The Psychology of Sexual Offending
An explanation of the interaction between sexual offenders and their assailants with the Crown Court process.
We start with the words of Esther Rantzen “always believe the child or victim” qualified by the absolute right of the accused to plead not guilty supported by the defence Advocate’s role of the carrying out of those instructions. Rantzen emerged with her Childline post 1983 and she has revolutionised thinking in the Criminal Justice System to support the child and female victims of sexual crime generally.
2. Where are we now?
The Crown Prosecution Service are very experienced in these cases and certain highly qualified Counsel through years of practice advise and represent the Crown Prosecution Service in the most high profile sexual cases from murder downwards. The Police service is also extremely well equipped with audio, visual and forensic techniques in the disclosure and discovery stage supported by doctors, medical officers and social services and forensic scientists and pathologists. The case investigation and preparation is to a very high standard therefore once the allegation surfaces. Clearly the Crown Prosecution Service will not proceed unless a conviction is more than likely according to the criminal standard of proof. Forensic evidence is crucial but not essential if the allegation is grave and other evidence is sufficient including circumstantial evidence. A mere denial by the Defendant in interview being self-serving is of little weight. If there is a prima facie case in all probability the case should go to the Court and thereby the Jury. The Defendant is not required to prove his case but his demeanour, conduct and replies in evidence are crucial to the result. We are in the adversarial process and Advocates are of prime importance to the Jury’s verdict and the Judge’s summing up.
3. The Defendant
His Counsel will warn him of the denial syndrome and the loss of a shorter sentence by persisting with a not guilty plea. Clearly the sentence following trial by Jury will be substantially greater than on a simple guilty plea. Moreover he will have to admit the offence to work with the National Offenders Management Service (probation service) post conviction when serving any substantial sentence and this is facilitated by a guilty plea. The Defendant is under acute pressure to plead guilty and gain full credit accordingly. It is down to the Advocate and lay client to build a good rapport upon which to go forward to the plea and directions hearing so seminal to the final denouement of the case. The Defendant himself is at psychiatric risk before and post conviction namely Ian Huntley, Ian Brady, Fred West and Martin Ward (Keeler Case of 1960’s – pimp). Clearly in the serious or moderately serious sexual cases bail should be withheld on the psychiatric ground in particular even though re-offending is not in issue. One should not underestimate the enormous psychological pressure on an accused intending to deny such grave charges. With an intended or actual guilty plea the pressure is relieved to some extent but still applies.
4. The Victim
It is very difficult to generalise but a malicious complaint persisted into charge and then arraignment is uncommon. The victim should receive emotional support from the Police, Social Services depending upon her age and her school and general practice (GP and practice nurse) not to mention a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases if proper. A Counsellor may also fill a gap. The Victim be they girl or boy if under 18 should receive psychiatric support if at risk of self harm or suicide caused by the trauma of the legal process and the initial assault, rape or sexually motivated offence. It is vital for the victim’s long term recovery that the case results in endorsement of his or her’s account or complaint. Thus criminal justice is engaged in saving all souls particularly these vulnerable victims aged under 18 years. That task cannot be overemphasised. In Court the audio/visual evidence will be played in chief and rightly the Court will not permit rigorous and arduous cross examination of the young victim whether by video link or live. This is an area where the Courts are still too slack in restraining defence Counsel particularly with adult victims. If the fact of interference is proven forensically the emphasis switches to volition. That is an issue where the victim may be made by Counsel to look “stupid” in cross-questioning which achieves nothing save the self satisfaction of Counsel. If it is a husband and wife case or boyfriend/girlfriend one different considerations may arise. The trial Judge will be the ultimate arbiter of Counsel’s liberty to question and should be supported by the Court of Appeal.
These cases are difficult to try after not guilty pleas and in any case to bring to trial and prosecute even with a guilty plea. Obviously the preferred result is an admission whatever the consequences in terms of the sentence and career wise for the accused. Many cases some serious are disposed of by confession then caution by the Police Superintendent with no further adverse result save a Police record that may be evidenced in Court. In the present climate we must be sure cases are coming to Court. I fear the Crown Court does not generate a sufficiently fair ambience presently and victims are being treated somewhat unsympathetically and harshly. Cases may be dropped for the wrong reasons and that does not bode well. In other cases also in the public eye an accused may be acquitted by the Jury in the face of strong evidence properly sifted by the Crown Prosecution Service. This publicity does not fill me with confidence in how sexual offending is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel for the Crown who has the final say on whether to proceed and how to conduct their cross-examination of the Defendants in these Crown Court trials. If you pull your punches you will always lose, whether you be for defence or the Crown. The psychology of Crown Counsel seems to be “play safe” another case will come along. There is only one case that matters namely this one – publicity is of no importance and distracts. Let us return to the good old days when the Crown did not flinch and the defence Counsel did all in his power within reason to secure an acquittal.