Here at NatCen Social Research we’re lucky enough to work on a whole range of fascinating and challenging research projects. Every so often a project comes along that makes an exceptional impact on you as a researcher. We’ve just released the report <stuart, for="" link="" ll="" send="" the="" this="" you="">for one such piece of research that I led – which examined the attitudes to sentencing sexual offences of a group of victim/survivors and members of the public.
Sentencing sexual offences is obviously an emotive issue. I’ve already written about attitudes to sexual offences and my colleague Ian Simpson has written about the challenges of conducting such a project. I would urge anyone with an interest in this area to read the full report <stuart, for="" link="" ll="" send="" the="" this="" you="">or an article I've written about survivor’s experiences to really get a grip on the nuances of the findings.
One of the reasons this project stands out for me is because it’s made me reflect on how research can be an important conduit for people who feel marginalised or traumatised. Victim/survivors I spoke to, particularly those who thought their attacker’s sentence was too short or had had a negative experience of the justice system, told me they felt they didn't have a ‘voice’ and couldn’t express what had happened to them and the harm it’d caused. This was also felt to be due to the ongoing social stigma surrounding sexual offences. Taking part in research was one way to address this. The importance of being listened to and understood was also reflected on by survivors who’d overcome what had happened to them. This was especially pertinent with regards to the conduct of Judges – some victim/survivors reported that an understanding Judge made a significant difference to how they experienced their court case.
A key finding from the report is that victim/survivors want sentencing to reflect the harm of the offence, but that no sentence can erase what’s happened to them. Victim/Survivors and their families (for parents of abused children were also interviewed) discussed how in order to truly move on they needed to be treated with respect, listened to and not judged for what had happened. The responsibility for this lies not only with the criminal justice system but with society in general.