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23 February 2024 | Podcasts | Article by Kathleen Hallisey

Victims Forced to Choose: Seeking Justice or Seeking Therapy?

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Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual violence.

This week we discuss a distressing revelation, victims of sexual violence in the UK are facing a troubling dilemma: seeking therapy to heal from their trauma or risking the use of their therapy notes against them in court proceedings. A recent article by inews.co.uk sheds light on this troubling reality, highlighting the profound impact on survivors’ mental health and their pursuit of justice.

The dilemma

Victims are being advised to avoid therapy due to concerns that their counselling notes could be used as evidence against their attackers in court. Despite assurances of confidentiality, any material related to therapy sessions becomes “disclosable” in the event of a police investigation or criminal prosecution linked to the assault. This Catch-22 situation forces survivors to navigate between their need for support and their quest for justice.

Survivor’s account

One survivor, who chose to remain anonymous, shared her anguish at being discouraged from seeking therapy during the investigation and trial of her perpetrator. She described how this decision prolonged her recovery, leaving her grappling with emotions she couldn’t comprehend alone. Despite enduring the trauma of both the assault and the justice system, she persevered, seeking therapy even after the trial concluded.

Statistics speak volumes

Data from the National Counselling and Psychotherapy Society revealed alarming trends. Nearly one in four therapists have had their clients’ counselling notes requested by the police, with the majority of these requests pertaining to survivors of sexual violence. These statistics underscore the widespread impact of this issue on survivors’ access to crucial support services.

Calls for action

Charities and advocates have been campaigning tirelessly for legislative changes to address this issue. Amendment 115 to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, tabled by Baroness Gabrielle Louise Bertin, aims to prohibit the use of therapy notes in rape cases. While MPs have expressed support for the proposed rule, the timing of its implementation remains uncertain pending the Law Commission’s review of evidence in sexual offence prosecutions.

A call for change

Amidst calls for action, survivors and advocates emphasise the urgent need to prioritise survivors’ well-being and rights. Access to therapy should not come at the cost of jeopardising legal proceedings or re-traumatising survivors. The government must honour its commitment to survivors and ensure that the Victims and Prisoners Bill includes provisions to safeguard survivors’ confidentiality and access to support services.

Moving forward:

As discussions continue and legislative changes are proposed, it is imperative to centre survivors’ voices and experiences in shaping policies and practices. Survivors of sexual violence deserve justice, healing, and the right to access support services without fear of repercussions. It is time for meaningful action to address this systemic issue and uphold survivors’ rights and dignity.

In the words of Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, “Counselling should be a safe and private space to explore feelings and heal from trauma.” Let us work together to ensure that survivors receive the support and justice they deserve, without compromise.

Author bio

Kathleen Hallisey

Senior Associate

Kathleen Hallisey is a Senior Associate in the Abuse Team at Hugh James.

Originally from the US, she began her legal career in New York before moving to the UK and becoming a solicitor. Throughout her career, she has exclusively acted on behalf of claimants, including those who suffered catastrophic injuries on the road or at work, were dismissed from their jobs as a result of discrimination, or sexually assaulted on university campuses.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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