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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 13:57 GMT
'Police and courts let me down'
Domestic violence (actors)
One victim of domestic violence describes her fight for justice
As a report suggests police and prosecutors are failing to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence, one victim tells BBC News Online how it felt to go through the justice system.

Petra Simms (not her real name) had suffered five years of bullying at the hands of her ex-husband before he beat her up and the police got involved.

She agrees with a study by police and the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorates which urges a "culture change" among those investigating and prosecuting such incidents.

Recalling the ordeal of the arrest and trial, the former nurse said the police officers, all male, failed to encourage her to see counsellors.

She also said she was not briefed before a "terrifying" court appearance in which she sat in the dock inches away from her attacker.

The police do their job, but you need someone to say 'We're here for you'
Petra Simms
He was convicted of common assault and received a conditional discharge.

But Petra felt let down by the justice system.

"From the start, I should have been interviewed by a woman and I think they should have sent someone to me who had been through it, maybe a representative from a charity."

She said police gave her a list of support groups but advised her not to contact the charity Refuge because she already had a home.

She went anyway and the Refuge counselling meant Petra could overcome the intense fear she had after her husband's arrest.

Agencies sidelined

"The police do their job, but you need someone to say 'We're here for you.'

"Police don't deal with the after-effects. They treat the immediate case but there's nothing to protect you afterwards - injunctions are hard to get.

"They need to work with other agencies, people who have been through it."

Petra claimed she was told she could not speak to the crown prosecutor or ask her questions.

Sheryl Gascoigne
Sheryl Gascoigne campaigns for the police on domestic violence
The initial charge of actual bodily harm was reduced "to secure a conviction", she was told.

She went into court for the trial with no preparation for going into the witness box, where she spent 90 minutes.

"I took me half an hour to be dragged in there because my knees went.

"I had to sit centimetres from him and could have reached out and touched him."

She said she asked for a screen but was told it was too expensive.

"I felt like I was put on show but I didn't deserve to be.

"I can understand why girls crumble on the stand with the man there laughing at them."

Unconscious

Afterwards, she ran from the courtroom afraid of seeing him again.

Her ex-husband was found guilty and sentenced a month later, but Petra said she had still not been told the conditions of his discharge by police because of "data protection" reasons.

She has kept custody of their children (two are from his previous relationship) and says her experience of the family court was "brilliant".

He is not allowed to see his children and Petra now enjoys life with a new partner.

It is a far cry from the five years when she was banned from using the house phone and only allowed two hours of shopping a week.

That regime eventually ended in May 2002, when her husband punched her in the face and stamped on her back.

She was knocked unconscious in front of the three children.

He called the police and said she had attacked him.




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