Women and girls face numerous barriers to receiving justice in many countries. Victims of violence are aware that they won’t be believed and that they could be ostracized or treated with disdain. They are concerned for their safety and the safety of their families, cognizant that dangerous consequences may ensue if they approach the justice system. They may not have the capacity, opportunity, or the funds to travel to a court or relevant government office. They may not be able to read information about the justice system, and they may not understand the language used by the justice system. They may not have money for child care or for court costs and filing fees. Many victims lack faith in the justice system, and with good reason: most cases of violence are not effectively prosecuted and sanctioned by the state and victims are often re-victimized by the justice system. Re-victimization occurs when women and girls are afraid or unable to access the justice system, when they are not treated with respect and concern by the justice system, when the justice system does not give them the assistance and support needed to rebuild their lives, and when the perpetrator goes unpunished. Many of these barriers are embedded in the infrastructure, policies, and practices of the formal justice system.
Immigrant and other marginalized women and girls such as those with disabilities face additional challenges and a responsive justice system should anticipate and meet these challenges for its most vulnerable citizens.
The justice system should improve its response to survivors of violence by addressing these barriers. It must implement timely resolution of violence cases (3-6 months from first report) with a wide range of remedies for survivors, such as orders for protection, restitution, compensation, health and psychological assistance, and employment assistance. These barriers must be eliminated, including: corruption, lack of transparency, unenthusiastic and ineffective prosecutions, fees for medical examinations and court costs, unsafe courtroom design, lack of rural infrastructure, low female representation amongst the judiciary and its staff, insufficient record keeping, and poor courtroom management which allows delays, for example.
In fact, many survivors of violence are at further risk whenever they try to access the justice sector. By exposing the violence they experienced to the public eye, they risk the anger of the perpetrator and the indifference and hostility justice system professionals may display toward their case. Because of this reality, the primary goal of all justice sector actions should be victim safety.