Experiences of court processes among survivors of sexual violence in Uganda
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Background; Sexual violence is a global public health and human rights concern. Despite being a crime in most countries, and with well-known physical and mental health consequences, the majority of sexual offences are not reported. However, even when cases are reported, the experiences of those who go through court processes are hardly known and documented. This dissertation sought to explore the experiences of survivors of sexual violence with court processes and how these experiences influence their perceptions of courts of law in Uganda. Methods; A cross sectional qualitative methodology was adopted for this study. The study involved survivors of sexual violence recruited at ActionAid Bwaise GBV shelter located in Kawempe division, Kampala. Informed by the principle of saturation, a total of 10 purposively selected adult female survivors of sexual violence participated in the study. In addition, seven (7) interviews with key informants were conducted involving 2 Lawyers, 1 judge, 2 police officers, 1 Social Worker, 1 Magistrate and 1 Court Clerk. Data were collected through in-depth interviews with survivors using an interview guide. Thematic analysis was used where key concepts, ideas and themes were identified, coded and patterns in the data categorized. Results; Perpetrators of sexual violence were most often male friends (lovers) and male relatives. Of the 10 survivors, 7 reported that they had lost the cases against the perpetuators. It emerged that survivors usually report the cases when it is late for the required evidence to be obtained. The survivors understanding of justice varied where to some, justice meant retribution (imprisonment, monetary compensation) while for others justice meant the perpetrator requesting for an apology. Respondents had mixed feelings about the justice system in Uganda. Many participants expressed little confidence that the system would deliver any “justice” and that, in its current form, the legal system was unable to meet their justice needs. The participants‟ narratives emphasized that there was a huge amount of information and learning required for them to appreciate the court processes. Fear of disbelief and burden of proof emerged as some of the worst procedures that survivors faced. Participants experienced frustration in preparing for court and some felt terrified on the first day of court because they were not sure of what to expect. While the court may be known for ix asking yes or no questions during trial, survivors expressed a desire for the broader context within which the sexual violence occurred to avoid blame. Conclusions and recommendations: Sexual violence can be understood as a crime that is mainly about gender and power. Results of this study suggest that the survivors of sexual violence who go through court processes feel disempowered by the existing stereotype about sex and male superiority. Addressing individual level power discrepancies within the criminal justice system and strengthening the provision of information may enhance procedural fairness and opportunities for justice for some survivors.