Andrade tragedy is not unique

Picture of Frances Andrade, a white woman in her 40s with long curly hair, wearing a white T-shirt.Sexual abuse victim’s suicide sparks call for review of court procedures | UK news |

Last week it was revealed that Frances Andrade, the 48-year-old violinist and music teacher who had given evidence in the trial of the choirmaster, Michael Brewer, who has been convicted of sexually abusing her both at his school, Chetham’s music school, and at his home (his wife has also been convicted of one count), had apparently committed suicide after finishing giving evidence. She had been accused of being a liar and a fantasist while under cross-examination. Her responses were printed in the Guardian and bear repeating:

She was a combative, confident and emotional witness. When Kate Blackwell QC, Brewer’s barrister, alleged her account of being raped by the Brewers at their house was “utter fantasy”, Andrade loudly replied: “Bollocks”.

“You have told this jury a complete pack of lies about the visit to this house,” said Blackwell.

Andrade replied: “This is why cases don’t come to court. This happened.”

“You spent the night lying next to two of your rapists?” asked the barrister, referring to Andrade’s account of sleeping three in a bed with the Brewers after she said they had raped her.

Andrade answered: “But this happened. I felt guilty, I did not know how to get out of it.

“This is a lie,” said Blackwell. “You could have left the house at any time.”

Andrade replied: “You have got no idea clearly about what it is like to be raped. You have clearly no feminine understanding of what someone goes through like that. What shock your body goes through. How you almost feel you deserve it.”

The judge entirely excused Blackwell’s mode of questioning, calling it “perfectly proper and correct in her examination of all the witnesses in this case”. There has been much criticism of how Mrs Andrade was treated before the trial, having been recommended by the police not to have therapy in case the trauma didn’t come out in the witness box, and not having been kept abreast of when the trial was due to take place. Andrade did not report the incident herself; it was reported by an acquaintance she had confided in, someone who was named in one of the tabloids this morning (I am not sure what that achieves, exactly).

I am surprised the press have not picked up on parallels with another story of a rape victim who committed suicide after being humiliated while giving evidence. In 2001, 16-year-old Lindsay Armstrong was raped by a local teenaged thug (since named as Lee Bell) who had harassed her in the past, and attacked her in a park near her home. She was less able to fight him off because she had been weakened by two surgeries to correct scoliosis as a child. Her humiliation consisted of being asked by the rapist’s lawyer, John Carruthers, to read out the slogan (“little devil”) on the thong she had been wearing when attacked. This was defended because “the way in which Lindsay described the attack suggested that the knickers would have been damaged, and they weren’t”; her family believe that the real reason was so that the jury would make assumptions about Lindsay.

Bell was found guilty, sentenced to seven years in prison and served two (he was subsequently returned to prison for breaching his licence conditions by returning to the area where he had committed the rape). Lindsay Armstrong, however, died of an overdose three weeks later, a decision her mother is convinced was because of the rape and her treatment in court. As with Andrade, the questioning was defended, in this case by the faculty of advocates:

“Advocates are under a duty to put forward the defence of the accused and should not be criticised personally because of public revulsion at what the accused is alleged to have done,” the statement says. “In representing an accused person, who is presumed by law to be innocent, an advocate has a duty properly to put forward the defence which the accused has instructed.”

The family counter by saying that if the point was to prove that the thong was not ripped, then what was the point of asking for the slogan to be read out. The story refers to studies from both England and Scotland which showed that mistreatment of rape victims by the defence was common, with the collusion of judges and prosecutors, and that inappropriate and irrelevant questions (such as what the victim had been wearing) were common. Some might counter that in certain circumstances questions about the alleged victim’s sexual history might be relevant, but as the Armstrong case shows, it is not confined to cases where a rape is alleged to have happened during a one-night stand, but also happens in cases of ‘archetypal’ rape in public places. It is a common, time-honoured defence tactic which is designed to break down a victim with obscene and humiliating questions. It is somewhat ironic and unfitting that an institution that can summarily imprison someone for contempt can allow advocates to ask questions and make insinuations about entirely innocent people that would ordinary identify them as vulgar louts.

That a defendant, especially for a crime as serious and with as much social stigma as rape has the right to a fair trial is not without dispute, but there are surely better ways of proving the innocence of a man accused of rape than trying to ‘prove’ that the alleged victim is a whore. How many cases of suicide there have been as a result of such behaviour is unknown to me, but it is not beyond the bounds of reason that having the most insulting insinuations made about one’s character and sexual behaviour made when one is reliving the most traumatic event of one’s life can have a devastating effect on someone. And there should be some question over the wisdom of bringing cases at all in cases where there is historic abuse and the victim has not personally complained. Frances Andrade survived the abuse; it was having it dragged up after all those years that broke her.

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