Silent Treatment: How the Justice System Excludes Victims of Sexual Assault, Even After Convictions

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Unfortunately, most rape trials follow a similar pattern.

The victim’s testimony is usually limited to a few harrowing details, with the following days, weeks or months being spent on other evidence as the court attempts to determine the truth.

Obtaining a conviction is difficult, as the statistics show, but even when there is a conviction at first instance, for many victim-survivors it is not the end.

For some, the person who violated them in the worst possible way sees the charges quashed, not because their perpetrator was found not guilty, but simply because of a quirk of the law.

That’s what happened to Alice.

What angers her most is a justice system that she says keeps victims in the dark and leaves them feeling isolated and exposed.

Alice’s experience with this began when she first reported to the police that she had been sexually abused as a child.

His case was rare: a jury found his attacker, Cameron Flynn Tully, guilty.

But shocking news was yet to come.

Alice learned from a Google Alert that Tully’s charges against her were overturned in an appeal hearing she didn’t even know had taken place.

“I was furious, to say the least,” she said.

“I think my anger at not being informed… exceeded how I felt about the dismissed charges.

“I’m so angry…and it’s a rage that I don’t know how to handle.”

The legal glitch that removed the convictions

ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates says institutions tend to forget about victims.(ABC News: Mark Moore)

ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates said the treatment of women like Alice was outrageous.

“We need a cultural shift to put victims first…so they get the information they are entitled to,” she said.

Alice says she was seven or eight when Tully first sexually assaulted her at the family home in Canberra.

She says he was smart, charismatic and arrogant.

She was so young that the horror of what had happened only dawned on her when she was older.

“[It was] the end of elementary school, the start of high school, I kind of realized that… it was a terrible thing.”

Cameron Flynn Tully
Cameron Tully, originally convicted in 2014 of sexually abusing eight girls.(ABC News)

In 2014, Tully was convicted of 18 counts of child sex offenses against Alice and seven other girls in the 1990s.

He was sentenced to 14 years and six months in prison, with a period without parole of nine years.

However, he later appealed the decision, representing himself in court.

The appeals court rejected most of Tully’s arguments, including his claim that the original judge should have considered the idea that the women colluded against him.

But the court found prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Alice was under 10 when Tully abused her.

Due to a glitch in ACT law – which has since been corrected – all four charges related to Alice have been dismissed.

The appeals judges made it clear that they believed Alice’s account.

But the law as it stood in the 1990s saw Tully’s sentence reduced to 12 years, with a period without parole of seven years and three months.

He is now free, on parole.

Victims kept in the dark during trial

Alice kept her abuse a secret for years. She says she never wanted her parents to know, fearing how much it would hurt them.

But eventually, she told them. Through tears, she remembers their response.

Alice was the first of Tully’s victims to report her crimes.

Close-up of a young woman's face.
Felicity Andison, another of Tully’s victims, says she felt left out of her trial.(ABC News: Mark Moore)

When Felicity Andison saw a news report on the case, she also turned herself in to the police.

Tully had abused Mrs Andison when she was four.

The law generally prevents sexual assault victims from being named, even hiding them from each other.

In this case, Ms Andison has allowed the ABC to name her, although Alice wishes to remain anonymous.

Ms Andison says the victims did not speak to each other until the judge placed restrictions on them.

“We only got together to talk about what happened after the trial, and we all testified,” she said.

“I didn’t even know who half of the other victims were.”

Felicity Andison as a child
Mrs. Andison as a child. She was four years old when Tully assaulted her.(Provided)

Some knew each other because they had been involved in a house church led by Tully’s mother, Maureen.

Cameron Tully had been in charge of the younger children while the adults went to church.

Ms Andison’s family left the church when she was five after a disagreement.

She says she was stunned to learn how many other Tullys had abused it.

The trial was before a jury, which is mandatory for sex crimes in the ACT.

But none of the victims set foot in the courtroom.

They testified by video from a room several blocks away, which Ms Andison said left her frustrated.

“I wanted to know what he was saying and what everyone was saying against us,” she said.

Her frustration was compounded when Tully’s attorney cross-examined her on how she could remember what happened when she was four.

“It was overwhelming – but also very empowering to stand up and say ‘no, it happened,'” Ms Andison said.

Both women say the guilty verdict came out of nowhere, after the jury spent three days deliberating.

For Ms Andison, the decision gave her a “deep sense of relief”.

“That I didn’t have to keep hanging on to it and keep this thing inside of me — that I was believed,” she said.

Victims’ rights are “core business”

Ms Yates says the criminal justice system has enough case managers, police and prosecutors to support victims – but they are not prioritized.

“It is essential that officers at various points in the system understand that informing victims and respecting their rights are essential activities.”

Situations like Alice’s are all too common, she says.

“The reality is that too often the justice system fails to return a guilty verdict in circumstances where there is no question that there has been sexual offending behavior.”

But for many victims, the parole system for offenders is also very problematic.

Ms Andison said she had to provide private information about his life before Tully’s release, so he knew where he was not allowed to go.

“But I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing.

“I think if the general public were to give this kind of information to someone they really didn’t want to see, they would seriously consider it.”

Ms Andison cannot imagine how different her life might have been had she not been sexually assaulted, as she cannot remember a time before the abuse.

But she wonders if she could have avoided the mental illness from which she suffers.

“I hope I would be as strong as I am now and as resilient as I am now, but I shouldn’t have had to go through that to develop that resilience.”

Alice said her abuse fundamentally changed her, but was less keen to say it made her stronger.

“I don’t want to give him credit for anything,” she said.

“So no, I made myself stronger.”

Momentum is building across Australia for tougher action against sex offenders amid widespread concerns over the lack of convictions.

Ms Yates said only 16 per cent of reported sexual assaults in Canberra resulted in a charge.

And only 50% of the cases brought before the courts ended in a guilty verdict.

Change, however, may finally be near.

Next month, ACT Policing will begin a historical review of sexual assault cases in an attempt to answer a question many have asked: why are so few alleged abusers brought to justice?

* Alice is not the victim’s real name.

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