Domestic violence: Video evidence aids victims
The battle to curb domestic violence has stepped up a notch in the ACT with the first conviction using a video statement from a victim, captured at the time of the alleged offence.
Since May, police have been able to take video statements from family violence victims for use in court proceedings.
The law was passed last year, but police had to be trained to collect the evidence before it could begin to be used in the courts.
The practice has already been used in New South Wales, where the rate of guilty pleas has increased — something ACT authorities hope to replicate.
Senior Constable Jason Taylor from ACT Policing’s Family Violence Coordination Unit said officers attended eight to 12 domestic violence incidents a day.
Many cases are resolved but if charges are pursued and the alleged victims are willing, police can collect a video statement at the time.
“It allows us to gather the best evidence in a timely fashion, but also present that evidence to the court,” Senior Constable Taylor said.
“It allows the court to see what happened.”
Footage could increase guilty pleas, cases going to trial
Chrystina Stanford from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre said for victims there was an immediate advantage because they only had to describe what happened once.
“People in the past have had to re-tell and re-tell their story over and over again and we know that that has a compounding impact of trauma,” Ms Stanford said.
Under the new law victims still have to give evidence when an offender pleads not guilty, usually in cross examination.
But ACT prosecutors said the practice was already proving to be effective in driving up the rate of guilty pleas and reducing the number of cases that go to a full hearing.
ACT police have now taken 150 video statements of which 68 delivered early guilty pleas.
The video statements may also help to overcome a long-term issue in prosecutions for domestic violence cases where victims feel pressured to withdraw the complaint.
Earlier this year an ACT jury trial began with the victim retracting her complaint, leading to an acquittal for her boyfriend who had been charged with choking and threatening to kill her.
Nine days later he was arrested on similar charges.
“People recant for a range of reasons and I think personal safety is a really large one,” Ms Stanford said.
She said women who recant have often been treated like vexatious complainants when they are in need of help.
Victims often pressured to withdraw complaint
ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey warned care must be taken to heed the concerns of victims about their safety.
“Domestic violence is often a matter where victims wish to recant their statements to police,” he said.
“They can be put under an extraordinary amount of pressure by their partner to withdraw their evidence.
“That can be traumatic in itself for a victim of crime because they are caught in a very difficult situation, particularly if they want to remain in a relationship.”
But he said the video evidence was still a much better way of doing things, with one of the main benefits that offenders would be dealt with quickly.
“There won’t be a long-term drag between the incident or the offence and the time you get to court,” he said.
“It’s also accurate there’s an emotional component to the evidence which was absent before which leads to more compelling evidence.”