure?’ When asked about a serious matter, it can be replaced by empathetic formulas such as ‘please, do one last memory exercise’, a phrase with less burden of doubt about who is sitting on the prosecution bench and not the defense.
What appear to be neutral actions, such as interrogations that formally meet the standards and do not contain appeals as direct or strident as those criticized on other occasions, are actually infected with “gender biases” that float in the environment, Avilés continues. The prosecutor Inés Herreros, member of the Fiscal Council, has the same opinion, who believes that it is difficult to analyze the actions of the prosecutor Eduardo Gutiérrez through an audio of a few minutes and without knowing the entire case, but who is clear that the lack of gender perspective “It directly affects judicial processes” that already always involve a dose of revictimization.
“Where we see above all the prejudices that exist in society about women is in the procedures that affect sexual freedom and in those of gender violence, in which traditionally they have allowed questions to be asked that are not asked in others. judicial processes. From there all operators have to make self-criticism and we need training in gender perspective, “he says.
Herreros points out, however, that prosecutors have to be resounding in their work and in their interrogations: “Sometimes we have to be more incisive to anticipate the defense’s questions and be able to cross-examine later, but with a more empathic way because the defense has other strategies that are not destined to take care of the victim “. That translates, he adds, in accompanying the tough questions with expressions that show empathy and do not attack – ‘excuse me for insisting’ or ‘take your time to answer’, ‘I feel that I have to ask this, but it is important for the story of the facts’ …–, in addition to monitoring the way in which these questions are asked to prevent the victim from feeling judged.
The legal director of Olympe Abogados, Isaac Guijarro, delves into the idea that the interrogations should be “intense”, especially when very high prison sentences are at stake, but stresses that this is compatible with a procedure that revictimizes as little as possible . “Many times it is not only what is said but how it is said. What is transmitted to the victims in the trial is often that this case is about them, or goes against them, it seems that the burden of proof is in them and they feel continually judged, “he explains. For this reason, it is committed to training that allows knowing the processes of this violence so that legal operators combine rigor with knowledge and empathy.
From there, there are some criteria that help to understand which questions may be serving only to reinforce some stereotypes and which may be harsh but necessary, although each case has its peculiarities. “Asking if the victim tried to oppose it is pertinent because it can have legal consequences. If there was intimidation or violence, the classification of the crime is different. But it can be asked in different ways. If you say ‘did you object?’ or ‘did you let yourself?’ sounds like putting the responsibility on the victim. Asking ‘did you try to defend yourself?’ or ‘understanding that you might be in a shock situation, were you able to defend yourself in some way?’ it is something else, “he proposes, dealing above all with the work of the Prosecutor’s Office.
Questions about why a victim didn’t run away or yell for help have no legal consequence, Guijarro says, and delve into stereotypes of how a victim should behave. It also has no legal interest, he adds, to ask the victim if the accused ejaculated inside her. Yes, you have to ask if there was penetration, because it has consequences for the classification of that fact as a violation.
Studies such as that of the Antígona Group of the Autonomous University of Barcelona Sexual violence in the Spanish State: legal framework and jurisprudential analysis they support the idea that stereotypes that continue to weigh on sexual violence and victims harm them in court. The jurists examined how stereotypes draw on “prejudices” present in the social imaginary and “in the judging bodies” and construct an “ideal type of victim” and a “prototype of violation” that “stand as a parameter” when it comes to sentencing sexual violence. The report notes how these ideas affect the classification of crimes and the credibility of women.
“Say ‘couldn’t you have done something else?’ it is a question that maybe can be rephrased and asked in a different way … We are not sufficiently aware of how to treat a victim of a crime of this nature. Questioning a person who has not been paid a bill can be more cold, but let’s imagine a person who has suffered enormous trauma from the crime itself and from the process that has brought her to the courtroom: statements and police inspections, forensics, lawyers … “, continues Guijarro.
Judge Lucía Avilés pronounces in a similar way when she assures that the revictimization is also in the fact that a robbery with violence cannot be treated the same as a case in which there is a victim of sexual violence, “which may have specific needs for accompaniment “, since they declare and relive the aggression suffered many times before unknown persons, from doctors to court officials. “Perhaps we must rethink a new way of introducing the victim’s story with guarantees but that does not require the person to relive the facts so many times,” he says.
Avilés launches a more general reflection on how society can contribute, without bad intention or yes, out of curiosity, curiosity or genuine interest, in the re-victimization of those who feel like victims of sexual violence in court: are we re-victimizing the victim by listening massively that four-minute story – a piece of an entire interrogation – in which he testifies for a courtroom with his recognizable and unaltered voice?