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Posted: 2018-01-08 08:43:52

It seems we're in an era where every time we read the news there is a new case of sexual assault. While the #metoo campaign flooded my social media newsfeed and The Silence Breakers came forward, I stayed quiet. Not because I haven't been a victim. Just like one in six women (at least) in Australia, I too have been sexually assaulted. I stayed quiet because I was serving on a jury of a child sexual assault case and could not show a conflict of interest. And while my heart welled for those breaking their silence, I was haunted as I watched the system eventually fail those women.

When my jury service ended, we set a man free. A man, who in my mind is guilty of more than 25 counts of child sexual assault. A man, who I believe preyed on young girls over a period of 40 years. Who had crept into their bedrooms at night to touch them. Who had fostered young girls, and then groomed them to accept his ongoing assaults. Who had taken nieces truck-driving and then had sexual intercourse with them night after night. A man who would tell them to stay quiet or risk ruining the family. A man who had stuck a deodorant can in a 13-year-old's vagina and then later forced her to have anal sex. And after nine weeks of jury service, I felt devastated. I, along with the 11 other jurors and the judicial system, let those victims down in the worst way possible. We were a hung jury, and he walked free.

The judicial system of NSW elects a jury as judges of the facts. Twelve people, who are representatives of the state in which we live. A combination of genders, ages, backgrounds, religions and life experiences. What became clear over the three weeks of deliberation that followed a six-week trial is that the general public does not have the ability to do its job properly. As a population, we do not have the emotional intelligence to understand the psychology of victims and how their responses vary. Many of my fellow jurors found the girls and women unreliable. They could not fathom how the victims continued to place themselves in harm's way. Girls between 10 and 16 years of age at the time of their assault, many of whom had been abused over a number of years, by a man who was either their uncle or foster father. That lack of empathy among so many on the jury undermined the facts of the case and left room for doubt.

Sitting around that table, I realised just how broken the system and society is when it comes to sexual assault. When you hear statements such as, "two fingers in a vagina wasn't sexual assault in my day" or "maybe they enjoyed it" you realise we are fighting a battle that cannot be won. People like that, are never going to understand sexual assault and it's impossible to convict a man with a jury that holds that mindset. It took every part of me not to commit a crime of my own in that deliberation room.

As long as we continue to blame victims, or have the expectation that it is a child or woman's responsibility to remove themselves from that situation, or fight back, or scream "no", the cycle of sexual assault will continue. Many members of the jury could not comprehend the idea that the responsibility lies with a man to not touch them in the first place. This saddens me more than I can ever express.

If my sister, or a friend or colleague came to me now and confided in me they had been sexually assaulted, I would encourage them not to report it. I realise how heartbreaking that is, and how that perpetuates the cycle of abuse, but I could not encourage anyone to go through the process I have just witnessed. Conviction rates for reported cases are notoriously low. And until the mindset of our society shifts, and we reassess how the judicial system manages these sorts of crimes, the perpetrators will all too often go free.

Being privy to the questioning and cross-examination the women underwent, it wasn't surprising to learn that one of them had been seeing a psychologist for two years to prepare herself for court. What will she have gained from the pain and emotional suffering the courtroom put her through? The man that assaulted her is free and justice has not been served.

To those women, I am sorry. From the bottom of my heart, I tried my best. I fought, yelled and cried in that jury room. I tried to make them understand. I tried to reason with them. To make them understand that we were to judge the facts and not to judge how you responded to your abuse. I tried to make them understand that your response was reasonable and fair. But I did not succeed. And I am sorry.

And while this episode does not have a happy ending, I am hopeful there is a next chapter. There were other jurors who shared my views. And now it is up to us, and all of those out there who realise how flawed the system is, to start changing it. To put the responsibility of sexual assault back onto the perpetrators. To give better support to victims through the process. And to reassess whether juries are capable of adjudicating such issues. Sitting in that courtroom, it was clear change is not going to happen overnight, but we owe it to those women to try.

Emily is a professional working in the tech industry. After completing a recent jury service, she's now looking at new ways to support sexual assault victims and improve the way the judicial system supports these types of cases.

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